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‘Precinct of a Demigod’
Arriving in Jack London Square by Train: 3/26/22
© 2022 James LaFond
AUG/10/22
‘Pr
Conductors that work the same route on Amtrak often have tour guide personality traits that makes travel with them a pleasure. It just occurred that these trains are rolling hotels, with the exact same prices at the various hotels I stay, depending on whether one books coach, business or sleeper.
I have come to prefer business class, as you are boarded before the general herd, get free water, tea and coffee, and are eligible to pay for dinning room service, while the peasants in coach must make do with the cafe car microwave. Amtrak is once again taking cash and one can tell that these working class attendants and conductors are sick to death of masks and mask enforcement. Business class also gets you in between the dinning car and cafe car, which means there is less foot traffic from coach folk, who come as far forward as the cafe car, which has the viewing platform on the upper level. The lower level is no longer a diner, but a supply depot in the middle, the counter in the front, and a rest and paperwork office for the conductors and attendants.
Lower level handicapped coach and business seating is a trap, and don’t do it. The view sucks. You sit on the back third of a car that is mostly luggage and shitters, that is busy as people file up and down the stairs outside your door. As I returned from the bathroom just before nightfall on the 25th, an old lady who had boarded lower level handicapped business at Eugene, needed water and did not want to get it from the bathroom. The lower level spigot did not work. She asked me for help and I divined that she was also not thrilled with sharing the handicapped space with two enormous Bantu milk cows and their adolescent brood.
Like many post-Covid folk, she had never taken the train. I took her upstairs, showed her how to use the handrail and kick plate to open the door to the viewing car, seated her next to a nice young lady, and went downstairs and got her hot tea and ice water. When I returned to the cafe downstairs, the attendant thanked me and gave me free diet cokes with my Jack Daniels shots, and later remembered the old lady and gave me a price break on each visit.
The conductor spoke to three of us at Sacramento and said: “The mask mandate was supposed to lift on the eighteenth, but we have another month of this. Airline unions sued the Bidden Administration—and you, where were you teamsters?”
[Laughter.]
“Awe, Teamsters are alright. We’re all in this together. I could see wearing the mask if it prevented transmission, but it does not.”
[No disagreement from the two Asians or this Yeti.]
“Besides, I have refereed six mask fights—six, six violent altercations between passengers and crew, due to masking. In two years I’ve had to deal with more violence than in the previous twenty. Besides, I like to see people smile. This is a combination of safety and hospitality work. I miss smiles.”
“I related how the big passenger who did not want to wear a mask back in August in Nevada took the “actively eating” exception to heart and chowed on three big bags of Doritos for 20 hours, munching about 1 chip every few seconds.]
The Conductor grins, “Here is one—a lollipop is food, and sucking on a lollipop is actively eating and having a mask on while sucking a lollipop is a choking hazard!”
As we wait for the 97 year old iron bridge that is too expensive to replace to lift and drop for a cargo ship, the Conductor gives us all that history, and then declares that the city of Martinez, our next destination, is the true home of the Martini, and that this was decided in a civil lawsuit with the government of San Francisco, “which was paid for, folks, with our tax dollars!”
Emmeryville is the last stop before Oakland and Jack London Square. As the train pulls out from between the upscale condos on the east and the hotels on the west, a mere block ahead to the east, past the florid graffiti on the sound wall, under the double highway overpasses, sprawls a vision of hell; a one-mile-long jumble of some 100 rusted campers, hundreds of cars used as shelters, hundreds of homeless tents, and some two dozen vans used as cabins, interspersed with mounds of trash. I have never seen such a combination of junk yard, landfill, trailer park and homeless camp before.
The conductor ushers us on over the intercom, “Folks, we are coming to Jack London Square. This location is a dead zone and you will not have any cell service. You may choose to believe that this is a quirk of geography. But some more sober minds among us choose to regard Jack London as a Demigod, and Jack London Square as his sacred precinct! So beware, as you enter the precinct of a demigod.”
I recall that I love Jack London Square, where I staggered drunkenly this time last year past two Bantu warriors who leapt aside in horror, and then left my room key on the floor outside the door at the waterfront Hotel and woke up without a hangover four hours later, sprawled across the bedspread in my greasy duster, unmolested by the worst Oakland has to offer. The temperature is lower than Seattle or Portland, the Pacific current less kind at this lower sweeping latitude, my Teamsters hoody and windbreaker a welcome addition to the hobo kit.
Could the name of this old coot’s patron saint be Jack London?
Saint Christopher, forgive me.
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