Invisible Trajectories

Ontario and Uplands

On the first day of 2006, Deena and I headed down from Altadena to walk by Guasti, near the Ontario Airport, and along the railroad tracks heading east. It was an overcast day so we had our rain jackets in tow. The sky was a heavy gray as we arrived in Cucamonga around 1:30pm. By 2:45 we had eaten and had parked the Jeep at the Guasti Post Office, just down the road from Ontario Airport. We were off on foot.

We walked past the Haunted Vineyard and wound around Guasti, making our way through a new low-rise business park. We passed a large telecommunications tower and a large corporate fountain. I noticed a few porta-potties in the distance, so we made our way towards them. We got within a few hundred yards of the potties and two homeless folks pulled their carts to the side and entered the units before we could. We saw 2 other potties a little further on so we kept moving. After doing my business, I admired some of the writing inside the unit, but we eventually pulled ourselves away to continue our way along the damp pavement. A light rain was coming down.

We maneuvered through a few more recently constructed, empty office parks, finally making our way out to a main road running alongside Ontario Airport. We headed east down a wet drag, void of cars and people. Under our feet were fresh sidewalks that seemed to have never had contact with a human foot. Bus stop signs marked the place where a lonely sole probably waited for a late day rush hour route to take her home. Wide arterial roads, designed for the free flow of big rigs, stretched out to the mass of warehouses covering the once open space.

Ontario is primarily a freight airport and the surrounding area is primed to distribute and/or receive an endless array of consumer goods. The surrounding area is filled with enormous white horizontal boxes that block out the features of the landscape. The sky is filled with a steady-stream of aircraft overhead. Every few minutes we would stop and wave at the planes heading towards the runway, but the hulking machines seemed indifferent to our gestures.

Harvard professor, Alan Berger, has referred to places like these as the waste landscapes of transition or post-Fordist regional agglomerations. He sees such a landscape existing only to satisfy the needs of train and truck movement, warehousing and circulation. He describes locations like this part of Ontario in his book, Drosscape: Wasting Land in Urban America:

Its landscape characteristics include flat topography (as a result of leveling), flat areas of turf grass or gravel (for ease of maintenance), lack of trees or overhead vegetative canopy (for security surveillance) and few to no human-scale amenities (except for smoker’s pits of picnic tables for lunchgoers). The landscape is not designed to bring extraordinary value locally (such as unique ecological benefit or specially created animal or plant habitat). Instead, it exists as a static, engineered component of the agglomeration’s production economics.

After a few miles of deserted roads and light drizzle, we realized we were heading towards a large mound. The road curved towards it and we followed, only taking a break to take a wee in the bushes next to one of the gargantuan sprawling buildings. The asphalt led us into a huge courtyard, or business-park, filled with even larger distribution behemoths. Target and Staples were the names we recognized.

Before long, the mound was in front of us. We moved toward it, assuming it was once a landfill that served a large portion of this region. Long methane gas pipes wrapped around its sides. When we were just a few hundred feet from the mound, we noticed the fence that would keep us from climbing to the top. We found it quite ironic that this large capped fill was just a few hundred feet from an ocean of warehouses waiting to be filled with a cornucopia of consumer goods. Deterred by the fence, we turned around and started our walk back. The rain was really coming down. We put on our hoods and followed the road back the way we came. The occasional car rolled by with the driver usually casting a curious glance. Why would anyone be out here in the rain?

I'm sure this type of environment was certainly not made with the pedestrian in mind, but our stroll was not unpleasant. It almost felt as if we were walking along the newly completed Parisan boulevards designed by Haussmann for Paris in the 1860s. The sky was overcast just like in the pictures I'd seen of Haussmann's project soon after the work was done. The recently transformed landscape we were in will probably not receive any harsh criticism from citizens in the Inland Empire, but then again, it will probably not attract much attention here on the edge. --CW

January 22 >