We called in train after train after train at the usual spot, but alas, no northbounds to the Pacific Northwest, just a bunch of junk headed to Oakland, Wyoming and Pocatello. We shimmied in and out of multiple holes in the fence, getting excited to catch a train, but left in disappointment.
The forecast called for a light sprinkle, but I knew better so I snuggled up in my cocoon pulling my bivy up and over my head to shield me from the rain. Sure enough, after drifting to sleep for a few hours, a light tapping began to softly touch the nylon. The soothing sound shortly lulled me back to sleep and soon the gentle splash of raindrops faded, and disappeared, though an angry group of storm clouds smiled above us waiting to burst at any moment. We shifted deeper into the yard, moseying along the trackside ballast and set up camp near a small embankment that plateaued to a fence made out of autorack panels, one with Hitek painted on it.
Andrew and Ben didn’t bring rain gear so at this point in the night they already looked a little damp, but nothing too serious. I fell back asleep to the sound of the hump yard, that clicking shriek and slow rollin’ wheels, and then the dark clouds erupted like a volcano of torrential rain. The kind of rain that thrashes in rage like the smashing of drums at a heavy metal concert when you’re in the front row. The non-stop, pelting surge lasted for several hours into the early morning, enough to hide the sunrise in a gray daze of clouds like a smokescreen. When it finally pittered off to a misty haze, laughing and taunting us from above, we postponed the plan of catching a train, leaving it for another day.
Ben and Andrew stood there completely soaked from a miserable night of rain and no trains. Their soggy sleeping bags oozed rainwater as they rolled them up and stuffed them away into their waterlogged packs. That stale smell of dew and rain permeated the air. I heard their shoes squish with every footstep as water squirted up from their soles in tiny streams. It looked quite unpleasant and cold on the toes and feet and body.
My sleeping bag felt slightly wet from condensation and because of a puddle that formed in a slight depression I had slept in, otherwise it was like any other night of bad weather and riding. I came prepared and endured it for another day. But as such, I blew with the wind and my travels took me back to Oakland as I caught a lift with two new friends.
As we arrived Oakland, the rain stopped and the clouds began to dissipate and a long sought after vibrant sun surfaced in the sky bringing with it an ocean of blues.
Ben dropped Andrew off in Oakland and we continued onward to San Francisco over the Bay Bridge through the hustle and bustle of downtown. We shortly made our way to the Tenderloin where he lived, squatting in an apartment where he was basically a tenant without paying rent. It looked similar to the studio setup I lived in back in Vermont except it was much bigger and in the city, nothing fancy, just a roof to rest your head comfortably at night. For me, it was for the times I was working and not traveling, but even so this year, unlike any other, put me on the road for work, so I spent even less time in Vermont because businesses were shut down from the pandemic.
I showered briefly to rid myself of train grease and grime and black filth that penetrates every crack and crevice of skin that you can’t even get it out in one hot shower.
We walked around the Tenderloin through the downtrodden squalor, lives slowly disintegrating from the needle and the crack pipe, an epidemic from corruption fueled by greed, a hurdle so tall that the war on drugs felt unavoidable. The hustle of drug dealing and trying to get by or achieve that next high to send the pain below lurked on every corner and sidewalk and stretch of street, it was disheartening, and sad. I watched people literally dying on the streets, lying on sidewalks in filth and garbage, shooting up in plain sight, collapsed veins and open wounds and sores, still desperate for euphoria, falling deeper into a bottomless well just to handle life and its hell.
I watched people of all colors and shapes and sizes sitting on stoops, dealing on corners and in the streets, chanting, “What you want? What you want? I got it.” Hispanics. Blacks. Whites. It didn’t matter. It didn’t discriminate. It affected everyone, our friends, families, enemies, acquaintances, strangers, anyone who’s ever felt pain so deep it’s like a wound that never quite heals.
Bystanders walked and jogged through the invisible lives, tending to their daily routines, and honestly, I was no different in that regard, but what could I do?
For anyone who’s struggling, for anyone who thinks heroin and crack and fentanyl and meth are worth it, that they won’t become a victim to these poisons, dwindle on the streets, become another statistic, that they’re a functioning addict, go to the Tenderloin in San Fran, go to Oakland, maybe what you see will change your mind, maybe it will stop you from digging a deeper hole you can’t climb out of or maybe it won’t.
I hated watching drugs destroy people’s lives and worse listening to privileged clowns who’ve never struggled or had someone close to them go through such pain that they look at them as nothing more than wasted space and junkies bleeding services. Yet these same individuals, completely disregard the rich man paying them shit wages, finding loopholes in the law to avoid overtime and benefits, or the white collar crooks who defraud and steal with little repercussions other than a slap on the wrist or minimal jail time in the Ritz. But such is life, a series of haves and have-nots. People are still people regardless of social status. The best I can do is treat everyone with respect and live how I’m living because I want to minimize government in my life.
So I generally avoided cities and their madness, but I did appreciate the many different ethnic foods, which always made cities more enjoyable. The amount of people in a dense space yielded a claustrophobia, an anxiety that made me wanna hit the yard and grab the next train to solitude or wander the small towns and rural countryside. I think the byproduct of capitalism is more prevalent in the city and for me, it’s hard to look past the hardships from a system that uses and abuses and frankly doesn’t care about its people unless they’re white and rich or famous or politicians.
Much like the Tenderloin, Oakland shared its lawlessness to an extreme I’ve never seen before. Tiny homes and ramshackle shanties occupied shoulders of roadways on deadend streets. RVs and broken down busses and campers and cars and makeshift homeless camps brought a community of forgotten souls together under the overpasses and by the railroad tracks of Desert Yard. Police let the houseless live their lives in peace and didn’t kick them out or make it harder for them, and for that, I respected both cities.
You can’t make everyone happy, but the homeless in your cities and neighborhoods are your neighbors too and they need a place to go.
I saw stripped cars down to their axles, missing engines and rims and tires and burnt down to their shells. Stolen cars lined up and smooshed together in the homeless camp with phone numbers scribbled on the windshields looked commonplace, where they came to die. Trash mounds a story high sat in multiple piles with discarded items scattered along the ground, blowing with the wind, sticking to scrub brush and the corners of fences, a landfill of homeless refuse.
I walked the line with Ben as he painted a car seeing groups of Oakland hipsters painting loaded autoracks in broad daylight, under cameras, no gloves, no masks or respirators, leaving their cans on the tracks, standing on knuckles and crawling under cars, lacking any respect whatsoever for the train and the scene, and that’s coming from an “oogle toy” who can’t paint for shit; so I don’t. I leave it for the creative minds and artists and writers who’ve earned their street cred to paint trains and racks, but Oakland Desert Yard, it was a different beast. A sight worth seeing for the lack of common sense. People racking up offenses without even realizing it.
That night I slept in my own apartment fading to the sound of stereo systems blaring in the streets and the bass bumping as cars stopped in the street waiting for the greenlight. Tomorrow I’d catch outta Oakland on the IOACY headed for Salt Lake City.