On the Train 19 – Redlands

Redlands, CA

Olive Street

I wake up to an empty home. I clean up and get a call from Barney sometime before lunch. He’s coming to pick me up; he doesn’t want me or anyone to be around when Gigi’s mom comes back to the house. I ask him why, and he tells me about this time when she walked in on him having a threesome with Gigi in her bedroom. It’s been awkward ever since.

He takes me on a random drive around town. While on the road, he asks me how wild he thought things would get while I’m out here. I didn’t really know what he was getting at. Before we parked the truck on an open strip of road somewhere, Barney tells me that Al Gore bought up a bunch of property in this area.

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On the Train 18 – San Bernardino

San Bernardino, CA

The Mountains of Redlands

Before I knew it, I was at the train station in San Bernardino, and Barnhart, my host out there, was ten minutes away with his girlfriend, Gigi. “Don’t go exploring, you’re in gang territory,” says Gigi over Barnhart. “Gang territory?” (It kind of felt like a shady place to stick around.) “Yeah, you know, the Bloods and the Crypts do business out there. Don’t wear anything red.” I look down at my red plaid shirt, and I start to panic. “I’m wearing red. Come find me, now.” Gigi takes the phone and says, “Get yourself inside somewhere. We’re on our way,” and before the line cuts off, I hear her say “shit” under her breath.

I waited at the Doughnut King nearby. The nice Asian shop owner gave me some extra doughnuts with my egg, ham, and cheese sandwich order. It was terrible. I picked at it enough to get my fill just as Barnhart and Gigi arrived. I was so glad to be leaving that area; some kids were loitering outside the shop, giving me funny looks. Barnhart was driving a big white truck, holding a 64-ounce cup of diet coke from Circle K. We had a quick hug and shake, and I threw my bags in the backseat. Barnhart had a ruffled look about him, as if hadn’t slept much lately.

Barnhart used to work in real estate back east, but was originally from California. After a two-month solo adventure in Cambodia that almost got him arrested and killed, he returned home to begin more lucrative ventures. He started a delivery business that covers most of the area, and that has been his most recent passion project. For as long as I’ve known him, he has always worn Berkenstock sandals, in every occasion. Even in the midst of winter, he’d wear those sandals.

The drive was comical. Barnhart kept the 64-ounce cup of diet coke in his lap, and while driving with his left hand, he played the drums with a bound bundle of chopsticks in his right. The radio was not on, but still he kept a beat while asking me how things were going. The conversation was nice enough. On occasion he would drift into a separate conversation with Gigi, who sat in the back. The highway drive was dangerous like this, but I didn’t mind. My eyes were too busy looking out at the mountains ahead.

On the Train 17 – Los Angeles

San Bernardino, CA

Morning Arrival

I feel a cold coming on. The lack of sleep, water, and nutrition is catching up with me. The last couple weeks have kept my body in a state of fast-moving culture shock, and at last, I’m starting to crack under the pressure. Maybe it’s the air. I was told by a couple people on the train that LA’s pollution can make people sick. It didn’t take long for the microbial bacteria to find another sucker to infect. I felt it give me a sore throat. I tried drinking lots of water while I was on the Metrolink to San Bernardino, but I was distracted by the need to capture the sights I saw. It was not always pleasant to see the transformation.

View from the Metrolink

Mountainous valleys are surrounded by wispy clouds. Lots are full of disassembled cars, parts, steel girders and rusting industrial leftovers. There are graveyards full of junk. Neighborhoods without end are full of track homes and swimming pools. Some of them are crystal clean, and others are murky, green, or bone dry. A lot of good and bad graffiti decorate the walls surrounding these track home neighborhoods. A small playground sandlot is in the middle of a dangerous area. A storage lot the size of several football fields holds a closet full of someone’s life. So monotonous.

A patio table and umbrella rest between two cars in a warehouse parking lot… A Zen rock garden rests next to basketball courts, next to an outdoor hockey rink, next to tennis courts, next to an open field, next to a parking lot, next to a gas station, next to a gentlemen’s club… A man stands around a barrel bonfire, under a tree, surrounded by children’s toys. A junkyard has a special hanger meant solely for car bumpers. A few first-generation trees remain in an empty plot of land. A dead bird cooks on the ceramic tiles of a Spanish shingle roof. I can stare at the sun because the clouds cover it just enough to look like a full moon in a clear night sky.

On the Train 16 – El Paso (Part 3)

El Paso, TX


I don’t think my uncle wanted me to leave. I think he would have benefitted greatly if I stayed a couple months and helped him cope with loss, and possibly expand his business. I’m confident that my brief stay showed him that he has family that loves him in more places than one, and that he’s capable of so much as a bachelor. The sexual element of his freedom is not important; the prestige of independent success is worth fighting for. Again, he will do what he must to reconnect with his family. I’m but a catalyst in a post-divorce return to society, and he welcomed the gift of my presence as much as I welcomed all the things he taught me. Like a ripple effect in a great body of water, he and I made motions that would have never occurred if I didn’t take this journey. The need for our entire family to reconnect has never been more paramount. I left around 5pm, and ate a home-made burrito as the sun went down over New Mexico.

On the Train 15 – El Paso (Part 2)

El Paso, TX

Stranded in the Parking Lot

My uncle was well enough to work while I drove around El Paso. He suggested the main strip by UTEP, the University of Texas, El Paso. I took the CR-V (he bought two identical models, one for him, one for his ex-wife) on a brief jaunt through back roads that all looked the same. When I reached the UTEP district on North Mesa Drive, the advertising orgy was well underway. Franchise after franchise blocked my view of scenic panoramas. It jaded my experience because nobody seemed to care. The roads and parking lots were full of trucks and sport-utility vehicles and customized muscle cars and hot-wheels. The sidewalks had an occasional young professional or student couple visually swearing off consumer trends. Everything was Spanish; the shops, the colors, the street names, the murals, the music, the food, the fashion.

Obscure Likeness

Kids here adopt a cultural vibe from Mexico, and while their families try to inherit the American Dream, they rebel with tattoos and piercings in tattered clothes and vibrant tributes to gang mentality. In this way, they are breaking the barriers, much like the physical barriers a few miles away. No matter where you go, people will talk about the battles against normalcy while drinking coffee from Starbucks. The great battle of El Paso is advertising your oasis in the desert. If it weren’t for that beautiful Thunderbird mountain with its beautiful colors watching over the valley below, I would lose myself in the expansive pavement terrain of suburban sprawl.

Gang Graffiti