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The Train On Time Cafe

Dreamed 1981/12/20 by Chris Wayan

A bunch of us at work take the afternoon off to visit the new Historical Museum of Fascism here at Stanford. It's pretty lavish--the Hoover Institute and the Reagan Library are honoring their roots, I guess. The Museum brochure says "Fascism is a reaction to the need to modernize--a way to freeze the traditional class- and political structures (playing on fears of new personal, family, and sexual roles and values), to distract people with personal sacrifice, and to divert the energy that might feed social change into heroic industrialization." I wonder if that's true. Sounds like... a social laser? All the change squeezed in a single direction. All those photons marching in step... Goose-step.

We're looking at the Eugenic Psychiatry display when a student runs in and yells "There's a buncha guys with machine guns down the hall!"

My boss Susan peeks round the corner. It's true. Young men in uniform shout "Bring back discipline! Join us! Work not talk! Make this country great again!" at her. And wave their Uzis and smile, smile, smile.

Other students trickle into our room. The Neo-Fascists seem to have taken over the far end of the building. Can we get out? Susan and I pore over the brochure's tiny floorplan. We have no guns... Oh? Some of the students do! They want to counterattack. "We gotta stop it now--remember Germany." says one. I just want to stay alive. I agree to check the hallway on the north side--we might get out the long way round. As I leave, the Curator is organizing a drive toward the fascists' command post. He seems enthused.

Power is out on the north side. I slink through the Gay Holocaust room, the Anarchist displays, the Gypsy room. I'm cautious, very slow. The main foyer is ahead... well-lit. I peer round... A crowd, all putting on overalls, climbing on a truck. Forced labor? A loudspeaker atop the cab blatts "Work builds the future!"

Then I recognize faces. Mrs. Wenberg, Susan... Liliana! They've all been caught! I watch, horrified. Doubt starts to grow. Are they prisoners? Guards mix and joke with workers. I see a knot of civilians by the museum's front--here to see their relatives off to the camps! They hug, cheer, wave swastikas.

I decide I have to try to rescue my friends. I deep breathe a while, wait for the intestinal spasms to stop. I stink with cold sweat. If they smell my fear... Oh stop it. They aren't animals. I step out.

"Gramma!" I yell to Mrs. Wenberg and run up and hug her. Hang on and tow her through the crowd. Swim through the crowd to Lily and Susan and start to pull them along too, out of the current leading to death.

Susan says "But--Chris, I want to go. It's a chance to experience another culture! And it'll be great discipline, volunteering. Looks good on my resumé, too." She lets my hand go, drops away... into the fascist mass.

Lily is swaying. Horrified, I blurt "Are you crazy? You KNOW what they are! Your cousin's still locked up on that island off Santiago. How can you even consider it?" Lily has Susan's vague seduced look. At last I leave her there and retreat with those who'll come, before the fascists catch us. Wenberg and I split up; she leads the rest away. I hide in a long forgotten part of the Arboretum, grown wild. Smoggy city.

Amid the brambles stands an abandoned house, Jade's old place... cut off from the street when the front of the lot was bought for the museum. No power, but one outdoor faucet works. I sleep on a box spring. I am alone. A stray dog comes by sometimes.

I hear construction sounds, martial music, crowds cheering. The Fascist movement has won... and the area is developing. Smog wraps the new towers as industry booms. Years pass in minutes, factories loom and multiply like yeast. Even up on the fence, I can see less than a mile now through the brown air. The sun is not so warm anymore. I don't know where to go--no place left natural, healthy, anywhere in sight.

This weedy lot's become a prison.

The smog weakens me: I use a wheelchair now, most of the time. At last I face it: I have to risk their city. Perhaps they left someplace living beyond. It's safe to try: I have no life to lose.

I squeeze along the blackberry thorn path up the side of the lot... and emerge behind the old "Late for the Train" café. I roll around to the front. Now I see how the Fascists succeeded. The outdoor tables, and the street beyond, are gorgeous, immaculate. Jammed with glowing tanned Beautiful People. Even the blacks are blond. They all bubble with energy. I eavesdrop. They are all Ph.Ds. Even the teens know more than I do. And talk better. Despite the smog, they're tall, strongboned, the healthiest people I've ever seen.

The sign over the bar has a motto under it:

THE TRAIN ON TIME CAFE
WORK HARD, PLAY HARD

I don't realize it at first, but the café is divided into six sections, exquisitely designed, one in each hue of the rainbow. I roll past four colors, outside the railing, looking in. In the red, a man walks up and says "You're the Hermit of the Back Yard, aren't you." I gape at him. He says "Don't be shocked. You're a local legend. Never thought you were real... the Last Dissident!"

People overhear him and surround me, excited. "Have a drink!" "Please join us--" The attention upsets me. A woman says, "Take your time! Look around, see what we've built! You have to join the modern world at your own pace. And don't worry! No one's going to blame you for being on the wrong side all those years ago."

I burst into tears. I'm a sick tongue-tied socially inept ugly ignorant freak among these demigods. I spin the chair around and wobbling wildly I head back toward my refuge. Behind me I hear the woman say "Let him go." Berry thorns slash me on the path. I don't notice. The backs of my hands are a net of raspberry red lines when I reach the house.

And I can't bear to go back out. My wounds leave a web of scars. Seasons pass outside my strange bubble of time. Construction seems to level off and the air looks cleaner, though it smells weird. I can walk a little again.

At last I admit she's right; I have to try to live in the world. I'm in no danger now in here, but I'm lonely and bored. I nearly walk out, but decide to be cautious and take the chair. I thread through the thorn hedge slowly this time. The café seems closed. It's sunny, warm and quiet. I go round to the front. The blue section is empty... but for an ugly little man, who seems mute. In shock? He acts fearful, fawning. Do the Perfects cast out defectives? Is that the price? He follows me through the green, the yellow... to the main kitchen door.

I climb out of my wheelchair. High time to. I fear I'll be shot for burglary, but I pry at the locked doors... unused muscles hurt, coming alive. The seal cracks, slides open. That weird smell again, like metal and softdrinks and almond trees.

Inside are scattered bodies, puffed up like sausages. A stainless steel bowl of punch, half evaporated, or half drunk. I walk back out, numb. "But they knew you can't mix Kool-Aid in a metal pitcher," I mumble.

We go round the side to the trash bin. Climb up on its edge, up onto the eaves, and crawl up the roof to the peak. A jumble of store tops, slivers of streets. All silent. We climb across tile and tarpaper stretches, building to building... always up. At last we reach a sort of pass between pseudo-Victorian turrets... Beyond, we can see the whole Bay Area--a wilderness of rusted ruins. Then the mute man whimpers, points--a few shacks and a smoke puff miles to the north suggest there's a camp of survivors. Dream: living helicopters hover, sip oil from leaking pipes. Their fleas are great, grinning spiders.

Below us is a monstrous drop, a mile-wide pit for incomprehensible purposes. We slowly pick our way down the face of it to a semi-intact ramp. From the bottom, we see eyries of some kind on the highest pinnacles. Lucky we didn't stumble into one coming over. Then... ten choppers leap over the edge, and I scream "Hide!" We slam into a niche at the cliff's foot and peer up through holes in the steel. The valley echoes, the line hovers. Soldiers hunting us? Blaming us?

They're not helicopters. They're twenty-foot bees! No... Wasps. Alive? Machines? Both? They go about their business, seeking and sipping ketones, gasolines, oils from broken pipes sticking out of ruined tower walls like wiry flowers. They ignore us... and we walk on. One of them hovers a hundred yards away, fueling, and I see they carry fleas: dog-sized spider things. When the wasp returns to its nest, we hear a faint squealing. Several fleas pop out the nest mouth and slide down thousand foot chutes toward us. We stand amazed. They'll squash!

When they hit, they bounce, shriek WHEEEEE, and come at us without a pause. We run for it, but they're too fast--corner and surround us. But they don't bite--just investigate us, sniffing, chirping at each other. They TALK! Just a few words. They lurch against us like cats wanting attention, and beg for food. Greedy, but friendly. Most soon run off, but a couple of them stick with us as pets. Kind of cute (but U-G-L-Y!)

They lead us north.

A huge dead factory or hangar blocks our way. The spiders just climb the sheer wall, urge us on--"Here! Here come!" But we can't. The ruined refineries on either side are impassable, tangles of steel weeds. We must go through. The door opens easily but there's that smell in the air, strong this time. Skylights show a huge sunken space, open enough, easy to cross if we could breathe. We have to go through to reach the camp, and we can't--until the poison clears out.

We learn from the spiderdogs that the Village is "pretty fun, happy place" ... considering the times. Still--they, like us, must be very careful. The Hard Workers walked off extinction's edge, pulled us all with them. A few of us balked, but we're still on the brink. The poison lingers. I and the mute man wait, alone. I've learned patience! Looking at the ruined world, at my shabby and monstrous companions, at myself, I mourn the lost Café, those beautiful godlike people. And then ("Look what we built!" she said) I don't. I don't, at all.

TWENTY YEARS LATER

The Late for the Train Cafe was a popular Stanford place to brunch, talk, and waste time in the early 1980s; my dream-cafe apparently prefers the punctuality of Mussolini.

At the risk of being obvious: when I dreamed this, a mere reference to Kool-Aid and scattered bodies was enough to evoke the now-forgotten Jonestown Massacre in Guiana; People's Temple was based in the Bay Area and hundreds of the victims were local. A generation later, maybe I need to spell it out: my dreams equate soft-on-pollution capitalism with Hitler's gas chambers and Jim Jones's cyanide-laced punch.

Silicon Valley's boom, predicted in the dream, has ripened and started to rot. Wallets are green but the air is brown, the orchards are gone, and I won't live there any more.

Dream: grinning dog-sized spiders inhabit the ruins of Silicon Valley.


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