She Likes Trains: Sitting Pretty
Shelley J Alongi


The railroad week for me is a quiet one. Quiet weeks are good here. Iíll take those, too. This week I am accompanied by the baby, i.e., the railroad grip with all its bells and keys. Some people are just known for things: Iím known it seems for bells, keys, and this awesome black bag. When I donít carry it, people notice. I have lots of bags and eventually I use all of them. They all have different jobs. You donít do a job with the wrong tool do you? Maybe someone does. This bag works well. It has room for other bags I might need, and today, both of us are sitting pretty. Sitting pretty, this week, on a warm night and now an even warmer day, itís what we do.

Today, Thursday, September 6, I step off the 26 bus just before noon and make myway to the Santa Fe cafť. Having supplied myself with money and had breakfast at Del Taco, then updated my manicure in red, I now make my trip to Anaís abode, yes, sheís working today, and order one cold Diet Pepsi. I have several in my bag, but a cold one is always nice, and so to pay for my trip to the restroom I take that along with me out to the west end of the north side of paradise. It is quiet, and warm, and breezy. It is pleasant, certainly more comfortable than August days have been.

the new covered walkway that hopefully eases parking around the station extends to the right as I take my spot on the low brick wall. I decide quickly, despite sunscreen applications that I will go sit on the benches under the shelter just past the ADA ramp, where the turn is for the spaghetti Factory. This is the long way. You can just cut across the parking lot, but on most days, I donít do that. A man reading a paper sits there, I believe Iíve seen him before, but today, we donít talk. I sit here, probably playing in my bag, I like to do that, and yawning. Between 12:00 pm and 2:00 on most days I have this incredible urge to sleep. If I can just make it through those two hours Iím fine the rest of the day. This is one reason why I go here today, I figure I can nap in the quiet and be entertained by freight trains at the same time. I like quiet days here. Soon, the man leaves and I am alone with all my bells and keys, and sleepiness. I always wonder how my railroad crews do this every day, getting up so early and working till 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon. Some donít, of course, but now I know why there is such an emphasis on sleep. Life is good till you donít get sleep. Then, it can be a nightmare. When all you want to do is sleep, itís hard to enjoy even the simplest of pleasures.

Today, I am lucky. I get to cat nap and watch two or three trains, enjoy my Diet Pepsi in a glass Iíve brought with me. Yes, I figure if Iím going to carry this awesome black bag, Iím going to take some of the luxuries of home with me. Since Iím not home enjoying my Diet Pepsi in a glass, Iíll just bring the glass with me.

Sitting here, what sounds like an EMD purrs somewhere, perhaps on track 4, but I donít investigate. Iím too caught up in just being here, just sitting quietly. I thinka bout the morning. The cool air conditioning of Del taco, the bacon and egg burrito, two tacos, and two breakfast sandwiches, the music on the PA system pooring forth lyrics about a one way train on a one way track, he should be getting somewhere,but instead heís on a one way train. This sounds dangerous. It reminds me that the fourth anniversary of Chatsworth is here in six days. Iíve been on quite a journey since then in more ways than one. My journey this morning includes Amy the manicurist, talking about her 11 year old boy, me taking the same bus from a different stop. This means a new walk, closer to where I run most of my errands in Fullerton. Itís always nice to find new things. The same bus, a different stop, closer, by the way, to the railroad tracks, a hot day, all leading to the same place, but never having the same experience at this station. The benches remain the same, so far. The trains come and go pretty much on time, most of the time, and yet the experiences change. I read through my journal entries about the conversations, the people, five trains here at once on one occasion. Today, there are almost no trains. I donít talk to any of the afternoon dwellers on the patio. Itís too hot, there are none. I donít, today, even make it to the east end of the platform. Today itís all about the north side of paradise. The south side is entertaining, the north side, most of the time, is quiet. Yes, Iíd say today, in the warmth and the quiet weíre sitting pretty, red sparkly nail polish and the awesome black bag filling two hours of my time. Earlier I tell Amy the manicurist that I like to come here and show off the polish by waving to the engineers.

Amtrak 583 pulls up, almost parallel to me, Iím slightly forward of the cab car. Despite my newly polished nails, I donít talk to the Amtrak crews, for some reason. I donít wave today, at least. Maybe someday I will. The bell rings, the neumatic hiss, the radio squalks, the train moves away. Somewhere in there, I get a fifteen minute nap. A manís voice drifts from across the tracks. Once in a while the PA can be heard, the familiar voice of the ticket agent repeating all the south bound Surfliner stops. Sitting here, sitting pretty, we take it all in.

Soon, I make my way to my bus stop and return home, ending a quiet day, and my railroad week, at least the station part.

My first trip this week occurs on Monday. Ready to lock myself away and hit another transcription project hard I come down to make contact and see if I can meet new train crews. I make contact with my regulars, but in both cases thereís trouble in the communication department, because of the engines or me. So, thereís not much conversation, but we smile and wave, and that works. Some days are just like that. I donít meet any new train crews, but I dissuade someone from giving me directions.

ďYouíre about to reach the end of the station,Ē one woman, a supposed commuter, says to me, as I approach the gap in the wall that is the turn into track 4 beyond the ADA ramp, closer to whre the locomotive rests. I know where I am. Iíve been making this turn for almost a year, believe it or not. Sometimes, it is hard to believe that Iíve been coming to this spot when I can for a year. When I first came here in October of 2008 there was still parking where track 4 is now. Slowly, track 4 came into existence. And, now, tonight, I detour another helpful passenger, something I havenít had to do for quite some time.

ďDo you work here?Ē I ask, still making my way to my spot, not even stopping to acknowledge her.


I know she doesnít work here. I just ask her that to disconnect from her persistence.

ďhave a good day,Ē I say, still continuing down the platform. I really donít want to stop and deal with this. Luckily, I donítí have to; she obediently disappears onto the rest of her day, and I continue to my destination.

I always like to investigate up here, and over time Iíve found the spot where the locomotive rests, Iíve found the other end of the train and walked across the ramp. This one has an encline on both sides, whereas the one on the north side has only one. The geography around track 4 is more familiar now, but meeting the crews isnít always easy. Usually it works out. Today it doesnít, though I think at least one is an extra. Perhaps both are today. No young railfan stands with a tripod. Itís only me and the parking lot across the way, the hum of traffic out on Lemon at the end of the fence. I like walking out that far, here, there is a sense of urban solitude, you can barely hear the Amtrak announcements, or people talking to each other. Out closer to the bridge and the Fullerton junction, the switch for track 4 gives me a sense of isolation if only in my own head. Itís not an isolated spot, but it is, at times, a quiet one. I adjust my black bag over my shoulder, bells pleasant in the warm air, and make my way back to track 3 for my 608 meet.

There is a rhythm to my evenings at the station. Usually I start out at the cafť, greet the regulars, make my way through the wrought iron chairs, the bagts, the people, make my way across the bridge, and wait for 606. Tonight, before this happens, I sit down and put my bag at my feet. If I sit here long I wontí make my 606 train meet. How can I not meet Carey? I ask Bob how Bruce is doing. Yes, Bruce, the one who always wants to know if Cary is on time, has taken a fall and is now in a rehab center. He must be 71 years old, this is Jimmy Wyatt part 2 says Curt, Scooter boy. It seems once someone ends up in the hospital around here we donít see them again for a while, if ever.

Bruce has retired from working with the setup and tear down crews at the Anaheim Convention Center. His regular train days are Monday and Tuesdays, or at least thatís when he tries to get on the Amtrak trains. There are stories about him ending up stranded in Kingman and the crews paying for his lodging for the night. There are always stories around here. Everyone has one.

Bob says he has been to see Bruce in the hospital. Dave Keller says the same thing, later. Mark, a relatively new patio faithful takes Bob to see bruce. Heíll be in the hospital for a while, he says.

The crews know Bruce. Sometimes they ask me about him. Carl and Carey know him, or at least his name. I think Carl knows him better than Carey though Bruce has gone to Careyís train on my behalf, he says sometimes. I smile.

Four years ago I was the new kid on the block. I still feel like the new kid in some respects, but around the station Iím a regular, I know something about my railroad. I guess Iím a railroad groupy of sorts. I donít ever get fully involved in things, not to the degree of total emersion, not in anything, but my experience with the railroad may be the closest Iíve ever come. My mother told someone once that if I ever wanted something I went out of my way to get it. Iíve put a lot of energy into this, and still, I think itís the people that fascinate me the most. I love the locomotives, I have a lot to learn about them. Whatever it is, Iíve decided, after four years of learning and emotion, tears, conversation, drama, spending money, learning stories, connecting across country, losing some, keeping others, and maybe learning about all the cats in the process, and experience, I like it. Iíll take it.

Now, after my 608 meet, assuring bobby that the station is not my home, I make my way across the bridge and get to use the Amtrak station restroom. This is a preivelege, since over the last year it has been rebuilt and can only be accessed by remote control from behind the counter. The station keeps odd ticket hours, it seems, and so one caní talways get inside. Hopefully, no one ever has a real emergency or there could be some serious complaints. Iím waiting for that day. I hope Iím not the one who cmplains. But, alas, having taken care of business, itís off to the planter between the bridg ennd the cafť where the conversation tonight isnít about trains.

Dave and Dennis, and now me, sit on the planter. Dennis regales us with stories of doing time at James Music, Farm, not wanting to pay money. Heíll do the time, he tells the judge. He did the time, he cooked for the deputies or became the kitchen foreman. I donít know how we talk about the corrections department. It doesnít come up from any mention of Lancaster. Sometimes, itís hard to know how conversations get started around here. Doing time, cats, painting a house and climbing down from the roof using a rickety wooden ladder, and then Dave Keller shows up. Robert and Rockey make an appearance, the dog breathing heavly in the warmth. Robert commands the dog to sit, stay, and sit again. Rockey is getting better with the trains though he still gets a bit nervous. Heíll get used to it.

There is a confused conversation about a trust and money in a bank account and I tune out, though I never eally tune out, I just lose the details. Iíve always been an observer, I suppose. Much of the time I just sit and observe what goes on around me, the conversations, all the information I can gather. I just, on most days, sit pretty.

Somehow on Monday I end up getting aride home from Dave, saying Iíll take the last bus to paradise.

I sling the bag over my shoulder and we take out leave. The bag gets the usual comments about being heavy. Weíve decided that what makes it heavy isnít whatís in it, but, rather, whatís on it. Bells, Redoxx dog tags, switch keys, a couple of Disney keys, twelve zipper pulls. It all adds up. Itís a great little bag. Tonight, itís sitting pretty, too.

The railroad week for me is a quiet one. Quiet weeks are good here. Iíll take those, too. This week I am accompanied by the baby, i.e., the railroad grip with all its bells and keys. Sitting pretty, this week, itís what we do.



Copyright © 2012 Shelley J Alongi
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