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What are we living for nowadays when we have no history to examine and no future to contemplate? Most of us remember when our parents had a home they were able to pay for far from the city center or when they at least had a 200-square-foot apartment which symbolized the last phase of individual living. The affordable-housing scarcity and sharp increase in prices left us dismayed. The world’s wealthy built tower upon tower of luxury high-rises with insurmountable monthly prices until we were eventually priced out. Now we are reduced to transport living in elevated Sweeper Trains that circle the city serving not only as vehicles for transportation but as lodging for us working-class folks. This is the livelihood you bequeathed to us as working people, as blacks, women, people of color, to circulate around the city aimlessly due to the lack of affordable housing.
We ride the trains incessantly, and they in reality go nowhere. They circle the 500 square miles of our city that has few trees but clean air. The air was refreshed once fuel shortages forced us to abandon our private vehicles. And now with the masses locked away in these trains, we at least have blue skies to gaze upon. Blue skies and the same city, as the trains complete loop after loop in circular fashion.
We ride until hunger urges us to retrieve our bagged meals from the platforms’ vending machines containing plastic bags with sandwiches and hard oatmeal cookies. When not using our headphones to listen to music, we pair them with the numerous screens inside the trains and on the platforms that offer pre-packaged news, sports highlights, and dramatic miniseries. Sleep is awkward and uncomfortable, a fidgety means of rejuvenation before we hop off at appropriate time and place, find a bathroom at our train stop to freshen up, and then off we go to work our gig jobs.
The majority of us work in train maintenance, and others labor at the small shops on the platforms or in the city at retail locales that cater to our personal needs. All of our jobs are based on sales or service because no one really makes anything anymore. Your corporate offices sent our industrial jobs away for cheaper labor, and your government bureaus went along with the plan despite the country losing its tax base. Soon your government departments started auctioning off parts of themselves to the cheapest private bidder. Those not working for the trains or shops work as assistants to the small band of wealthy who control everything. It was your skeletal government branch which decreed that assistants to the elites be grouped in the front cars of the trains always. They’re the privileged lot who get first digs at the platforms where they can get in line before the rest of us.
Other than blue skies, we also gaze upon the luxury high-rises built by the world’s wealthy. The majority are empty living quarters constructed not for housing but as investments for the rich to store their money. The money is in there somewhere although we don’t see it. You’ve given it more value than us.
Born in Los Angeles, Audrey Shipp is an essayist and poet whose most recent writing appears in "Linden Avenue Literary Journal," August 2018 and "A Gathering Together," Spring 2018. Her bilingual and trilingual poetry appeared in "Americas Review (Arte-Publico Press)" which was formerly published by the University of Houston. She teaches English and ESL at a public high school in Los Angeles.