Initiator: Mark Monsarrat – Martinez Train Visit
Initiator Artist: Mark Monsarrat
Artwork Title: Martinez Train Visit
Size: 18 x 24″
Medium: Oil in panel
Responder Author: Stephanie Rickman
Writing Title: Ode to Martinez
There is a subtle magic that happens when crossing the threshold beneath the old train trestle at Alhambra Avenue in Martinez, CA. Standing tall, on long bronze legs of steel, the bridge is a rusty reminder of generations past when Gold Miners made their way to the Sierras through the Way Station of Martinez. I can see it in my mind- the percussive rattle of a passenger train with heads rocking side to side in motion, the shrill pitch of a whistle, the billowing smoke rising into little cumulus clouds.
Nine months ago, I was living in Pleasant Hill. I was in a funk and thought about joining the exodus of people leaving California to find something more authentic, to find more street level serendipity. But, plans shifted, and I ended up finding a studio for rent near downtown Martinez.
If you ask someone living in the Bay Area about Martinez they will usually say “Oh yeah, I had jury duty there once” or “is that where the oil refineries are?” It has been associated with the grime and grit of industrial works, county courthouses and bail bond services. But don’t be fooled. Martinez is a treasure trove of historic gems. The contrasting views of rolling green hillsides, wild waterfront marshes and towering industry provide a palette of country flavor with a dash of urban flair. It’s the kind of place where you can order a warm avocado toast at the Barrelista coffee window, head north past the old Southern Pacific train and end up at the Marina for an easy Sunday stroll. It’s the kind of place where civic minded generations commingle with the cool kids over coffee and steaming sourdough bread at States Coffee House. It’s a place where red brick buildings are restored and renewed. It’s a place where the Martini cocktail was born. It is the birthplace of Joe DiMaggio and home to the Naturalist John Muir.
I like to see the full downtown experience on my morning runs. Making my way north on Arlington towards Main, wildflowers and weeds spill over cracked curbs in colorful manes and citrus trees grow pregnant with lemons that roll into narrow streets. Friendly houses huddle together among cat inhabited gardens, and various home styles mix and mingle along the way. A Victorian home with overhanging eaves and ornate scrollwork sits proper next to a Craftsman or Spanish Revival. Every now and then, a shiny Classic Ford with white wall tires makes a cameo appearance.
As Main Street unfolds, shopkeepers sweep the sidewalks, as chairs and tables are set out to accommodate patrons at the Roxx Restaurant. The aroma of smoky barbecue sauce lingers near the Slow Hand Restaurant and in the evenings, a chorus of live music brings friends and neighbors together at the local breweries. With each passing day, there are more and more adventures to discover; a Magic Theater, a Pop Up Antique shop, the Farmers Market.
Sometimes along my run, a local street wanderer will greet me with a wide toothless grin, “Purple is your color! Perseverance girl! I have come to look fondly upon their leather faces and bright eyes.
I imagine the old sepia photos of generations past, when the covered wagons rattled along pre paved roads, when policemen and firefighters were honored and respected, when fancy ladies with umbrellas carried baskets with tea and jam. Something magic is blooming in Martinez and I am drinking it all in with every Sunday stroll and harbor side horizon.
© 2023 Stephanie Rickman