The Bus Stop That No One Talks About Because Of Who Travels Here
I’m writing about something that no one in my peer group, no one with whom I share a neighborhood seems to be able to speak about, yet it’s something that we see and are faced with on a weekly basis. A bus stop — yes, a bus stop — that changes the dynamic of our neighborhood and leaves us in a state of silence and complicity.
I’m white. I’m male. I’m upper-middle class. I live in a neighborhood where all of the houses are beige and many of the women are housewives, and there are two cars in the drive ways, and RV’s are parked out front and neighborhood gossip passes for news and frankly to write about us would be trite and so I’m not going to write about us because we’re boring as fuck. And yes… I put myself in that category, self-loathingly as that may sound.
But what’s not so tedious and insipid as the rest of us is a certain nondescript bus stop that sits just to the west of the main entrance to a Ralph’s Grocery Story on Hasley Canyon, a suburb about 25 miles north of Los Angeles. The residents of the community rarely use this bus stop, since we all have our SUVs and minivans aplenty, and really… it’s used for only one purpose…
You see, what makes our community different than most is that immediately across Interstate 5 from our suburban oasis, there sits a penitentiary, The Pitchess Detention Center, which is home to a variety of facilities each housing primarily medium security prisoners. There is, however, the North County Facility, which does contain what is known as a “Supermax” (Definition: Supermax) wing.
The detention center is easily visible from the Hasley Canyon freeway exit which the community uses daily and frankly, no one thinks much of. If you were to ask anyone living here if they were at all concerned about its proximity (about a mile as the crow flies), you wouldn’t find that anyone gives it much thought.
Immediately after you exit the freeway, you enter and quickly exit a round-about, pass a grocery store, and without even noticing it… pass a bus stop, a bench, a trash can, and a sign post… and then continue on your way.
Again, this bus stop is left largely unused during the week, but that all changes on weekends and holidays and it was the recent passing of this weekend’s Easter holiday that prompted me to finally notice what a strange anomaly this bus stop is.
This is the bus stop used by the primarily lower-income and minority families, coming from the inner sections of Los Angeles to visit their incarcerated family members at the detention center. It would seem this is the only reason this bus stop exists, because it remains virtually vacant the rest of the week.
From the bus stop, they have to make a three-quarter mile walk directly through one of the most peaceful and serene residential neighborhoods our community has to offer, immediately across from a park with two playgrounds, and a couple of soccer fields with plenty of room for children to play without a hint of danger or malice. We had graffiti once on one of the picnic tables. It was amazing the number of people who were talking about it as if it were a child abduction. Myself included. “Not in our town”… “Not in our town”!
This street exits through a small shopping center and onto The Old Road (the actual name of the road) which served as the main north/south thoroughfare before Interstate 5 was built years ago. Then a quarter mile walk along this busy road leads to a dirt embankment that must be ascended in order to access the main entrance road to the detention center. [Note: There is an alternate, paved route, which requires circling under the bridge and around if you are unable to ascend the dirt path. The paved route takes much longer it would seem.]
But this is where I get to wondering, what is this experience like for these folks? Is it wrong for me to even be uncomfortable in my own sense of wonder? Maybe they pay it no mind, maybe it’s just part of the necessary strain of the much larger burden of living with an incarcerated loved one.
So many of these families (it almost looks like a pilgrimage at times), these rows and columns of commuters… traveling with infants, toddlers with strollers and the elderly with wheelchairs. And here they are, making their way through this suburban neighborhood that must be so vastly different than their own.
What am I to do with that? How do I drive by them and not acknowledge that? I don’t dare take pity! That’s awful, I say to myself. But the notion crosses my mind that the incarcerated brothers, sons, fathers, uncles, that they are visiting; if they had these parks and these communities to play in and the thrive in in their youth.. would they find themselves on THAT side of Interstate 5, or on THIS side of Interstate 5? Would it have made a difference? Or at this stage, does anyone even care to ask that question? Has too much already happened that makes that question counterproductive?
These mothers and girlfriends and wives and children, they wander past these houses and schoolyards where safety is [largely] not an issue, but they play a role as a spectator, not as a participant. They chat on their cellphones and to each other, and never interact with the other passers by on the streets… the residents of the neighborhood. It truly is the most surreal of surreal events. And again I say… maybe it means nothing to them. Maybe this is my version of White Man’s Guilt. Maybe this means only something to me.
But without a doubt, the strangest aspect of all of this is in the eight years I’ve lived here. No one talks about it. It’s as if they are ghosts passing through town. During summer and fall when soccer games rage at the park, and hundreds of families crowd the fields, the inmates’ visitors families continue their pilgrimage along the perimeter of the field with no one acknowledging them, who they are, or what they’re doing. Because to do so, I believe, would be to acknowledge how fragile what we have actually is. How a simple twist of fate or of being born into a different set of circumstances or a different family would have changed everything for us. We couldn’t be quite so smug and sure of ourselves then, we might have to to adopt a different set of expectations about what is an acceptable standard of living. Or maybe it’s just that we’re scared because we don’t know what to say. We know they’re not from here, so we act like they’re not here. Which is just fucking inhuman.
But maybe I’m all wrong. Maybe they simply don’t care either and would prefer to be left alone. Are they self-conscious? Are they ashamed? Why would they be? Why should they be? They’re not incarcerated. But they're treated like they are. They are mothers and grandmothers pushing strollers with fussy infants and toddlers just like that mothers who sit just a few yards away at the playground. But to them maybe a bus stop, is a bus stop, is a bus stop and destination neighborhood doesn’t matter from one town to the next. They just want to get where they’re going and don’t want to be bothered with us any more than we want to be bothered with them. Who knows?
But one this is for sure. As is stands now. There is an us. And there is a them. And there is a bus stop.