Shanty Towns & Trailer Parks.

The Pacific Coaster from LA Union Station to San Diego takes about 3 hours, counting the time it takes to walk from the queuing platform to the station deck. Last month, I traveled out from a central part of the city to the outer reaches of LA, then on down the coast to my new home. It started with a queue, to pick up my ticket at Union Station. Once that was done, I walked and admired, in the sticky heat of a body not used to the warmth, the architecture and other-worldliness of this place.

Then we queued, under a sign. The sign told us to queue and wait for the signal from the usher, to walk to the platform where we were to board our train. I don’t really know why we had to stand there when we already had our tickets explicitly stating the platform and time of departure. But we queued, in an orderly and complicit manner until we were told we could move to the platform. Then we dispersed like flurry of fast-moving ants, which I’m not sure was the point.

As we (I guess the train and I) traveled, the railway lines were clinking and clacking with the roll of the carriage. It was kind of like those old spaghetti westerns carved out in Hollywood studios in the 30’s & 40’s where I sat out looking at the world, all the while suspecting there were half a dozen stagehands methodically rocking the carriage in time with the soundtrack in my head.

LA County rolls out it’s smaller cities and towns in a continual mass of concrete, brick and tile. By the time you hit the coast, it’s more like rolling past a line of school-children awkwardly holding hands. Some do it easier than others.

But the hand-holding really starts much closer into the city. You can tell a lot by the train line. Like back home, you get the best view of the billboards and industrial areas, great views of the central city suburbs until you hit the underground into Britomart. Here, you get a view into people’s backyards, their malls, parking lots and then into trailer parks. You get to see a lot of trailer parks.

Closer into the city, the trailer parks have a tendency to look like half demolition yards around the edges, with enough clear road left for the cars to move in and out. Corrugated iron in ruby and russet, with blue and gray tarpaulins part shelter, part windbreak, part privacy-shade swamp the permanently parked trailers.

About thirty minutes into this journey, we’re climbing our way through the freeway intersections and out into the hand holding inner suburbs, who sit shoulder to shoulder. Forty five minutes out of the station and the trailer parks begin to change their form. The driveways and streets are cleaner. There’s no tarpaulin in site and pot plants start to adorn the weatherboard-covered axles. The ruby and russet hues of iron and steel are gone, replaced with cool grays, blues, creams. The dusty inner-city haze seems to be cleared away.

At first I don’t think of there being any unusual thing in this situation. I’m laughing internally, the way a cynic who’s ashamed of their callous observations does, about the cars. It doesn’t matter how rickety-ramshackle the trailer park is, it sure seems that most of the cars are of a similar vintage. New. Spanking new. Well, within a three year model run.

The humour of it is, in my world the tidiest garages in the priciest central city suburbs house the rusty, fifteen year old student bombs held together with chewing gum and number eight wire, warranted by the Onehunga testing station, spit and grease. We’d trade just about anything for location and acreage when it comes to our homes. We long for ten foot ceiling studs and the quarter acre section, with vege garden and grass. Lord, we love grass. Paddocks preferably.

Here, a trailer-sized plot is big enough, so long as there’s a spot for the car, sparkling and fresh. The height of the ceilings doesn’t matter. It’s more of the same, keep the sun & light & heat out philosophy I guess, just in a different expression. Space for a bed, a chair, a place to eat. A shower. It’s all you need – so this is a simplified manner of living. In the East Coast Bays, we’ve talked about community, but this is shoulder to shoulder living.

We get an hour out of the city and the trailer parks are holding hands along the railway lines now, with the odd little stop tucked between. Some of our stops have me overlooking the garden sheds, kitchen windows and second-story bathrooms. The same colour landscapes apply to some of these suburbs and trailer parks.

The car rule is definitely the same.

By the time we hit the coast, traveling past the shoreline swamped with human bodies, beach umbrellas and lifeguard towers line up against the Pacific. It’s summer in California and the burner is turned up, even though the safety glass of the train’s window my arm is tingling and protesting against the heat. The vitamin-D starved, winter skin is both craving and detesting the sudden assault of sunlight. I feel pink and flushed all over, wishing I wasn’t so pale and out of place.

I’m watching the coastline and feeling every glass of wine, every pizza, every pistachio nut that has accompanied my winter hibernation. Golden, ruddy golden bodies are like moving exhibits in the ocean. I’m envious.

The trailer parks are non-existent now, beachfront condos and houses with Spanish influences crammed together no differently than my shanty town trailer parks and shackle the coast like palisades. Row after row, they line up the same way bodies cover the beaches. Americans know how to queue and line up, that much is for sure.

Then we hit the recreation parks. Parking lots lined with asphalt along the beaches. Black asphalt. So black that the tar was molten and glistening, even so I could see it from the train. They were covered with RVs. Dozens and dozens of them, and then the tents. Asphalt parking lots covered in tents and RVs, littered with bbqs, picnic tables and coolers.

I’ve learned since arriving, that it’s not at all uncommon. To park in a carpark in order to have a holiday by the beach. Others take their RVs into the desert with quad bikes and farm bikes. So I get it. I think.

Here are my observations, that really bear no aspersions or commentary on the place I’m living, it’s just different.

1. People are good at queuing here. It’s a culture of queuing probably determined by the crazy population swell of Southern California.

2. People are so good at queuing that even vacations are big queues of bodies, RVs, campers and tents.

3. People here live close together because “space” doesn’t seem to matter in the same way it does back home, when you simply don’t have the choice. Buses, trains, sidewalks, parks, suburbs, cities. You all gotta hold hands.

4. The tidy car seems to be more important in American culture than the tidy, freshly painted garage. Interesting ideas on home and space.

What do you think?