Wednesday, September 7, 2005

The Lure of the Road

Out for a walk around town, I find that if I cross a railroad track I’m almost incapable of not turning down the track and seeing where it goes. By the time I gave up today I was five miles from home, and if a train had come along I feel like I might just have hopped aboard.

I used to know a fella at my first airline job who hopped the train for recreational travel, hobo-style. He did this for years until he got married, and then he and his new wife took their honeymoon in Europe and they traveled there the same way. I just found the whole idea absolutely fascinating.

While flying over the vast & empty Northern Plains, he would be able to point at nearly any railroad track we’d cross and tell me who owned it and where the tracks led. He would even be able to identify individual trains: “That’s the Union Pacific #666 to Sphincterville.”

In my line of work one comes to expect a certain number of amenities in the way of hotels and local travel. So the idea of--quite literally--slumming it on one’s days off interests me. He would bring certain minimal things he felt he needed (and which he felt he could protect) and he would sleep in some place in the woods inaccessible to cars, next to a campfire along the tracks, sometimes in the company of other travelers. Sometimes, he said, he’d sleep in open freight cars in busy rail yards. Thus, he not only saw the country, but he saw it in a way, and he saw parts of it, that are just not accessible to us in our cars or from airline passenger terminal to passenger terminal.

This is all ten years ago. I wonder if he’s still at it?

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