While I was riding from LA back to Colorado, my dear friend Justin Adock was taking a lifetime trip by Amtrak from Mississippi to Oakland. I’ve known Justin for twenty years now. We’ve done a few short comics together, and he just published the fantastic gothic piney woods western, Into the Pines. Pick up a copy.
I loved reading Justin’s travel across Texas by train, so I invited him to be Onwards first guest writer!
So. I’d spent my first night on a train, The Sunset Limited from New Orleans to LA via Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, I’m the throes of ill-settled bones amid muscles obstructed by deliberately comfortless accommodations. Los caballos carro is no bueno for siestas, Amtrak.
I watched the sun rise on Texas, a slow dilation from dark to navy blue to an orange glow with clear greyblue skies in the make. The ceiling of the world now appears painted and near, almost too close to hold clouds or house weather.
We paused in Sanderson, some dying collective of abandoned and dilapidated homes and businesses, discarded train cars and trucking outfits of no further use, their equipment left to rust and return to the earth long after these people will have too late accepted their limitations and found new grounds to plunder.
Telephone poles of ragged deathly dry lumber barely 12’ high carry but two cables lining one side of a dirt road that parallels our course to the edge of the town and when the cables end so does any sign of human progress save these tracks and our locomotive.
Random trails run from our vantage up into the foothills and out across the chaparral but where they lead none but their travelers could say. Over and beyond are my words to offer.
In the middle of so much nowhere we passed a scattered herd of cattle with white faces all and most with horns standing black and brown amongst the succulents and scrub brush like they’d grown from the earth themselves with their movements indescribable from the foliage and whatever whim and influence the weather sets to them and only two of the beasts close enough together to claim so, that pair touching heads like lovers found among the ruins of a city paying no more attention to us than the birds above them.
What could be the environment as likely as age stains and rusts and peels at everything so that if Texas believes in recycling the wealth of this vista’s scenery speak to an opposing philosophy; paper thin and tattered mobile homes undulating like moth-eaten curtains pepper the edges of these baked townships, empty grain bins and silos, huge rice towers orphaned for ages, depleted gas tanks large and small, every manner of automobile in make and model strewn here and there in the wake of whatever pilot saw them no longer deserving of effort or preservation all now the worn colors of the natural earth with which they will eventually rejoin. Overworked plows, ovens and sinks, home appliances and facilities cast as rain but random by the hand of man and slower to evaporate, thickets of scrap metal that could have once been homes, barns, garages, businesses something of a larger whole but this is nowhere and these things hold no agency now but in the casting of shadows. So many small satellites to the Rail.
The scrub brush and arid foliage rarely move the environment choosing to remain still as the distant faded mountains blue and mauve give way to appear grey and invisible behind a curtain of distance. For hundreds of Texas miles it is only the efforts of men that stand taller than a fence post, the works of the Creator remaining close to the ground with no trees to prove the assessment wrong yet the rare windmill or antenna tower leering over desolate compounds to drive the point home.
San Antonio now. Sadly, from this vantage any impression of the place evades me.
El Paso’s bounty was immediate with rumor of a burrito lady selling her wares on the platform during a brief stop being accurate: donning a mask and head scarf and swaddled in loose clothes, she produced a selection of pulled pork and potato, red or green sauces, and a bean and cheese filled that I failed to acquire, but the red and green were small saviors from the barely digestible chow aboard the train. The dining car sure enough offered freshly prepared food from a chef, but being a coach passenger this car was not open to me. Instead we were served from the cafe car, all vending machine quality items priced to perturb. I can safely relate that the microwaved grilled cheese sandwich I had late that first night is the worst thing I’ve had to eat in a long, long time, somewhere between soggy toast and rubber cement, I wolfed it down to fill my empty belly and for no reason other.
Border Patrol agents in full tactical gear with their hands on shoulder slung assault rifles trawled amongst passengers smoking on the station landing while other officers prodded at the tall razor wire topped security fences on either side of the tracks possibly looking for recently created points of weakness. All of the officers I studied were ethnic and one agent spoke to me in Spanish but not understanding I simply pointed to the train. Whatever he asked, my reply set him to another task and off he went. Soon enough El Paso had given way to the desert and more chaparral and the sun beat down from straight above us on our migratory passage through those austere unpeopled lands.
… end first half.