Seeing the world today in a different way: A Piece of My Mind

One of my New Year’s resolutions: Use more public transportation. I experimented with taking my eyes off the road last month and here are some of the things I was able to see.

From the windows of the Capitol Corridor Amtrak train to Sacramento:

• The winter-dark hills of the Peninsula reflected in the mirror-smooth salt ponds of Newark.

• In Fremont, a meticulously landscaped backyard with espaliered trees and a vine-covered gazebo.

• Next door, a backyard piled with old office furniture, car parts, scrap lumber and thickets of unchallenged weeds.

• An empty bike trail leading to a vest-pocket park reclaimed from the railroad right-of-way, with a community’s worth of children playing on its colorful plastic swings and slides.

• An outburst of antique shops and boutiques in newly rehabilitated Niles.

• A huge water tank painted impressionistically a la Monet’s “Water Lilies.”

• A colorful riot of graffiti along the fences bordering the track in Oakland.

• The elegant new Carquinez suspension bridge soaring above a scruffy oil tanker.

• Egrets patrolling the salt marsh next to the train track, stalked in their turn by eager bird-watchers.

• A black river of tank cars flowing past the sandstone butte-colored oil tanks of Martinez, standing in their man-made and fire-resistant desert.

• Suisun Bay framed by the arches of the elegant new concrete-span Benicia Bridge.

• From the opposite window, art deco patterns of rivets in the old steel Benicia Bridge.

• Rain-greened hills curving softly behind Fairfield, scattered with young dark-leaved oak trees.

• Brilliant white thunderheads over the Central Valley illuminated by the late afternoon sun.

From the Unitrans bus in Davis:

• A panorama of suburban growth, from 1920s bungalows near the center of town past the larger homes on smaller lots alternating with rambling two-story apartment complexes, all the way to the final destination, the gleaming new Target at the city limits.

• A severely handicapped young man who somehow managed to convey a jaunty wave to the driver as his motorized wheelchair rolled off the bus ramp and wheeled away down the sidewalk.

From the Valley Transportation Authority light-rail system running from Mountain View to San Jose:

• Tilt-ups and high-rises labeled with high-tech-sounding nonsense syllables ending in “X.”

• Strip malls, each with a facade of terra cotta and tile, and including at least one fast-food chain outlet, dental office, dry cleaner, mini-mart, nail salon and drugstore.

• Look-alike houses on tiny lots sprung up like prefab mushrooms where the Ferry-Morse seed plant and greenhouses bloomed a few decades ago.

• Within the forest of houses, glimpses of a fountain, a park, a playground – even people.

On the BART train to San Francisco from Millbrae:

• A Rastafarian in dreadlocks and worn jeans holding the elevator door open for a well-dressed elderly woman on her way to shop.

• A beautiful and stylishly dressed black woman, her hair extensions caught in a bun high on her head, reading the New Yorker.

• A heavy-set man bundled in multiple layers pushing a shopping cart laden with blankets and bulging trash bags, wearing a Santa hat.

• People over 50 carrying briefcases and purses and talking to each other; people between 30 and 50 looking at laptops or talking on smartphones; people under 30 wearing earbuds and listening to invisible voices.

Next up: maybe the 522 express bus to Stanford, or the Coast Starlight to San Luis Obispo – no matter, as long as my eyes are not fixed to white lines and asphalt.

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