Saturday, April 14, 2007


Not too far down the street from the house I grew up in was a railroad crossing. Thoughts of trains often are set at this crossing for me, the pastures of the prison farm across and to the right, the small trucking company across and to the left. These are the background as the trains speed past.

The train is coming from one direction or going away depending on the direction you're facing or perhaps on your general point of view. Staring ahead through the windshield gives the train a whole other power as it seems to pull you along, making you almost feel that you're moving.

These days I have other crossings that I sometimes find myself at, watching the trains go by to parts unknown. Before local road construction changed our usual route downtown, we often found ourselves racing alongside a train. It was only a short stretch of road, the train curving away and around the old factories and then back, the softball field in the distance, and then the train peels away to seek its own route downtown. We'll most likely cross over it, picking our way around old streets to the viaduct where we can almost see the train below as it leaves town around a curve and is gone.

This is the real power the trains have over me, the parts unknown. The contents of the train present no mystery I'm inclined to care about. It's all about the tracks leading off around the next bend and the next bend, across an unfamiliar river to wherever is next.

I'd like to say I have few regrets in life. There's a certain amount of wonder in thinking of how I could have decided things differently, but I believe to some extent the eddies around the butterfly's wings are often as likely to effect outcomes as what we do with our options. I end up not knowing what I should regret and what I should embrace.

I've always wanted to hop a train. I never have. I've sat in cars full of brothers counting the cars, getting dizzy from staring so hard, and wanting like hell to get out of the car. I've seen myself doing it, getting that running start as I see my target car coming up behind. Try like hell, I still can't quite match the train, but I run just fast enough. A quick look back, open door and an empty boxcar.

There's no way I could ever do that now, and I fully accept that. The only way I could ever hop a train now would either involve some sort of catastrophe or some sort of hollow, new age men's retreat where we got to rock out, hop trains, box kangaroos, bang drums and lament our lost boyhood.

But I still want to. It's not fixation, not something to concern folks. I sat today watching a train, amazed at all the boxcars I saw rolling past, doors wide open, the cars appearing empty, awaiting only that wandering soul, that vagabond willing to bend to the call of the road. I wanted to be that one who stepped up, leaving the car to take a running, flying leap into the unknown.


Chris said...

I think the desire to hop a box car is pretty much a universal guy thing.

wenso said...

Add this gal to that universal guy list.

For me it's the sound of the train in the distance, calling from some unknown place. Especially on fall mornings when the air is newly thin and crisp and the sound travels in a more potent way. It's all I can do to pull the covers up more snuggly around my neck and stay put.

Michele said...

There's something highly emotive about trains. I wrote a song in my twenties, it's probably the only song of my own that I still like. It's the only one that's still true. Anyway, here's a bit of the lyrics...

Only five more miles til we cross the state line
Only five more fenced-in amber waves of grain,
Do you miss the freightliner or the ocean girls?
See the smoke comin from the train?
Remember when there used to be a man in there
who would wave at you from the red caboose?
And the wheels would scream loud and loose,
as over the pavement
you blew a kiss
to a stranger.
Always blowing kisses to strangers.

To be loved and lost,
It gets easier
You get used to it
This broken pavement is covered with rocks
but you move with it
you just move with it.

Scott said...

Fantastic post. There are few things able to stir up as many powerful and complex emotions as a train (especially, for me, hearing one late at night), and you captured that beautifully.