Goeun Park: L.A.’s Union Station proves that the American Dream is still alive today
I’ve been to the Los Angeles Union Station twice. The first time was in December, on my way to LAX and home with my giant green suitcase in tow. The second time was last Saturday.
While I live only half an hour away from downtown Los Angeles, it’s hard to get off campus without a car and a purpose. Metrolink makes it a little easier for wanderlust-stricken souls like me to explore the area. It starts from Union Station and treks all the way to San Bernadino, a city an hour away.
I live right between Union Station and San Bernadino: Claremont, a paradise in a desert. People must spend millions of gallons of water and dollars to make Claremont look as nice as it does, for outside the city lines, it is a very different view.
On my way to Union Station, I can see the blur of graffiti and grime on crumbling walls. The disparity between my rich residential suburb and the impoverished neighborhoods directly adjacent does not escape me.
I think that’s the story of Los Angeles. The country’s poorest and the richest, living side by side. On one hand, there are start-up CEOs in Santa Monica, movie stars in Hollywood, millionaires in Malibu; on the other hand, thousands of homeless men and women sleep in the streets of downtown LA.
Stumbling through Union Station, I realize that even the LA public transit is not an egalitarian system. I see more women carrying children and plastic bags than men in suits and suitcases. It is not surprising.
Los Angeles is a city connected by concrete roads — it is a driving city. Those who can afford cars do. Those who can’t, resort to the mercy of bus schedules and risk sweaty proximity to strangers.
While there is nothing glamorous about buses, metros and trains, Union Station has become one of my favorite places in LA. As the largest and one of the last passenger terminals in the Western United States, it exudes a rich history. The entrance has arched ceilings with large windows, plush armchairs, and many more rigid plastic seats. It smells like Subway sandwiches and fresh bread — the smell of heaven.
There is something very precious and calming about standing in the middle of Union Station without an agenda. Union Station is meant for people with destinations. People with dreams of stardom or a home cooked dinner. As an indecisive college student, I feel a little left amidst people with places to be.
Honestly, if any single place can convince me the American Dream is still alive, it would be the Los Angeles Union Station. For decades, it has been the gateway to highways peppered with palm trees and sidewalks studded with stars. It is the entrance to the dream factory. It is point B.
But I don’t think I fit in this picture. I am still a tourist in this state, more “Minnesota nice” than “California cool.” It is a rather unfortunate fact, but nothing unacceptable.
I left Union Station with a pretzel and pictures of people. I dozed on the ride back and walked from the train station to the welcoming quiet of my dorm room bleary-eyed and content. Los Angeles might not be my point B, but I decided that it was a good place for beginnings.
Goeun Park graduated from Detroit Lakes High School and attends college in California.