Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Did Tears Fall for the Children of Palo Alto?

The night storm had vanished and I looked at broken black clouds over the city of Palo Alto. Rain had plummeted day after day, pelting the ground in a concert of constant deluge until at last dawn hours stirred. I viewed a wet street empty save for solitary cars directed east or west across a Caltrain railroad track. It was 2011.  
A stretch of Caltrain track in Palo Alto
One after another students from Palo Alto´s highly accredited high schools were awaiting death on the track in the path of oncoming trains. This epidemic of suicide had alerted the media. ABC and NBC news reporters appeared with cameramen to interview local officials.  

I guarded the tracks as a security officer. I witnessed how these calamities wounded the heart of this town in California´s wealthy Silicon Valley.

Downtown Palo Alto

This blond, slender 40-something woman always wearing blue jeans walked daily, across the track on the opposite side of the street. She´d pause, look both ways, then sprint over to hand to me a cold can of coke. Not once or twice mind you---she always did it. And every time she did she expressed in that action love for the lives of the children of Palo Alto.  

Late, late at night a car stops, the teen-age driver exits; he opens the trunk, grabs a beer and sets it down in the middle of the street, then without word said he drives away.

The Hispanic gardener in the truck with its lawnmower and rakes and ladder in the back---the driver waits for a train to pass. It´s scorching hot and the gardener hands over to me a cold bottle of water.  

Many times, indeed so many it was not uncommon, people would stop their cars on chilly nights or balmy days to exit and deliver to me a cup of coffee and donuts or cookies.
On one grey drizzly night a pretty Philippine woman arrives at my guard post and what she does is she chats with me. She keeps me company for almost an hour. I´m a 61 year old fat man with balding hair. I know the gift of her pleasant companionship was given less out of concern for me and more for love of Palo Alto´s youngsters.

A middle-aged man in a short sleeved white shirt would come during the day once a week to stand beside the tracks. He carried a bible and would read scriptural passages, then raising an arm skyward he´d pray. I saw this happen and I knew the reason. The man loved the young people of Palo Alto. Not infrequently I saw women make the sign of the cross as they drove over the tracks.

At the many intersections of street and track, volunteers with walky-talky radios and beaming searchlights would patrol the region at night until the last train run at 1 a.m.  A report might signal a teenager had been spotted hanging about the tracks at such and such a location, and it looked scary. A call to police would transpire and I knew these volunteers loved the children of their community. I know it now.

A Caltrain train

Blinking red lights and clanging bells warn of an approaching train about every twenty minutes, either on the track north to San Francisco or south to San Jose. Mechanical arms adjust down automatically to block passage across the tracks. The light on the face of the locomotive shines in the distance and I watch, and wait until the tracks clear, until the train speeds past with steel thunder and whooshing air. I did this job for a year.