I have been posting an occasional series at Daily Kos about the view from the rails in Southern California. I thought you might be interested in my latest installment of the Surfliner Stories.
The final run into Los Angeles Union Station on the Amtrak Surfliner from San Diego is along the LA River. The River is pinned into a wide concrete channel with steeply sloping sides. Unless there is a storm, the water flow is confined to a narrow stream in the middle of the channel, leaving a broad flat concrete expanse on either side. The sloping sides that rise from this, like every other broad surface in the city, are a canvas for graffiti artists and taggers, whose distinctive curly flourishes or brightly colored block letters can sweep from top to bottom.
On my ride this week on the train, it took me a minute to take in the suddenly monochromatic appearance of the channel before I realized that "they" had painted over the tags. It must have been a monstrously big job, covering all the huge tags with pale gray paint--and since no new tags have bloomed, it must have been very recent. In some places the entire wall of the channel from top to bottom is painted; in others, little squares and boxes checkerboard the concrete. Combined with a recent rain that washed trash away, and the whole thing seems oddly clean and bright, reflecting the winter light of the low sun.
I've written before about the homeless folks who live alongside the river. I've seen people washing clothes alongside the central waterway, and flattening them to dry, like something out of the third world. With the newly pale side walls, I was struck by the visual effect of how someone laid his clothes out carefully, halfway up the slope of the channel: the pale gray forming a backdrop for the dark colors of the precisely arranged trousers, shirts, and sweater, forming a neat row.
Untidy as most of us are, we still crave order and cleanliness. Whoever laid out his clothes so neatly on the side of the LA River made a statement about that. Still, someone washing his clothes with a rock in the middle of a city river -- that's not something we should see in the heart a modern Superpower nation. I feel hopeless and helpless and voyeuristic on the train, as powerless as I feel watching puffed up Congressmen spouting nonsense on the evening news.