This morning, I left the house at 5:24 to catch the 6:05 train. I have to drive downtown to the station – there is no westside train service -- which is about 20 minutes from my house in early hours. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how I can get downtown without driving. If I ride my bike the six blocks to the express bus, I can catch the 6:15 #10 line and make the 7:20 train. Then another hour by train, or I could walk the six blocks, but the problem is that the 6:15 is the earliest bus downtown – and on. It goes on and on. Welcome to my mind. All aboard!
So, I drive to the station at 5:24. The sky looks like a quilt of peach fabric; a quilt not stitched in squares, but in long creviced columns that billow from north to south. They are nearly touchable. When I make the wide loop onto the onramp and when I see the church spire affixed with a Mormon trumpeter facing southeast against the dawn quilt, I say what I always say – it bursts out of my mouth – “Good Morning Thursday!” Or Tuesday. Those are the only days I brave the 120 mile round-trip commute. I spy into other peoples’ cars. I feel affection and camaraderie for them because they’ve gotten themselves up at this hour too to toll away at jobs. I’ve decided that everyone on the road at this hour works hard and I love them all because of it. I peep out the guy with a pressed white shirt in the black Mercedes. His hair is clean and pressed too and his tie hangs near his collar, untied. His elbow rests against the window. The wedding ring catches the overpass light. Three day laborers cram on a pick-up truck’s front bench. I can’t see the driver’s face, but they all wear baseball caps softened by perspiration; the white salt line looks like an outlined mountain ridge above the brim. The guy in the middle eats a donut and drinks coffee from styrofoam; a plastic tab brushes his nose. The guy sitting nearest to the passenger door leans his head against the window and sleeps. His mouth is open. I see a young woman in a beat up Corolla. She’s smoking and roughly wiping her cheeks with a brush in the visor mirror. Back and forth with the brush. It’s going to be too much, I think. It’s too dark too see how much. She’s really laying it on. But I love her because she’s up and out, going to her job, doing the best she can. I give them all that at dawn.
I exit the highway at Broadway. This is the eastern boarder of downtown LA, and this area has a pulse more so than the cold shadows of the high rises and federal buildings just blocks away. Homeless are rising off the sidewalks out from under planks of cardboard. Cocooned sleeping bags move. A homeless woman is sitting up and she folds and refolds a blanket that is too small to cover her whole body. I love her too. Union Station, an ominous creamy Spanish building with tiled archways, comes up on the right, Olvera Street to the left. I am sandwiched by two of LA’s most grounded icons. They’ve bypassed pretension. They serve the city and they’ve remained fairly unchanged over decades.
I love them.
On the train, just out of the station, I stare at the LA River instead of reading my book even though I swore I’d be more productive during the commute. I try to spot new tags and old tags that have been tagged over. I see a huge new one, a phrase in four foot lettering that reads: PIGS CREW AT LARGE. I speculate its meaning for most of the day. I try to identify what’s floating down the river. There’s a red Target shopping cart today, and a huge pile of tangled clothes clinging to the bank, having not quite tumbled into the water yet. I still never see anyone down there when I’m coming and going on the train. As always, I find the river gorgeous. I think the trashed and over graffiti’ed banks and the murky filthy water are tragically stunning. You can’t convince me that the bursts of frustrated spray painted color and even the protest of shit catapulted into the river aren’t hopeful. You just can’t.
We pass the river and I read my book until we stop at the Fullerton station where I notice an Asian kid standing on the platform in his early 20’s with that white-pressed -shirt-tie look. He's sleeping on his feet. He’s sleeping! He is standing erect and his good shoes are splayed out in a near second position. His hands are deeply buried in his pants’ pockets; his spiked-haired head down like prayer. His eyes are closed. And he sways a little. I watch him the full three minutes that it takes my train to come and leave. The kid’s head bobbed up once, blazey-eyed, to look for his northbound train.
I wait at the doors as my stop approaches. I wait behind another business-type guy, a business-type woman and a woman with a rolley mini suitcase and a short, frosted hair style. Behind me a man stands. I don’t turn to look because I can smell him. He’s dipped himself in some kind of gut rot. He blurts to me, “You’re about the prettiest little thing I ever saw!” He is well over six feet and his wild curls are a tornado of grey and blond. His beard inches past his chin. I smile genuinely and say, “Thank you.” “Yes, you are!” he yells. He strokes his beard and his eyes roll around wide like they’ve lost their traction in the socket. “When you smile, the sun comes out!” I say thank you again and the people in front of me grin tight lipped and shift on their feet, eyes fixed on the closed doors in front of them. “I’ve just been in the mountains gold mining! I haven’t been around a lot of people. Boy, you’re pretty! Is your mama pretty? I bet your mama’s pretty!” “She’s very pretty,” I say. “I’D MARRY YOUR MAMA!” He yells loud enough to make the other people wince. I laugh. “I’m Jerry and you tell your mama I’d marry her!” I laugh, “Ok, Jerry.” He loses his balance a bit as the train slow-lurches towards the platform. “I’ve been goldmining in the mountains! All I’ve been hanging out with is Sasquatch. In a cave! You know Sasquatch? That big hairy guy?” Yes, I say. The doors slide open and the people in front spill out quickly and shuffle to the stairs. I turn, “Bye Jerry.” Jerry looks in my face, mouth open, the tip of his tongue laying on his bottom lip. “Bye Pretty Girl,” he says, softer, “God bless you.”
Of course I love Jerry too.