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.