I took part of the day off to tend my garden down along the UP tracks. I ended up spending about 2 hours digging around, gathering stones and building new beds for flowers that I’ll transplant soon. As I was searching for chunks of sandstone I noticed a man sleeping beneath willow trees near the garden. He apparently noticed me also because as I was crossing the tracks to gather up more stones he approached me and waved. I waved back.
He came over and awkwardly asked, “are you bored, or uh….?”
Clearly he was wondering why I was wandering around this lonesome section of rail between the freeway and lagoon.
“I’m tending my garden,” I answered. He looked relieved. The last thing he probably wanted was for me to be some creep or sketchy character.
“So you’re the one who does this!”
“Yeah, I’ve been working on this little patch of land for a few months,” I said.
“I’d been wondering who was doing it. Now I know. It’s real cool. Sometimes I hang out down here, but mostly I notice other people using it. It’s making a difference, you’re doing something good.”
“Great,” I glowed. “That’s what it’s for. In fact, if you want to work on it, plant anything…. Anything, go for it.” It was good to hear that people are enjoying it and respecting the space.
The man stuck out his hand and said, “Freddy, my name’s Freddy.” I told him my name and we shook on it. For some reason he felt compelled to now explain himself, why he was down here in the rough. “I was in the service,” he began. The military; somehow I knew right where this was going.
“I went to Afghanistan and got back in 03’. I seen thing over there that ain’t right. I was in Nicaragua in the 80s, I went to Bosnia, and a few other places where I saw combat. There ain’t nothin’ that can compare to what’s going on over there in Afghanistan, and Iraq too. It’s fucked up.”
Freddy had a purple bruise under his left eye from a punch that must have landed on his cheekbone weeks ago. I didn’t ask him about it. His face was weathered and he had dark tired eyes. But he didn’t look like a drinker. He said he liked coming down here because it was quiet, because he could “escape from society.”
“I can’t deal with society sometimes, so I’ve gotta just come down here and be alone. I like it down here. There’s not too many workers nor too many other people like us down here, so I get left alone. There’s nobody doing drugs or getting drunk. It’s a good spot. I’m glad you’re keeping this garden up.”
Freddy and I talked more about Afghanistan. Freddy said his whole life he’d been patriotic and believed in America. But after what he’d seen over there, after he war he said no more.
“I love my country, hate my government,” I told him. He said he agreed with that. We shook hands again and he walked off down the tracks toward town. A few minutes later a big freight rolled by with dozens of box cars toward the tail end. At least five of them had doors open on both sides, primo rides. The train slowed down enough to hop on, but I didn’t have the right clothing nor any supplies to catch out. Just my luck a perfect boxcar rolled by at about a soft jogging pace. Inside were three traveler kids, anarchists. One eyed me and beckoned to hop aboard with a wave of his hand. I flashed a peace sign and yelled, “maybe next time.”
No maybes, I’m hopping out in a few weeks for sure.
On Halloween we took over State Street in downtown Santa Barbara for 2 hours. The temporary autonomous zone produced by hundreds of us included music, dancing, art, free food, kisses, and joy!
See you in the streets!
See you in the streets!