Powerful Essay From Los Angeles Writer Alex Espinoza

Train Versus Pedestrian on Valley Boulevard

by Alex Espinoza

We lived in the kcet2shadows of factories and processing plants. I remember the tall smoke stacks off of Seventh Street, lit up like massive Roman candles at night. I remember the smell of chemicals and solvents mixing with the scent of vinegar from the Vlasic Pickle Factory, fresh bread from the Golden Foods Bakery, or strawberries and cherries from the Hansen’s bottling plant. I grew up with the sound of semis barreling down Nelson Avenue and Orange Boulevard, steel plates banging and grinding against one another, and the low, droning hum of train wheels gliding over the metal tracks running parallel to Valley Boulevard, that long stretch of thoroughfare running west into South El Monte, Rosemead, and East Los Angeles and east into South San Jose Hills, Walnut, and Diamond Bar.

As a young boy, I would ride my bike through a wide empty field that lay just north of Valley Boulevard and the railroad tracks, a lot sandwiched between a junkyard and yet another factory. Bits of paper bags and torn strips of newsprint would get caught in the thorny stems of wild bushes that grew in the grime-coated soil, and I’d pedal through the thin trails that wound through the field, smashing the countless stink beetles that skimmed across my path. A rusted chain link fence separated the perimeter of the field from the railroad tracks. I’d hear the whistle first, the sharp howl that pierced through the endless roar of rush hour traffic on Valley.

That whistle, so mournful, so aching. I heard it at night as I slept with the windows open on summer evenings in our house in La Puente. I used to imagine those trains travelling through mountains and tunnels, across forests and deserts, venturing well past our ramshackle homes and dilapidated strip malls, their cheap stucco exteriors flaking and bubbling off like reptiles molting their skin, past the steel and metal towers of the factories and processing plants, far away to places someone like me would never see. Read Rest of Article Here.

Alex Espinoza is the author of “The Five Acts of Diego León” and “Still Water Saints.” The recipient of a 2014 fellowship in prose from the National Endowment for the Arts and an American Book Award, he holds an MFA in Writing from UC-Irvine. Alex is Visiting Associate Professor and Director of the Bilingual MFA in Creative Writing/Creative Media at California State University, Los Angeles.

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