Self-Storage (Notes from a Train)

Lights On the 17:36 to London Paddington. We keep passing those ubiquitous self-storage units. I associate them with trains now. Or perhaps it's the other way round - I associate trains not with rolling countryside but with sprawling industrial amenities.

How can there possibly be so much stuff in the world that needs storing? Who rents these units, and for what purpose? It seems to me that once people become disengaged from their things, they cease to need them. For awhile I toyed with the idea of having some things in Oxford and some in California, but it really was pointless, and after a season I'd re-acquired everything I wanted but had left behind. The rest was duly carted off to the Salvation Army. What we own means nothing without us, not the other way around.

There's a man who stores his furniture with us. No one really knows where he is anymore (Canada? Australia?) and it seems he has no thoughts for the things which gather dust in our house, though money continues to appear monthly in our account, like magic. Recompense for nothing at all.

So whenever I see those self-storage places I feel like I'm looking at these vast empty spaces. Even if they are full, even if people do use them - what's the point? What's inside is just abandoned stuff in its own abandoned world.

But back to trains. Air conditioned trains on a hot day, which always remind me of the summer I spent commuting from Goleta to Santa Ana. I was interning at the Orange County Transportation Authority (is there irony in the amount of time I spent transporting myself for those three months? Oh, yes!), spending three days down there before returning home for a long weekend. And on Wednesday evenings I'd buy a sandwich for dinner and change out of my suit and I'd catch the last train back.

Between Santa Ana and Los Angeles I'd watch the hot, pale sunlight turn into a Southern California twilight, and in that twilight we'd rush past the other side of things. People's backyards - plastic toys, dirty pools, beer bottles. The tired backs of buildings, the places where cars go to die, the places where trucks go to stock up on goods. Warehouses and factories. A Spearmint Rhino with a neon sign and a mournful countenance.

But mostly self-storage places. They were everywhere - a part of the landscape, like rolling golden hills and stunning sea views.

You never really saw any people on that journey. A few stops out of L.A. it would suddenly be dark and you'd have to turn your eyes to the seat in front of you again, and outside there would be nothing but flashing lights.