Baldwin, FL reminded me a lot of Eugene or Portland, OR except it was an East Coast hub for dirty kids and drainbows. Bums, and people alike, marching down the medians flying signs, “Travelin’ Broke N Hungry” by the yard. They scored some cash and crashed trackside, drinking steelies, and leaving behind an oasis of trash in the bushes. Needless to say, with all the attention drawn to us from the large group of travelers, we felt eager to leave without a trace of our presence left behind for anyone to see, but our photos, capturing the serenity of humming along the steel. But, if riding the iron snake were that easy everyone would galavant around the country with a pack strapped to their back.
With the recent rainfall, and playing hide and seek from workers and the bull, I threw up my white flag. Never again will I waste two days trying to infiltrate BNSF Memphis Yard to catch a southbound train. With the elevated track in the middle of the yard the only logical access point is the drainage culvert of Johns Creek. Ankle deep swamp water and soggy boots did not appeal to me in the slightest. I packed up my bag and tramped it down Lamar Ave. towards the NS Yard off of Southern Avenue. When I reached Lamar Ave. and Get Well St. I snickered as my eyes witnessed a raunchy sign, a woman holding her bra straps with panties on, the Catwalk of Memphis. It looked empty with only one vehicle in the parking lot, a black, souped-up Escalade with chrome rims. Some gangster stepped out with saggy jeans, a crisp white t-shirt and a blunt in his hand, puffing it furiously as his chain dangled side-to-side.
After kickin’ it for a week in a townhouse off of Martin Luther King Blvd., gettin’ high off edibles, and free climbing the Flatirons in Boulder, I felt eager to hit the road again. Meeting up with my old college partner-in-crime made me reminisce the past. Honestly, my life has not changed much since college. I just want to fuck around, live hard, and free, with a little work in between and provide for my wife. Whether I have a roof over my head or not, she does and always will. Everyone around me is growing up, adulting so-to-speak, and I’m just stuck in a transience, trying to see as much as I can, recently, by train.
Train Hopping Springfield
The sound of steel bouncing around under tons of empty coal cars lulled me into a meditative state, neither asleep nor awake. With every sudden stop, sideout, signal or crew change I kept my wits about me and woke up from my trance-like daze. Riding empty coal felt much like a gondola, missing out on the scenic views of America, just waiting to end up somewhere new, to continue wanderin’. But, my ride did not last long that night before halting in Marion, Arkansas just a few miles over the Mississippi River. Fear encroached my body, prying my eyes open, keeping me sleep-deprived, afraid of becoming another hobo victim to loaded coal. My head bobbed in and out of sleep, as I tried to stay awake, with the night sky bellowing its chilling bursts of laughter making the empty coal car feel like a walk-in freezer. I packed up my gear and pulled myself up the inclined wall, untying my rope and fleeing down the ladder into the yard. Tiptoeing around the yard, pip…pip…pip…the ballast jostled beneath my boots. My eyes wandered to the tracks, watching a yard dog shunt together a string of freight cars towards the east end of the yard. Hmmm…maybe my train just stopped in the yard on the main line I thought. As I crept through the yard crossing strings of freight cars my mind succumbed to complete exhaustion. I wobbled parallel to the tracks. Dragging each of my feet, I veered off the gravel access road. I bushwacked through the woods in case security happened to drive by in the wee hours of the morning. I marched through mud and muck, dead trees and sticker bushes, leaves and corn crunched and crackled with every step as dogs yelped in the distance.
Train Hopping Memphis
The stiff concrete made me toss and turn early morning. I continued to lay there unable to wake from my comfortable zzz’s until broken free by the charming noise of a bellowing horn. I thought none of it as I packed my gear in a lackadaisical fashion, ready to tramp it down the highway, hitchin’ into town. Train Hopping Memphis looked like a bust after ending up in Rossville IM Facility. I sat 40 miles away from Memphis, my next hop out spot, taking me one step closer to Denver. I scuffed my boots down the slanted concrete embankment, bracing myself with every step, as the locomotive at the signal came into plain view. My slow pace quickly turned into a rampant scamper into a field of wheat. I followed the wye towards the left, trudging through the dense brush, stalking the train for the perfect moment to hop in a well. I stood silently minimizing the rustling beneath my boots, the rust-colored leaves crinkled softly with each tiny step. An engineer stood toward the front engine as I hid behind the barren branches of the woods. Twigs crunched and snapped as I plowed deeper into the brush, tramping parallel to the tracks, counting the freight cars one-by-one. My incognito attempt to reach the middle of the train left me in complete exhaustion. I removed one article after the other, my pores drenching in sweat, and then I hit a crossroad with yet another obstacle making my path longer and more drawn out. My boots squished as I reached a creek, moist clay engulfed them like quicksand, and I slipped and slid reaching for a tree to break my fall. My hands clasped the base, continuing to fall forward with a loud scrunch, as if I pulled a lever, flinging my legs spastically as I plopped both feet into the bed of the muddy creek. Water splashed like the sound of a belly-flop into a pool. I stood there expressionless, shaking my head, as I sunk deeper into the mud. My hands fumbled for anything, reaching for tree roots to pull me out, as I peeled my feet up out of the glue.