What’s an artist date? Read last week’s entry to find out!
When I left the house this morning, I thought I’d prepared everything I needed for my weekly day out, but it turned out I forgot two vital items. The first was a face towel for my dance cardio class at Hipline; I got around this omission by substituting the cloth napkin I always carry around with me (and boy, was I glad for it — Deb’s class is intense!). The second forgotten object was my camera. Augh! My plan for today’s artist date was to get on BART and take the Pittsburg-Bay Point line all the way out to the end. I figured I’d take photos out the windows of the train, get off at various stations, and explore a new area of the East Bay. But without my camera, I only had my phone and my sketchbooks and journals to document the journey.
By the time I got on the train, I was very weary. The dance class, walking two miles to have lunch with Kuukua, and the giant plate of noodles I’d eaten all made me want nothing more than a nap. But on the train, I saw something that interested me. I dug my journal out of my bag and wrote:
When I get to MacArthur station there’s a family waiting for the train with me. At first I don’t realize they’re a unit. The man, short, compact, and stocky, wears denim overalls and a white baseball cap. He looks like some kind of manual laborer: a construction worker maybe, or a house painter. He bops around the station without speaking to anyone, drumming his fingers rhythmically on the handrail. The woman is a little shorter and she hides her shape in a big brown hooded sweatshirt. With her curly brown hair and glasses, she looks like an older college student, one of the serious ones returning to school years after their classmates graduated. Behind the woman stands a girl, round, snub-nosed like the man, wearing a white hoodie and bright pink pants, carrying a huge bright pink-handled bag, her quiet, patient expression framed by big pink plastic glasses. She could be anywhere between 9 and 14 years old. Her hair and the woman’s, their femaleness, makes them a unit, but I don’t realize right away that they, as well as the man, also belong to the rickety cart loaded with bulging black garbage bags.
When the train comes they get on. What I’d perceived as one cart diverges into two: the man takes one, the woman the other. I seat myself facing them in the same car. As we pull out of Oakland I notice one of the bottles in the cart, and I know from its squared-off shape that it’s an Asian brand of juice. Then I see that the orange label bears the character for my own last name: hsia, summer.
As the family talks and smiles with one another I realize the adults are much younger than I’d taken them for — maybe even my age. I only missed it before because they are chunky, because the man’s hair has silver in its dark black-brown, and because they are pushing those carts. The man looks careworn in spite of his cheery manner, as though he is the one in charge of excursions like these, the one who navigates the world on their behalf. But his skin is smooth, and so are the woman’s and girl’s.
Do they notice I’m watching them, writing about them? The man keeps looking in my direction. When he stands and comes purposefully toward me my heart leaps wildly. But he’s just consulting the route map next to my seat. Even so, I hold my notebook close to my chest.
The man is very tan, his face tinged with dark pink. The woman’s skin is paler but still tan, and the girl’s paler still. Whenever the train lurches, the man reaches for the handle of the bigger cart, making sure it stays in place. He’s talking on a cell phone now, trying to get directions to the recycling center. The family’s faces all look clean, their clothes too, but the girl’s hair hasn’t been washed in several days. She’s thickly built; her ankles in their white socks and bulky white athletic shoes look as big around as my calves. But her expression radiates thoughtful absorption as she takes in the view rushing by outside her window. There’s an expedition-like feel to the whole family: in the dad’s upbeat energy, the mom’s quiet weariness, the girl’s passive interest. They’re so well-behaved, all of them, as if trying to prove to the world that not all pushers of carts of cans and bottles need be unpleasant.
Whoever’s on the other end of the cell phone is not helpful, and the man is losing patience. But his language never gets fouler than “freaking.” Holding the phone to his ear, he stands, gripping a ceiling strap, and bucks his body back and forth to make the girl laugh. She watches him with childlike happiness. I notice two fat backpacks on the ground between the woman and the carts, their repletion comparable to the girl’s big satchel. Are these their supplies for this outing… or do they contain everything they own?
The train has emptied out, closer to Pittsburg, and it’s all bare brown hills here, broken up occasionally by a gas station, industrial plaza, or electric towers. I see two playgrounds and think, a school — but no, it’s an enormous church, the gigantic cross standing out on the side of the building.
Someone sneezes, further down the car, and the man pauses in his conversation to call out, “Bless you.”
A red-roofed housing complex appears suddenly at our right, and then in the distance, green, and blue water. Then back to brown hills. It’s so different from the cool urban landscape we’ve just left. Here the sun shines so brightly, the stark scenery looks even emptier. This is the end of the line. I look around for a sign of civilization and there it is: the US flag, and right underneath it, the Golden Arches.
“This train’s out of service,” the conductor announces as we come to a stop, and we all file out: I to board a return train back to the city, the laden family to the recycling center, and then onward, to wherever their destination lies.
On the train ride back toward the city I started reading the book I’d brought with me, Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, and caught by Frankl’s Auschwitz memories and my own exhaustion, I abandoned my plan to stop in Walnut Creek or Lafayette stations, and just rode on back to Oakland. I finished the book in a cafe on College, did a bit of work, then rode the train to El Cerrito and finished the day in the library while waiting for Erik to pick me up. I walked 5½ miles over the course of the day, and rode still further on the train and in my mind. I call that a successful artist date!
Tomorrow: I attempt to fix up the backpack that accompanies me so faithfully on these outings!