Flash Frames on the Rails

On a train, a sleek steel behemoth on rails, you witness the sprawl of California through a different lens –  if you take the time to look. On Amtrak ‘s San Joaquin route 714 on a January day,  I watched the flash frames of urban squalor,  coastal majesty, and then the aggressively agricultural heart of the state…

Rusted, gutted cars like metallic warts in a homeless encampment under a concrete overpass.

A freight train on a parallel track zip by hauling dozens of shiny silver tankers.  Sometimes matte black or dirty white, they seem like torpedoes ready to detonate.

To the East, sensuously verdant hills bathed in mist.  Everything green again with the Rains.

To the West, the northern San Francisco bay in all its flashing glory.

A marsh hemming an estuary where scaups and saddleback ducks, and hundreds of other seabirds skitter and dunk for lunch.

A pile of junked cars. Someplace like that is probably where my late Beetle ended up, cursed with a blown-out engine.

A neighborhood park with clever  play structures just a stone’s throw from family homes. They are up close to the train’s rumble and bleat every day.

Garish graffiti shouting out from walls and bridges:  “I have nothing better to do with my talent and this paint.”

A motor home park,. Do the residents  love the auditory muscle of  trains so close?

Another slum with shanties abutted to ruined cars, garbage heaped and strewn. Who can cope with this pissy chaos and retain sanity?

Big rigs cozied up to all the little maws of a vast distribution center.  

Road detritus. My foraging habit triggered but denied.

A solar farm covering acres with pale blue panels. Glad to see progressive energy solutions!

Spikey Mediterranean cypress. The  habit of planting them like fences annoys me.

Tri-County bus yard.  Why are so many parked here at mid-day?

Amtrak photo

Central Valley agribusiness opens up.  Straight rows of trees, ribboned with green, as far as the eye can see.  Huge irrigation pipeline feeding mature orchards, new orchards.  Probably some kind of nut.

A palm tree orchard! I would live in such an oasis!

Stockton’s backside.  Modest homes. Graffiti on too many surfaces. Strip malls intrude.

Full throated rain horn  – probably the loudest sound produced on land outside of a war zone.

Abandoned ranches.  Wondering when they skin cattle hides in the slaughtering process.

McMansions tucked beside pastures feeding horses, goats, and sheep.  Agro junk courtesy of the ‘toss it out back’ school of rural living.

Velvet green fallow fields awaiting the plow.

Bee hive boxes scattered across a grassy field.  Work to do soon.

Transmission lines suspended on robot-like steel towers.

Fresno station is delightfully old-school Spanish-inspired station at Fresno.

Though it was a four-hour journey from Oakland to Fresno,  heading North, then East and South, I found the rhythm of the ride soothing.  Got to see things normally  invisible from the highway. But not many fellow riders. Americans made the mistake long ago of favoring overpriced cars and manic freeways to the simple elegance of interconnecting trains.  Makes me miss Europe.

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