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Train 14 or Coastal Starlight?
Musings on Cattle Car America: San Jose to Portland, 10/26-27/2022
© 2023 James LaFond
JUL/10/23
Written from memory on November 1.
SaySay dropped me off at the San Jose Station, which has a name and is manned mostly by Amtrak people. However, the buses serving Santa Clara and San Jose circle here, as part of a “Santa Clara Valley Transit” system. The men’s room gets a lot of use from the bus drivers and there is a janitor on staff. Back east or in the Pacific Northwest there would be a security officer on duty, but not in Sissy San Jose.
I am 5 hours early for my 8:04 train as I look into her beautiful dark eyes and see her trying not to cry again. It is hard seeing someone you are in love with only ten days a year, particularly hard for her, with her life ahead of her. She says someday that she will tell me her story. But she remains a mystery, a young woman tenderly involving herself in my assisted suicide.
She sends me updates as to my train status, afraid I will be taken for a hobo and made to leave the station and wander for hours. Amtrak passengers are permitted to remain in a train station for up to 2 hours before their train arrives. There are three Amtrak persons behind the plexi-glass, the setting sun to their left muted beyond the massive window by a 14 foot wide and 24 foot long American flag repurposed as a window blind.
Knowing that some of the people seated on the old wooden benches are local homeless, I establish myself as a passenger by buying my tickets to Seattle, to Portland and back to San Jose for the coming winter and spring. Over the hours I note that most of the people waiting are local homeless, cycling themselves out to avoid eviction. Some of the men take naps on the men’s room toilets for hours. There is a small cash only newsstand I neglect to peruse before it closes at 5:30 p.m.
SaySay sends me a text that my train is delayed. I head to the counter and ask the young fellow there about the schedule and he does not recognize the Coastal Starlight #14 Train as the Coastal Starlight but as the #14. This is of interest in that the conductors on board the train never refer to their train by number, but by its name, and the counter attendants use only numbers.
He said, “There was a trespass incident. These take two to three hours to clear up. So, eleven to midnight is the new arrival time.”
“A Trespass Incident?” This is new Amtrak terminology. I thought maybe it referred to a stow away. It turns out to be interchangeable with “Trespass Strike,” meaning that a pedestrian was hit by the train and blame for the accident or suicide is semantically pre-assigned.
I turned out to be the only passenger at San Jose good at waiting, everyone else flipping out, stewing, complaining, etc. The doors are locked at 10:00 and the station attendant, a small Asian lady, is tasked with speaking through the cracked door to the homeless seeking entry. I wondered what would be done with the old bums sleeping on the toilets?
Upon boarding the train with a seat number at 11:38, I find a man sleeping in my seat and touch his shoulder, “Hey boss, you’re in my seat, time to move.”
He apologizes, that he was just trying to stay away from his wife, and got up and moved.
At Sacramento a big, fat, orthodontic disaster of a man sits next to me and starts12 hours of complaint. He was delivering a truck for his North Dakota employer and had his bank account hacked and was put on the train with paperwork to pick up another truck in Portland. He was a gurgling poster child for sleep apnea and was adopted as a charity case by two women and two men who would eventually heroize him for his service as a truck driver who worked wild fires when he was younger. They would take up a food and cash collection for him. I would spend most of my time in the viewing car to avoid ruining his already poor sleep. Every time he bumped me while snoring he would start awake. So, I left him to his restless fate.
Entering the viewing car, a small woman in her early 30s, of my ill-famed anti-race was being dressed down by a big fat white conductor for spending the night with all of her luggage in the viewing car. She pleaded, “But I’m a ticketed passenger and you all kicked me out of my seat and told me to come here?”
[That was the earlier crew.]
Something about my age, weight loss and demeanor has changed. I am the model passenger who never makes demands, asks questions or gets in the way, my every move calibrated to keep me off conductor radar—for the hunt for palefaces is on on Amtrak. The official white instinct to harass lone palefaces, seems to stop with me, now. I hope it holds.”
Lower class pale coach passengers are treated like dogs.
Coach passengers of color and upscale sleeper and business passengers of whiteness and darkness are treated like kings and queens.
Amish and married secular white couples traveling as tourists are treated like they are fully human, but not exulted, persons.
As I sit in the viewing car, lone white trash passengers begin making associations and telling their life stories, seeking each other out for support and companionship. I am soon surrounded by five of these people who seem to have glommed about my silent form, a woman to each side and two men of right.
To my left is Jerry, a retired nurse, still pretty in her sixties, who yearns to tell me her life story and keeps touching me.
To my right is the young woman who the conductor was bullying. She is cute, worn for her young age, and already not quite as pretty as Jerry is at twice her years:
“I’m coming up from L.A. I lost my job. I’m a ticketed passenger headed to Seattle. They give me a number, I get on, and a woman of color is in my seat. She refuses to move, threatens me, and then calls the conductors on me accusing me of racism and they make me spend the night here—then they kick me out in the morning and that woman still has my seat. But they found me another. I don’t understand, I was very polite. I like black people. I don’t get it.”
Old Bill, a man who has lost his job, a fellow my age and bearded, counsels: “I learned a long time ago that you can’t talk to minorities. I got nothing against them. But every conversation with a minority, especially of the kind that took your seat, it’s a trap, just a way for them to get the bosses and the cops on you.”
Jerry then starts asking me about my destination, having noted that we are both going to Portland, wondering how I feel about Defund the Police.
“Oh, its great. I can defend myself against negroes again, since the cops won’t come to back them up anymore. My last night in Baltimore, Thursday, August 5th, I was attacked three times in ten minutes by a total of five young men, and since we all knew the PIGs were busy with downed power lines from a storm, I had a free hand and the hoodrats who wanted what I had in my wallet, had to climb back down the evolutionary stairs into the basement where our masters found them.”
The other three drifted away and Jerry, putting her hand tenderly on my hand, said, “Since you told me your story, let me tell you mine…”
...and commenced a pure waste of my time.
When the train pulled into Union Station, Portland, a black conductor stopped me and told me to stand back with three other ghost men while he arranged for an engine to cross our path. He let the people of color and women go across the track while yelling at us to stay put.
I crossed the tracks with the better class of people and Blackavar yelled to the Nigerian security guard at the door not to let me pass. I made eye contact with Nige. He stepped back out of my way as I walked among the master race into this terrible place.
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Ruben     Jul 11, 2023

F word here. Exasperating. I can't get over this BS.
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