Metrolink, without warning, has cancelled the ten day train fare that made my commute to Irvine both affordable and compatible with my basic needs for sanity. One last ten pass would have covered my last five weeks teaching at Irvine. Instead, I’m going to go out kicking and screaming at the commuter rail. Why are they changing the fare? Because they can.
Watch out, Metrolink. You will soon receive impotent, angry letters and phone calls from the commuter in car 186A, in which she will inflate her personal influence on all possible future commuters from Los Angeles to UC Irvine and make you feel terrible, just terrible, for this injustice.
The graffiti along the tracks isn’t telling me much today. Mesa Huke? I ♥ pussy. Fast. There are the tent cities up against the flood channel. They have multiplied in the past few months.
Before Buena Park, the short squat stucco houses with picnic tables and red plastic slides seem asleep, their concrete patios hard up against the tracks. The Italianate development, beyond them, looks grumpy, with its tight balcony rails pasted to the front of long, high windows with no actual balconies. Venetian blinds closed tight against the train. A truck with white slats across its flatbed rolls slowly past open warehouses. Tac City and Alumet Supply. It breaks my heart.
Every minute inside my car on the 5 was lost — This American Life and RadioLab and The Lovely Bones audiobook and Planet Money (before Adam Davidson went all Chicago School) notwithstanding. Those were minutes lost to the rivers of Lethe. But not so, the train. The train cops may be needlessly arrogant and aggressive, and Metrolink has earned my everlasting rage with this rate hike. But on the train, my consciousness isn’t split in two. I can daydream about distant cities with some degree of focus.
At Fullerton, I imagine getting off and walking until I find a place to have breakfast. I have a credit card and my laptop and a snack bar in my bag. I could find a taxi and a ticket and a plane to Berlin. I would really like to be in Berlin by sundown. I want to eat falafel on a street corner I have never seen before and get a drink at a bar that is on a boat. I want to wander into Friedrichshain and sit on the floor in a warehouse to watch a slow-moving art film where people walk slowly through rooms filled with bloody feathers and no one speaks.
Part of the weight of being younger was always the yawning abyss of choices in front of me. It was like having to assess every stop the train made. What about here? Get off? Stay on? Having once sold everything I owned and moved to a foreign country, I knew what was possible. After I got back, it was always there. My year in Brazil. A year of memories reprimanding me for every directionless, same-as-rain day stateside.
Now, there’s a freedom in being locked down. I probably came pretty close to moving to Miami for the same, thin, whimsical reasons that moved me to Rio de Janeiro. Late night online research about apartments near the water used to be a dangerous proposition. Now, I can fantasize about Miami, or Berlin, endlessly, without worrying that I might really be able to go.
A friend brought me a t-shirt from Berlin. It says “Arm, Aber Sexy,” in German, which is evidently a quote from the popular young mayor, meaning that his city is poor but sexy. Lissie sings in my headphones, for the last four years of my life I’ve thought about you pretty much every fifteen seconds. I can’t go to Berlin. But distant obsession is not just a luxury of youth.