Pacific Surfliner // San Juan Capistrano

M.D. Coverley

San Juan Capistrano


Background Music:  "I Ride Alone" - George and Marguerite, Romantic Flamenco Guitar
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The Pacific Surfliner is an Amtrak train serving the California coastline from San Luis Obispo to San Diego.  Much of the line runs along some of the least-developed beaches in the southland. 

Each stop might represent a life – from San Juan Capistrano in 1947 to visit the Mission to Santa Barbara in 2016 for a reunion with the man you didn’t marry 50 years ago.  The journey takes place in both space and time.

Reading Script for San Juan Capistrano

Pacific Surfliner/San Juan Capistrano by M.D. Coverley



Pacific Surfliner is one in a series of videos that map the route of the Pacific Surfliner along the California coast – San Diego to San Luis Obispo.  In so doing, they trace a kind of life story of a certain generation in time – arrivals and departures over the years, joy and loss.

While *San Juan Capistrano* is a kind of central piece, touching on many life transformations, each piece takes a central emotion from its location. 

The individual videos are layered with images, sound, and text –experimenting with storytelling modes. 

This performance will include some background explanation, a showing of *San Juan Capistrano* - about three minutes – and a teaser from a new work ahead.


First, the piece is informed by some specific aesthetic and technical issues residing in the Gap, as it were.

Spoken screens:  the gap between presence and performance.  One of the challenging issues with e-literature has been the relationship between reading a work and watching it performed.  Some time-based or video work discourages the performative reading aspect altogether.  Pacific Surfliner suggests a new approach – a text-rich, time-based piece that can be performed (or read silently).

Tools at hand/gaps in the field: The rapid turnover of software has changed the nature of e-lit production.  On the one hand, large universities and labs with extensive resources allow for experimenting with expensive, cutting-edge technology.  The “cottage-industry” artist, working at home [once a staple of emerging e-lit work], is pushed, more and more, into the need to use mass-produced, widely available tools.  Whatever is at hand, whenever one starts to work….  Pacific Surfliner is made from smart phone videos and images, off-the-shelf video editing tools, recycled and re-edited audio tracks, and published with Vimeo.


Narrative theory: temporal gaps and the imaginative space of the in-between: Pacific Surfliner continues my experiments with narrative structure.  It involves the layering of time and space, the merging of history with private events, the juxtaposition of place and memory.  The vagaries of recollection suffuse the landscape and haunt the gaps.


Pacific Surfliner Train

The Pacific Surfliner is a 350-mile passenger train service operated by Amtrak, serving the communities on the coast of Southern California between San Diego and San Luis Obispo. The 350-mile San Luis Obispo-San Diego trip takes approximately 8½ hours with an average speed of 41.2 miles per hour (66 km/h); maximum track speed is 79 to 90 miles per hour. Much of the Pacific Surfliner's scenic route follows the Pacific coast, although trains travel inland through expansive farmlands in Ventura County and industrial backlots in the Los Angeles Basin, San Fernando Valley, and parts of Orange County.


Area History

Mission San Juan Capistrano is the seventh mission, founded November 1, 1776 by Fr. Junipero Serra. Previously established by Fr. Fermin Lasuen October 30, 1775, but abandoned because of Indian unrest at Mission San Diego. Named for St. John of Capistrano, Italy, a theologian and inquisitor of the 14th century. The Great Stone Church begun 1796; competed 1806; destroyed by earthquake 1812. Mission secularized 1833, sold 1845, and returned to Church 1865.

The San Juan Capistrano station was originally opened October 27, 1894 by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.[2] It was one of the earliest examples of Mission Revival Style architecture in railway stations. In 1966, the station was closed, two years ahead of the end of Santa Fe passenger service to the city


Begin playing Pacific Surfliner


In transit

Memories unfurl

And overlap

Flash and fade

And are still


Sometimes it seems like the same journey

As if There had been no years between….


Tuesday, 1947 

At four years old, you came to the station. 

Mom and Dad held your hands. 

You went to a funeral for a friend of Grandmother. 

Then you went to the Mission.


You pass the beach where you were first kissed by the man you did not marry 50 years ago.

You ride to meet the man you did not marry 56 years ago in Capistrano.

Everything is the same; everything is different.


You hold little hands.



Closing sequence

The sky.

The ocean.

The coastline.

The shore.

The train.

A child.

A girl.

A young woman.

A lover.

A wife.

A mother.

A writer.

A grandmother.

An old love.

An old woman.

I Ride Alone.

The train.

The sea.

The sky.