West Oakland to Roseville

West Oakland Train Yard by Becoming The Ocean

I waited in a gondola in the Desert Yard, blissed out with a cigar in the late afternoon sun. Golden light, mellow cigar smoke, warm east bay afternoon. West Oakland Train Yard by Becoming The Ocean

Last September, I thought to celebrate my birthday with a little peace and solitude.  In contrast to my previous one where we threw a party that people have described to me as “epic.”  I wouldn’t know, since I was good and shitfaced and overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people who’d come to help me celebrate by fourth decade.  I sat on the deck of our guest squat and watched the party fondly from afar.

This birthday I figured it would be nice to do something a lot more internal and soul-seeking, a spiritquest if you will.

It was late Friday when I left Santa Cruz.  Too late for the bus over the hill to San Jose and points beyond.  So I executed Late Friday Night Plan B.  I bussed it down to Watsonville and, as usual, tried to catch out unsuccessfully.

Watsonville was the first place — back in 1992 — that I ever tried to catch a train.  No trains ever stopped and the rare ones going by are moving at speed.  Occasionally people try to hoax me and tell me they’ve caught out there, but I’m not fooled.  Even Railhed’s daughter and friends told me they went down to Watsonville, waited 15 whole minutes, and caught out easily.  In a boxcar filled with snowy down comforters and pillows, no doubt.  And since it is my home yard, I’ve tried periodically through the years, never with success.   Now it is just a bitter joke.

So I slept in a boxcar in Watsonville, rested soundly, undisturbed by moving freight trains, woke the next morning, and caught a bus up to the East Bay.

I missed the connector bus to Fremont, so I hit the CalTrain platform just in time and jumped on a train pulling out of the San Jose station.  Sitting comfortably I started hearing announcements like this:  “You MUST have a ticket before you board CalTrain.  The conductor can not sell you a ticket.  If you do not have a ticket you will be subject to a fine.”  Fine.  Fine, I thought.  Fuck ’em.  I’d give ’em a fake name or tell them some sob story or something, and then I got distracted from concocted my story talking to this pretty girl.

Several stops later the conductor is in the car saying, “Ticket, please” to each of the passengers in turn.  I realize that I hadn’t actually decided on the details of any particular story yet.  The conductor turns to me and my neighbor. “Uh, funny thing,” I say.  My neighbor mumbles something I don’t hear to the conductor, and the conductor says “Okay,” and turns to me, “Ticket, please” again.  I pause for a second, then hook a thumb at my neighbor and say, “Same thing.”  The conductor says, “Alright,” and moves on.  A few minutes later, I can hear him down the car ticketing some irresponsible goddamn kids who had tried to buck the system by not buying tickets.

What did the guy in the next seat tell the conductor?  I don’t have a ticket, but I can give you a blowjob between cars after the next stop, maybe, and me saying, Same thing.  I asked the fellow sitting behind me.  He says, “I got on at Atherton and someone had set the ticket machine on fire.”  Ah, yeah, me too.  Same thing.

The desert yard in Oakland looked appealing from BART, so I got off an MacArthur Station and walked down to the big shopping malls with the big E for Emeryville.  I waited in a gondola in the Desert Yard, blissed out with a cigar in the late afternoon sun.  Golden light, mellow cigar smoke, warm east bay afternoon.

Oakland PD helicopters started buzzing the yard at sunset and I got nervous and moved to an open box.  I waited a few hours there, kickin’ it, reading in what light was left, until the train started airing up.  I saw two shady figures running toward my box in the twilight.  I didn’t mind sharing the car and helped them up.  I was thinking I might know them, but didn’t.   A young white girl and an older black guy.   Forget their names.  They offered me water and pot, I offered them food.  They immediately made preparations on their end of the box to sleep.

I sat and watched the industrial wastelands slip by until I fell asleep.

Woke up in Martinez where they were doing God knows what to our train.  Siding us?  Doing some work?  Back and forth.  Back and forth again.  Cut from train, then rejoined.  I got out and asked someone who said it was all good, my cars were going to Roseville, and then got further reassurance as a worker stopped by the door of our open box and said we’d be leaving shortly.

Woke up again in Roseville somewhere deep within the hump yard.  Left without my traveling friends ever waking up.  Crossed toward the catchout spot, but not knowing at all where I was within the yard.  I was way the fuck in there.  Like 30 trackfulls or so deep in the yard.  Crossed over string after string of cars, intersperced with huge fucking banks of lights.  Up and over and down.  Up and over and down, until my arms were about to fall off, to the edge of the yard.

I was close to the catch-out spot, south of the market and wanted to get safely over the fence since it seemed there was a lot of activity in the yard.  But then

Spotlights!  a bull!  Nowhere to hide, so I just threw my bag on the ground and hid behind it.  Spotlights scanning the field.  Damn, hotter in Roseville than I remembered.  I stayed low on the ground, breathing hard, heart pumping, until the spotlight moved past me.  Then I saw that it was just workers driving SUVs equipped with spots to check out the connectors between cars.  So the spotlights across the field was just them on the other side of the train making up the train.  What a paranoid boob.

So I stumbled into the jungle hoping to kick it for a while until I caught something going Northbound, or Eastbound, or hell, South?  I didn’t care.  Whatever.  But my heart was still beating hard from my paranoid escape fantasies.  There was stuff all over the ground under the oak trees, like blankets or bedding or something and I almost tripped over stuff in the dark.  There was an old van bench seat and I plopped myself down with a sigh.  The old bedding piles on the ground stirred!  Shit, there were people camped all around me.

I didn’t imagine they’d sleep all that soundly with some asshat stumbling into their camp and sitting down in the midst of them, so I made off in search of my own crash spot.  The roof of the warehouse next door is one of my fave places to sit and listen to trains scoot along in the humpyard.  The squeal of hump braking and the mysterious elven hammers all night long.  I was digging on the sounds of the yard and fell sound asleep on the roof of the warehouse.

I forgot how much I dig summer mornings in hot places.  Clear clear skies, warm days proceeded by cool cool mornings.  Ah, the cold dry stillness brings back vague memories form somewhere.  Something about my childhood, up before the heat, off on a morning adventure down our dirt road. Such a tonic.  I’m sitting in front of the mini-mart in the shade drinking weak mini-mart coffee.  The heat of the morning sun even at 9am, the haze along the horizon, the cloudless sky, the cold concrete, the endless expanse of freight train wilderness before me.  Shady here, a particular feeling of cold on my skin, the cool of a coming hot day.

I run into the jungle sleepers, a handful of oogles, drunk punks, tattooed neck and face, dirty as fuck, heading off to Roseville to go sp’ange enough money for their morning beer.  I go back to the jungle and read Toni Morrison for a while.

Later in the morning, I head back to the mini-mart to break up the boredom.  I run into my friend Clarice from Santa Cruz.  How fucking random.

Sitting around in the landscaping, chatting with Clarice.  Eating berries off the strawberry bushes (a favorite landscaping plant related to the Madrone and Manzanita, you know).  Reading, moving with the shade.  Ice cream at the mini-mart.  Waiting waiting for a train going anywhere.

The oogles return and they’re wasted already.  Fucking pissed about a confrontation with some redneck and going back to go kick his ass stumbling drunk yelling nearly getting in a fight with each other in the process.  Clarice and I are thinking, uh… yeah, no.  If we stick around either we will suffer the retaliatory wrath of some local redneck, or failing that, the drunk punks are going to get in a fight with us for no other reason than we’re there.  We decide to catch the next train out, regardless of direction or destination.  We’ re bored anyway and ready for action.

Stockton bound train heading south.  S’alright.  A gondola full or rebar and tiny little bits of intriguing scrap metal.  Another little cigar and sunset ride, we only regret that the ride to Stockton is so short.  It is beautiful out and the loaded gon gives us a perfect view.  Twilight.

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