Friday, January 11, 2013

My Own Train Tracks

One night, three weeks ago, in my mind, I stood at the edge of the ruins of the A building, the administration building, at College of the Canyons. I was back in Santa Clarita, lamenting this piece of campus history, which was only 20 years old. Granted, it smelled musty when you walked in, and the offices probably didn't have as much space as those working in them needed.

The new building that will be on the same plot of land is two stories, 46,000 square feet, and will have administrative offices plus the Child Development Center (sounds like someone's been reading Aldous Huxley). But whenever I go back to College of the Canyons in my mind, it's from when I was there as a student, to when Meridith and I visited for the final time last summer as part of our farewell tour of somewhat meaningful places in Santa Clarita. The only part of modern-day COC today that I mix in with my past is Hasley Hall, all metal and glass and concrete, somewhat grim in spots if you look directly at the concrete, but it's charming and aloof at the same time.

And yet, as I rack up more months as a resident of Las Vegas, College of the Canyons fades. I don't need that campus as much as I used to, grateful as I am to it for keeping me stable while I was in a whirlwind of trying to figure out what Santa Clarita was, what Los Angeles was, when we moved there nine years ago. Since I'm not there anymore, why dwell as much? Only Buena Park, Anaheim, and Baker are the clearest in my mind because I either have good memories, such as with Anaheim, cramped as it sometimes was, or I'm using them for novels or plays I'm writing, as with Buena Park and Baker, respectively.

When I go somewhere else in my mind now, my destination is one of three places. First is the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus which is massive and you can easily get lost there, like we did our first time in 2007 when we were there as tourists and I wanted to get information about their journalism program, when I was thinking of pursuing a bigger degree. I love that campus, with all that it offers, all the tree-lined sidewalks with shadows that loom over the grounds when the sun is cocked at just the right angle, the bookstore that includes books about Las Vegas and Nevada, the cafeteria with so many choices for eats, and the arcade which is at least airier than the near-dark closet that the arcade at College of the Canyons was. I didn't spot any pinball machines, but I haven't been back yet since that first time. Plus, I have to go back because that campus will be an inspiration for a potential mystery series I want to write that's set on a college campus.

My second mind destination is the Boulder City Library, which I love much more than the Whitney Library and the Clark County Library, both of which I find useful, but only as refueling stops. In the Boulder City Library, I linger, I dig, I explore, I gape, I discover. I am forever grateful to the Boulder City Library not only because of how gently and carefully it treats books, not only for the Nevada Room with all those old books about Nevada, but also because that's where I discovered New Mexico Magazine, whose featured issue, on the day I went, happened to be the 90th Anniversary issue. What a perfect starting point for my fervent desire to travel throughout the state in the years to come. Two weeks ago, I bought my own copy of that issue, and today, I subscribed to the magazine over the phone. 12 issues for $19.95. And I'm sure I'll renew my subscription when it comes time, alongside Nevada Magazine, which comes out only six times a year, but is still useful. I love to remember that moment in my mind, finding New Mexico Magazine, turning the pages and discovering that people are as interested in the state as I am. Compared to the names in this magazine, I'm still a total amateur, but I'm willing to learn.

The third place I stop at in my mind will soon become my daily reality. When we went to Pacific Islands, an apartment complex in Henderson in either October or early November last year, I immediately found my favorite spot. You stand at the low part of a wall that separates the complex from a wash, in the parking lot, and after the wash, there are train tracks. Union Pacific trains and other trains pass through here, but usually only three times a day, as someone in the front office told us. When Mom and Meridith went for their manicure appointment at Ravella at Lake Las Vegas last month, Dad and I went to Pacific Islands to find out some more information, and I stood at that wall and watched a chemical train crawl slowly past, not wanting to risk any reactions from hydrogen peroxide and other volatile chemicals which were in white tanks where the cars would be on a regular train. Yeah, it's an unsettling thought, but Pacific Islands and the surrounding areas are still here, so the train drivers are obviously incredibly careful.

I love to stand at that low wall, across from covered parking spaces, across from one section of the complex that represents all the other sections in being a lightly-shaded forest, and stare at those train tracks, imagining my future travels, wondering where those tracks stretch to, and thinking about the teenaged boy I saw standing on an empty section of a train where a boxcar or a cargo container would go, while I was walking Tigger in the parking lot of Barstow Station in Barstow on the morning that we were moving to Las Vegas. I saw him, he saw me, I waved briefly at him, and he stared at me until he was out of sight. Not a malevolent stare, maybe just wondering what I was doing there. I also think about the backpacker I saw on one of our early visits to the Smith's on East Flamingo. He walked to the produce section with his pack on his back, took one banana, and turned right around and walked to the registers. I wondered where he came from, where he was going, if he had come off a Greyhound bus, or if he had a bike, or if he got rides whenever he knew it was necessary. I wrote about him somewhere else on this blog, but I've never forgotten him.

We have to stay here at Valley Vista Mobile Home Park until September 15, as the contract that my parents signed stipulates. But after September 15, I can walk from wherever we'll be at Pacific Islands to that exact spot that I like, and look at those train tracks whenever I want. We're moving again, this time to Henderson, and actually to where Mom wanted to move the first time, but then when Dad was hired, there wasn't enough time to make the arrangements for Pacific Islands to be our new home, and we had to choose what was immediately available. Valley Vista was it, and they allowed pets.

On Tuesday, we're going to Pacific Islands to fill out the necessary paperwork and give $45 each for what is either a security deposit or something else. I don't know, but I'm sure I'll find out before then, and I'm willing to pay because this is exactly where I want to be. The pool has a rock formation waterfall that sounds so soothing when you walk near it to wherever you're going on the property or even to the pool, and there are so many trees to look at and a few flowers too. Plus, people actually walk around, unlike here at Valley Vista where the only way you know that people live here are the cars that pass by. In fact, on our last family visit, we met one of the residents who was standing outside his door on the second floor and he told us that he's lived in Las Vegas all his life, has lived at Pacific Islands for seven years, and loves it. Every resident that I saw looked calm. It's said that the resident turnover at Pacific Islands is low, so that's why we're doing this on Tuesday to be sure that there's something for us by August, so we can snap it up and have that be the only time that we're paying rent for two places. That's how it has to be so that when we're done at Valley Vista, we can move right into Pacific Islands. No more walking up four steps to get to our back door. No more of Mom, tired from a day out, having to walk up those steps to the back door. Ground floor apartment. That's what we want and that's what we'll get.

When we were in Boulder City on Mom's birthday, which was also New Year's Eve, she said she loves it there, but doesn't think she could live there because the novelty of it would fade and she'd get tired of it. I'm not sure how true that would be with how peaceful it is, how there's very little tumult unlike what there is in Las Vegas. Not detrimental tumult, just the usual crackling atmosphere of any major city. The only inconvenience of Boulder City is that it's a fair drive to a supermarket or a Walmart or a Target. If you need to restock the refrigerator or buy a few things for your household, you have to plan.

I don't think I'll get tired of having the train tracks available to me all the time. I can daydream more often about where I want to travel. And there are days when I feel like my writing isn't going anywhere, and all I have to do is look at those train tracks to re-energize my writing, to remind me that I can go anywhere in my writing, explore anything, make it my own. It also has the strong effect every time of making me want to reread Stranger on a Train: Daydreaming and Smoking Around America with Interruptions by Jenny Diski. Maybe I'll do that before Tuesday, before I see those train tracks again.