Recently I had to travel across state, and instead of driving through the section of interstate my parents fondly christened ‘the death trap’, we took the train. It wasn’t the first time I’d taken a train anywhere, but it had been a while. Trains may have been a breakthrough in transportation a few centuries ago, but these days they’re more images of a bygone era. At least in the United States. The ones in Europe are pretty nice. But that’s not the point.
As hard as it is to believe sometimes, cities often try to make roadways at least mildly presentable. The dry and wilted grassy medians and stuff are supposed to make the trip somewhat less ugly. It turns out that trains don’t bother with that. Tracks go by the dregs of our cities, the building blocks that we cast aside and don’t want to see.
On my five hour train trip, I saw scrapyards, warehouses, buildings that ought to be condemned. I saw a landfill for the first time. I saw bashed in TVs, forsaken furniture, and what looked disturbingly close to a body stuffed in a black trash bag. These are the scenes the cities would rather have us not see – the ugly results of living the way we do. The roadways are manicured, cleaned up, and deemed good enough. But the train sees it how it really is.
Only one group of people seem to really enjoy these forsaken areas. As we sped past crumbling cement walls, I was able to appreciate an unending line of graffiti. Fancy names, strange faces, political commentary – even a scrawled bit of poetry. As I stand painting here in the night, I wonder if there are any others who’ve seen the light. When we reached a spot where any paint had been covered by a fresh layer of cement, I commented aloud that it was too bad. The graffiti was nicer to look at, anyway.
My father told me that it wasn’t too bad. “Now there’s room for new paintings,” he pointed out.
I suppose he’s right. Still, I’d never be able to wander out into the dead edges of the city, courting charges, just to spray on some art that would be covered up again eventually. But I applaud those who can. It’s nice to know that for some people, the dead city isn’t so dead after all.