Reflections on Union Station: an essay by Marisela Norte

woodenstar
On the occasion of Union Station’s 75th anniversary, Metro created a special commemorative publication, Union Station: 75 Years in the Heart of LA, featuring eight written and five photographic essays that celebrate the station by authors John C. Arroyo, William D. Estrada, Stephen Fried, Rafer Guzman, David Kipen, Marisela Norte, D. J. Waldie, and Alissa Walker. The book is on sale now at the online Metro Store. All essays will also be posted on The Source in the coming weeks. The series was edited by Linda Theung, an editor and writer based in Los Angeles.

Train of Thought
by Marisela Norte

“If you ever get lost” she told us once, “Just get yourself to Union Station and you’ll know how to get home.”

Find a calendar
put on a blindfold
and pick a year
any year
and there will
always be
a picture of me
standing alone
inside of Union Station.

speaker
In 1982
I stood
poised
and camera ready.

My picture taken
before crisscrossing
sidewalks
that led to Chinatown
Madame Wong’s
Flora’s
nightcaps at Yee Mee Loo
and always
a shortcut chaser
through Olvera Street
before making my way
back
to Union Station.

Dropping dimes
inside the
dark
wooden booths
heavy with
conversation.

If this grand station was
a sacred place
then these rows of public telephones
were the city’s confessionals.

Inside I waited for answers
a ride home
waiting.

 

whiteshell
Every morning
I wait for the light
to change my mind.

Every morning
it is never the same.

The numbers change
like the exchange rates
on romance, survival, and
a cup of coffee.

I steady myself
as if I were driving
or already on a moving train
going somewhere
outside of this self.

Just one
of thousands of extras
all of us
the supporting players
in this
the ultimate magical reality show.

The Los Angeles Public Transit Story
where we
have been cast as
strangers on the same train of thought
inside Union Station.

Everyone
all of us
are going somewhere
while standing perfectly still.

girlwavingarms
We wait for a train
for a seat
the hooded
the buttoned down
the skateboard
the briefcase
the generic plastic bag
carried by all of us
holding some extension
of the other self
as we move through Union Station
my favorite freeway
in the city of Los Angeles.

“If you ever get lost . . .”
her voice trails off.

A girl in a green T-shirt
and a pair of black Converse sneakers
is hunched over a textbook
instead of a cell phone.

Those same sneakers
I wore as a child
pretending to be William Holden
running up and down the long
corridors of Union Station
a victim of the late Late Show.

These same corridors
the polished footsteps
are my stage left.

And today
Union Station becomes the knot
in the throat of Los Angeles
where we in the thousands
walk past
in between
over way out
and under.

crowd
Invisibly

we go hand and hand.

Silently

knitting words
breaking the language
barrier
on a slow-moving train.

Searching
for artifacts from
1959
1978
1982 and next year.

Early morning
I see an orange rind
left at the foot
of the steps of
Union Station.

The orange rind
has begun to curl
in the Los Angeles
sunshine
like the red-cellophane
fortune-telling fish
we bought as kids
on surprise trips
to Chinatown.

It curls a little to the left
as if to say
“Yes, you will make your train.”
“Good bus karma is yours today.”
“If you ever get lost . . .”

orangepeel
Walking through this
vast station
movie backdrop
I’m a 70s cop show extra.
I’m the woman on the Red Line
wearing all three of the Supremes
wigs at the same time.
I’m the one you want to sit next to
I promise.

corncob
I ask myself
What year will it be today?

Take the blindfold off
and tell us
where you were going

and who you were wearing
on that night of the Midnight Railway mass.

Memory reflected
inside the abandoned telephone booth
where the portraits hang
down the long, shiny corridor
where your voices speak
cool California tiles
soothe your sore throat Los Angeles
a full moon is waiting
in the empty seat next to you.

tile
Everyday
I count 100 faces to keep my balance.
I make room for a birthday cake
from Clifton’s
the sound of a train whistle
signaling
Union Station.

Adjusting
the narrative’s hemline.
I take my place
alongside
the extras
all of us
poised
and camera ready.

Finally

there is movement
the crisscrossing
from Purple to Red Line
from Inland Empire

to Central Valley
and back
inside Union Station.

Where I steady myself
prepare the imaginary
questionnaire
mark the area-code switch

forever armed with a pocketful
of dimes
so I can keep talking to you
Los Angeles.

It is your fragile geography
I carry
in a see-through bag
since 1955
listening for the sound of
your voice
reminding me
that if I “ever get lost . . . ”

pointingfoot
In private
and on paper
this is how I walk
this is how I wander
the only way to really know
Los Angeles is
by counting footsteps I say.

Sometimes
I tell myself
I am traveling.

Detail of a mural about Union Station inside Metro Headquarters, Los Angeles Circa 1870, 1910, 1960 and After 2000, James Doolin, Artist.

Detail of a mural about Union Station inside Metro Headquarters, Los Angeles Circa 1870, 1910, 1960 and After 2000, James Doolin, Artist.


Marisela Norte
 is an author of poetry and fiction. A lifelong Angeleno, Norte is a committed patron of public transportation and travels through Union Station nearly every day. Her poems have been featured on Metro Transit TV as part of the Out the Window project and were recently selected among the best transit poems in the world by The Atlantic magazine.

Related stories:
Essay by Alissa Walker
Essay by William D. Estrada
Essay by David Kipen

4 replies

  1. This is so beautiful. Yay, Union Station and it’s greatest traveler, Marisela Norte!

  2. Very evocative and a terrific rendering of the energy and magic of this great thoroughfare. Lovely piece! Both the poetry & the photos. Gracias!

  3. I did this with my personal cell phone, which ‘ unlike my
    work Blackberry ‘ had no password on it. ” I do not believe “true love” can exist indefinitely without both components. or disheartened if they can’t satisfy their woman from intercourse.