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America Tent
Impressions of Post Apocalyspic Bust Bowl Life: Utah to Santa Clara: 10/21-23/2022
© 2023 James LaFond
JUL/7/23
Bob and Jeff drove me down to SLC from the Uinta Mountains. I listened languidly as the land I have come to love slipped by in the night. The men talked of feuds of old among the generation before them, of who beat the hell out of who, who overgrazed land, who shot so-end-so’s sheep…
As we wended our way in the big diesel truck trough Salt Lake City, Bob noted that there were more homeless, that some parts were “getting bad.” These homeless were organized into stealth camps, meaning they did not sprawl, take over parks, of intrude on customer service businesses. Rather, these people camped in rows, against the blind side of storage facilities. They were all palefaces in the night, looking out upon us, younger than most homeless I see across the nation.
One feral negro I saw prowling around beyond their single file sidewalk camp.
At the station the men were helpful to all, even the trash, even the lone paleface males. This was helped by the conductor being a homosexual of young make who openly but not lustily, admired the lone men traveling, as if we were some kind of paragon he would like to consult in an inner temple in his sissy mind. He could not help the lisp, but I gathered he was possibly celibate, maybe a monk at the end of this age, writing himself out of the story of men as Time turned another uncaring page.
Groups of women and children were given seating priority. We bachelors waited politely and then walked by their waddling gaggles. The two coach cars were less than half full the entire trip to the Pacific, occupancy receding to late Covid levels. I sat far forward in those seats most regard as uncomfortable due to the rattling and lighting of the doors to the next car.
The homeless camps in Reno Nevada were much reduced, 20% of their pre-2022 levels.
The crew that got on at Reno were very helpful and friendly. The 40-year-old couple to my right engaged the conductor in conversation. They had never taken the train to Reno, had done it on a whim and had been taken at the casino. They were a Sacramento couple who had fled Oakland, and were still Oakland A’s fans and did take the train into Oakland.
Conductor: “A’s fans are great, good people. Now, football fans, I’m refereeing fights, at least three each way per game. ‘I can see, yeah, you, you, you and you are going to be talking shit and throwing fists.’ Baseball fans, though, cool. Now, these long hauls, after eight years doing short trains, my worst passengers here are angels compared to commuter trains. Capital Corridor, half of the people are beat and groggy and grumpy after working jobs all day and the other half are shit faced drunk after working jobs all day. BART, forget it! I’d rather be a lion tamer or a dog catcher!”
[These comments fit with every zone of the coastal nation, football fans assholes, baseball fans civil, long distance travelers respectful and short distance commuters jerks at best.]
After the wonderful towns of Truckee, Nevada and then Cofax, California the train stops at Roslyn, California. Roslyn is one of the largest freight train yards in the nation. Just beyond Roslyn homeless camps in tents began, small at first. These were the normal trash heap tents, tweaker camps that when the tents are pulled up, leave vast puddles of trash, mostly plastic bottles.
Generally, as one takes the train through northern Nevada and into California, a highway [I-80, I suppose], is to be seen to the left. As Sacramento is neared a state route of four lanes runs next to the train. Beyond this is a bustling golf course, and beyond that is the interstate. That four lane highway was lined for miles, with beige and tan campers, generally of the light truck type, secondly of the primitive panel RV type, thirdly of the high end tow behind campers, and finally of RVs.
For miles these campers, some broken down, some with flat tires, most seemingly out of gas or out of places to go, occupy the shoulder of this road into Sacramento. Where, before, Sacramento would have 2 to five campers under each overpass, now 5 to 10 crowd under such modern caverns, and hundreds line the highway. In between these many campers are tents. There are roughly two tents to a camper, one attached, seeming to be used by the camper folk, and another, grouped with other tents in clusters of 3 to 10 between campers.
These people were pointing west towards the Pacific, making me wonder if they had come out of the hinterlands from the Bust Bowl of later modernity just as the Oakies once had from the Dust Bowl. Why 19 out of 20 campers point into the sunset, I can only guess with you.
Within Sacramento the camper caravans continue. Railroad sidings, that massive freight yards with a fence for tying off cordage and tents, make for good homeless camps. Most of these people try and avoid home buyers and renters and active businesses and seek the covered pass-over spaces. Under one overpass, not 50 yards from the tracks, within Sacramento but leaving town after stopping, I counted 27. These were attended by tents.
Leaving Sacramento was a parking lot, a gravel lot, where some fifty campers were parked in a makeshift village. Here I saw the first blacks, not living there, with the paleface scum, but looting goods from abandoned campers. A woman left her camper on some errand, her children playing with a dog at home, as the train rolled bye.
To the east of Sacramento campers were less common and knots of well-organized, clean and closely packed tents tied off to highway fencing near homes began to appear where once Reno-style garbage dump tents had been scattered with space between each. These tent camps reminded me of the neolithic cities of Ancient Asia Minor, built in a cluster of rooms for protection. A bearded, middle aged man in black T-shirt was repairing wind damage to a tent top. An American flag on a pole that had been planted in the ground flew twenty feet high before his tent.
Sacramento had twice the tents and 20 times the campers as in March of this year and any time previous over the past three.
East towards Davis the tents continued to show up in small neat clusters, in the agricultural zone, without the attendant trash of tweaker camps, a ten-fold increase.
Davis itself had a five-fold increase in homeless, mostly camping in clusters and clean, indicative that women are there, wives.
Homeless tents always disappeared towards Martinez because it becomes so swampy there. But here was a five fold increase, with one cluster of tents on the edge of the marsh flying a flag, planted on a tall pole, before a tent made of an American flag.
Richmond had more homeless than before, a two-fold increase, of the trash heap tweaker kind.
Emmeryville was a holding steady with the junk yard tweaker camp under the highway still going strong.
Oakland has gotten so terrible over the past year that the train I took from Emmeryville to San Jose would only open the back car at the three Oakland stops. The single conductor did not come to check tickets but locked himself in a cage.
I boarded with an irritating Boomer Bitch Queen, whose retired husband does not bother traveling with her. She avoided me and spoke with three young ghost brothers from Arizona who now live in Chicago and Naperville, Illinois and one in Texas. The oldest brother declared that a one bedroom apartment in Chicago was $3k a month. The middle brother declared often that he refused to live anywhere but a suburb. They were journeying to see a 49ers game.
She was terrified of me. They helped her on the train. When I was the only one in her car she asked me about myself and where home was, when I patted the rucksack, and said, “I’m homeless,” she misted up, fluttered her eyes, and said, “Oh, I’m sorry about that,” as I me being a loser was someh0w her fault, and looked away.
I got up to leave and she asked me not to go, and I pointed to the handicapped sign and said, “The lower level is for people with disabilities. I don’t want to get put off the train.”
She sighed sadly and I went up stairs to sit behind two European tourists, across the aisle from an insane Latina giantess in red lipstick who had a table full of possessions and held a ten inch one pound double edged wide bellied dagger on a wrist lariat in her recently manicured hand and pounded the pummel on the table.
I left and stood by the door, looking forward to seeing my dear, Oakland-met SaySay, who has now moved to San Jose.
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