How The West Was Won

October 13, 2013 - Art Forum

Adam Auxier and Altiplano Rail discuss touring and grilling with Art Forum.

Wandering up and down Barstow’s shadeless sidewalks, you could kind of spot the S2S personnel. Two folks from the Levi’s media wing were roaming town with a vintage Polaroid camera, looking for “interesting characters.” A kid in a baseball cap and plaid shirt, which is open except for the bottom button, offers to pose—for ten bucks. “Oh, no thanks…” But he’s just playing, just messing with you. But he’s walked off.

Barstow is caught in the confluence of the I-15 and I-40 freeways, straddles Route 66, but was founded as a water stop for steam engines. Folks here serve in the military, railroad, and service industries, in that order. It’s a transient population. Barstow Station is a combination McDonald’s, Panda Express, gift shop, and liquor store built in 1973 to serve tour bus passengers. It’s made of seventeen junked rail cars. The men’s restroom is a caboose.

That evening, across town at the Amtrak station, the Los Angeles Times’s Deborah Vankin and I met Adam Auxier, Train Producer. He’d been contracted to supply the private train, provide the crew, and liaison with Amtrak. Long strips of LEDs—a piece by Doug Aitken—ran along one side of each car. The blinking, glowing locomotive drew a few curious onlookers—but how to explain? It’s art—but there’s not so much art in the train as on, or near it. But we can’t really give you a tour… The Happening is tomorrow at the Drive-In, but—it’s sold out… And—and everyone is confused by this—the train will be nowhere in sight.

A few of the train’s ten crew members were grilling flank steak on a Weber on the non-LED side of the platform. All the artists, though, were nestling into their hotels by then. People worked hard. Sleep to catch up on. Blogs to write. “It’s not a shitshow,” said Auxier.