There were tracks about a mile away from the house I grew up in. We lived pretty far out in the country. Sometimes, after the midnight train went past, you could hear the baby coyotes yipping and howling at the train as it roared off into the night.

I would walk the tracks for hours, falling into a trance watching the ties repeat beneath me. I ceased to see what I was looking at. It was an interesting state of mind. Once I stepped on an empty turtle shell and didn't see it until it had exploded into dust and pieces under my foot.
I was on a train traveling from West Berlin to West Germany, before the fall of the Berlin wall. The train was stopped at the border of West Berlin and East Germany, and East German engines were attached to the cars. Three East German soldiers, with guns drawn, boarded each car. Two of the soldiers stood at each end of the car with their rifles upright across their chests. Another soldier went through the car, asking each rider for their papers. While this was going on inside, outside, other East German soldiers, with guns were standing alongside the train while other soldiers went up and down the train with German Shepherd dogs, and still other soldiers with dinner-plate sized mirrors on long poles passed the mirrors under each car, looking for stowaways. All of this was accomplished in silence. It was pretty damn frightening.
ailie's story reminds me of another train story:

I was traveling in Europe, going north from Germany, through Denmark and on to Norway. I was awakened in the middle of the night because my train seemed to be going forward a short distance, bumping into something and clanking, and then backing up, repeatedly. We were in Gotland or some such place and the train was being boarded upon a ship, in its belly. The train would go forward, deposit 3 cars, then back up, and repeat. When my car was still, I got up to check things out. Automobiles were on the floor above us, and then people on the floors above that. Being a south Texas denizen, I found this mode of transportation completely weird.

It was December 28, 1997, BaronCarlos, the hero, was with his female friend at the time, since we ALL know that Baron Carlos is terminally single, on the A-Train from Harlem, on their way to Penn Station and then on to Queens.

Of course, BaronCarlos is never one to NOT cause trouble, and seeing that Carlos was in his standard black trench coat, (minus the Black Fedora Hat), and looking quite intimidating, standing at six feet, four inches short. (see Pictures of Everythingians for a photo.)

His female associate, we will call her Yung-Pei, was a 5 foot something Asian Female, in her leather jacket.

At this hour of the night, it was a lonely subway car, where Carlos and his friend were seated. Eventually, an unknowing victim entered the car. He was caucasian, lower middle class, and an average joe of a New Yorker, he could have even been a downtrodden tourist.

Baron Carlos decided to have some fun with him.

After several stops of utter silence, Carlos spoke up, "Pei, please don't go berzerk in this car, like the last time."

Pei, just looks at Carlos, wondering, "What the hell is this geek doing?", since she had no idea what Carlos was doing. Carlos continued, "The last time we were in the subway car, you pulled out your gun and held ten people hostage."

At this point, Pei is red in the face.

Carlos continued, "This time, I am NOT going to clean up you mess. You are on your own!"

At this point, the passenger, quickly escapes to the ajoining car.

Pei then sternly rebuked Baron Carlos for being such an ass, and almost getting the two of them killed.

I was camping in the Columbia gorge, where the sky is so dark that the summer stars seem to cast hard shadows on the pine-needle covered dirt and asphalt. There, train tracks run along the scenic highway, which twists and turns along the narrow flats between the cliffs of the gorge and the river. We went (my companions and I) and lay on a blanket by one of the bends in the track, inside the protective fence, and looked at the stars. We chatted and talked until we felt the train approaching, and then we sat and faced it until it came.

I don't even remember how the train felt as it approached: the first thing I remember is the blinding white of the train's headlight. From a distance, the light reduced objects to two dimensions; the trees to the side of the highway became inverse silhouettes, light and dark, the world reduced to yin and yang. My night vision eliminated any chance of grey.

The wind, thunder, sparks, a flying piece of metal, the ground shaking as I sat still, my hair whipping about my face -- I only have images, stills which capture but are not captured by the motion of the train. Its mass overwhelming me, everything around me -- I felt as small as I do beneath the stars.

But most vividly (my only memory of motion), I remember the shadows rotating as the train passed. Suddenly, the world, projected into 2D, gained depth, like a cube would if, as it suddenly rotated, you realized it to be a hypercube. The cross-sections of tree trunks revealed themselves to be cylinders; the knife-sharp fence shadows swept out volume in the dust in the air.

Once upon a time, when I was an actor and my group travelled the civilized world, we spent a night in a small town in eastern Oregon.

Because we left our sleeping bags elsewhere, we had to sleep on the floor with blankets. It was uncomfortable and cold and not relaxing.

Later that night, two trains went through town, a mile or so away. They crossed very close to each other. I could hear their horns and the Doppler Effect mixed them together in a hauntingly beautiful cacophony.

It is one of the most lovely sounds I have ever heard.

The end of the block. Tracks paralleling closer as we ran. Each time just enough advance, the whistle preceding, jumpup bolting out the door. Pennies, nickles, carefully placed during the rumbling advance of steel. Vaguely menacing in its forcefull momentum. Do they mind? Pounded 5 minutes flat, cars rolling, colors and rust melding. Burlington northern green and white. Searching between ties rocks and rails, warm metal discs, flattened thin. The process more important than the result, treasured and lost shortly after.

These stories are not my own, they are from a friend of mine named Gubby (Gabriel).
  1. The brakes failed on the train that Gubby was taking to go surfing. When I say he took the train, I mean to say he purchased a ticket for it. Somewhat surprisingly, the train took longer to reach its destination than if it had full function of its brakes...

  2. The train was travelling at high speed, as some trains do, when a group of youths hurled some missiles at the train. Half-bricks as usual. One of them made its way through the window of the train and struck poor Gubby! He did not put in a claim against Translink/Northern Ireland Railways.
Gubby never has any luck with trains. I may go so far as to say that Gubby often has bad luck, and I have hypothesised that the reason for this is that many Americans patted him on the head and took all his good luck, thinking that he was a leprechaun whilst he was in Some-place-in-the-USA.

I met an holocaust survivor, who was a distant uncle of a friend. He was travelling from Poland to Switzerland, at the beginning of WWII. Two German soldiers checked his passport, which had a "Juden" mark. He was lucky, for some reason, they didn't arrest him. He overheard one saying to the other "you should never trust Jews". Later, after much travel through Europe, he and his father got caught and put in a transit camp in occupied France. The French policemen who guarded it told them "we're not watching; the gate is open". The father didn't want to escape, as he still believed in justice: "I've never done anything bad! I'm innocent! I'm not going to run like a criminal!" He died a few months later in a concentration camp.

The son died shortly after telling us his story. He had never told anybody about it before. He had tried all his life to forget it, to no avail.

I stand on the overpass above Delawanna Ave. This is the NJ Transit Delawanna Station. You won't find Delawanna on a map, it's an anonymous suburban neighborhood of a middle-class suburban municipality, the southernmost tip of an anonymous suburban county, basking in the shadowy aura of the Emerald City of Manhattan, and this line is a forgotten spur of the Yellow Brick Road. I squeeze off two snapshots of the signs: to the left, "Port Jervis", and I don't know where that is; to the right, "Hoboken". That's Manhattan-ward, direction enough for me. When I was 7, I lived in the corner house two blocks away by taxicab geometry, but since the tracks were verboten, and we never had cause to take a train, this spot is new to me today. Clear golden afternoon sun bathes rusty rouge-y cinder, rotting ties, trash that will blow away before anyone picks it up. This guy with one eye stands by the plexiglass shelter - it's a stop, not what I would consider a "real" station. He says he comes here for the quiet. What line runs through here? Oh, there won't be a train through here today, not on a Sunday. He's drinking a can of beer, the skin of his thirtysomething face tells a murky and verbose tale of alcohol, but for this moment he is lucid enough to say a little about trains and quiet and Petey's Woods that were half a mile down the tracks (in the Port Jervis direction) before they built the condos there... There, but for the grace of God, go I. I'm not sure which eye to look at - the open one, blue-gray and lively, or the one he keeps closed, like a Moorcock hero between doom-laden adventures. I compromise and address the bridge of his nose. That welcome early spring sunshine casts interesting shadows from fences and stone stairs and railings. This is what I am here for, I bid my friend a good day and stride two ties at a time, on down the line, taking pictures as I go.
Click. Rotted ties fade into dirt and cinder on an abandoned spur.
Click. Givaudan-Roure office building presides over the toxic waste site.
Click. A row of forsythia blooms like fountains of sparks.
Click. Steel rails disappear into the distance, leaving a study in perspective in their passing.
Click. One crazy old telephone pole leans out of line in its eternal march beside the tracks.
Click. Click. Click.
I offer a silent prayer of thanksgiving for new eyes today, for a vision uncorrupted by the dull contempt of familiarity.
There is an old, wooden bridge outside of Jonesboro, Arkansas that runs directly over some train tracks. Some say that people used to be hung from that bridge, upside-down, so that when the train came, it would decapitate them. With this in mind, my friends and I headed out there. We got out of the car, and settled down to smoke a joint. We had just finished, when we heard the sound of an approaching train. We sat on the edge, with our feet dangling over haphazardly, as the train grew closer. I wasn't nervous. I knew that I was having a life-altering experience. I wasn't worried. I stared into the blinding light, and smiled, and laughed, and felt...

joyously

alive.

I once took a train from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Bangkok, Thailand. I went third class overnight.

The cool thing about trains in Thailand is that the walkway between cars isn't enclosed, like they do in the wimpier western countries. Oh, no; they just have open air. Exhilirating.

So I got to watch the sunrise in the south-east asian mist over rice paddies and rainforest, with the wind keeping my cigarrette burning fast.

Some buddhist monks came out to have a cigarette with me.

My cousin and I once drove into the woods on the outskirts of our family farm in the Appalachian mountains.

We built a campfire and stayed there for hours talking and watching stars, shooting bottle-rockets into the sky.

I remember it went quiet and suddenly I was in a concrete tunnel. It was very cold. I could feel the water snaking down my back as it dripped from the ceiling. A train appeared, heading directly for me, its wheels shrieking and sparking.

I stood frozen in its headlights like a stunned deer.

Just as I thought I would certainly be flattened, my eyes came into focus. I realized I was staring at the reflection of the firelight on my cousin's pick-up truck.

Recently, someone suggested that subconsciously I might have been trying to remember my birth.

Freedom is the way you think when you're tired

Like a passing thought, a train pierces the cold midnight around me and is gone

In a world where you can't undo, unsay, or unfeel, I am unrestricted.

Setting: The Red Line of the MBTA in Boston.

When I ride it, I often notice how differently men and women take up space in the train.

Women tend to use constrict themselves as much as possible, minimizing the amount of space they use. Two women riding together tend to stand or sit close to each other.

Men tend to spread out - spreading their legs apart and sometimes taking up more than one seat. If two men are riding together, they sit or stand far apart, even if it means that they must shout to carry on their conversation.

What does this tell us about body images and territoriality? I often try to come to a conclusion while riding the train, but I haven't succeeded yet.

I took a train from Beijing to Xi'an through the interior of China. It was a night train and the intercom played weird Chinese pop music all night, like maybe the conductor forgot to turn off the mike when he first gave the train stops.

We went through hundreds of miles of rice paddies in the interior of China during harvest season, which was amazingly interesting. But the most interesting part was when I went to claim my bunk in my coach, It had been squated by a mother and her child.

I let them sleep and sat by the window watching the people go by.


My mom and dad and I are driving the 1954 Chevy Bel-Aire back from somewhere late at night. We're quite a ways from home; perhaps we've been to visit grandmother. I think I'm around 4 or 5 years old. The road we're on has a stretch where the train runs parallel and is just a few yards away. My mom is driving (is my dad drinking?) and a passenger train pulls up right along beside us. My dad turns around to me in the back seat and says, "You've never been on a train, have you?"

I say, "No."

He tells my mom to speed up and find the next place the road crosses the tracks. She looks at him like he's crazy, but she speeds up. (Obviously, he's not only drinking, but he's drunk.)

About 10 minutes later, she has stopped the car at a RR crossing and my dad is out waving a white handkerchief at the train. It stops, and he does some talking to someone on the train. (He was a salesman). The next thing I know, he and I are on the train and the next stop is our home town, about an hour away.

He said I'd go to sleep good on a train. I did.

Back in the day, we'd make frequent trips with the family from our home in Austin to our grandmother's house in Lubbock. One time, we were greeted with a blast from the horn from every train that passed us.

Years later, we kids realized that, by blind chance, every train we passed was approaching a railroad crossing at the time, and they were required to sound their horn when they were coming up to a crossing. But when we were young, it seemed obvious that all the engineers recognized our car and were blowing the horn to say hello to us.

It was very exciting to know that all the engineers and conductors were so friendly.

Three stories about trains.

First

In January of 1998 I was strapped for cash and took a job thirty miles away in the city of Annapolis. The only way to get there without a car was a 2.5 hour public transit ride each way, starting with half an hour on the train. To make the timing work I had to catch the 5:30 train. But by the time I finished work and went home it would be dark again; the only sunlight I saw that winter was a little before getting into my (windowless) office.

After about two months of this routine I fell asleep on the train one night. I woke up twenty minutes later and looked out the window and saw--nothing. I didn't know what time or day it was. All I could see clearly was the inside of the car lit in sharp fluorescent light. And the most confusing part was that I didn't know if I was going to work or coming back.

Second

It was April 15, 2000. I was having a little adventure with a railroad police officer--or rather trying to avoid having one. While I clung to a fence like I meant to dance slowly with it and slowly inched my way along I heard a rumble. Slowly I turned my head and shoulders and saw on the freight line I'd departed a train roll by at a slow and stately pace. I watched it go and almost forgot about my fatigue and dirt and sweat.

Third

Not too long ago I was in the buddha garden and the rain came up in the first of the big summer thunderstorms. And as I leaned back and accepted a soaking I heard--again--a rumble and hurried down the hill to watch the train from close up. It was all intermodal shipping containers, marked with the logos of freight lines in England, Greece, and China. I got to thinking about all the foreign goods that came over vast seas to the Port of Baltimore and that would roll from here to every corner of North America and I felt strange inside, a kind of vertigo, as I contemplated the huge elaborate system that makes this kind of commerce routine.


Enough stories. Go fetch Grandpa some bourbon.

I was 6 and 7 and 8, on the floor in a sleeping bag, scratchy blankets. At Viggy's farm for the week, where there weren't enough beds and it was always chilly enough for the fireplace at night. And at 4 a.m., snuggled against a sister or brother, tip of my nose cold, I'd hear the trains clicking by in the distance.

I'd forgotten about the farm for the longest time. Last night we were bundled up, skin cold and warm and a tangle of limbs. We talked and touched and paused and listened. The train went by; rumble rumble clickety click; and in that instant I was young again. Cozy and silent; safe.

There are tracks that snake through the verdant hills of Vermont, carrying the steel beasts of burden and magic that they always have. The Amtrak Vermonter, the Burlington & Northern, Conrail, and their ilk; always announcing their presence to the smaller world outside with Dopplered roar of power and the loneliness of the Lion.

Walking along the ribbons of the steelroad, in the Vermont woods, at night. Dark, so dark the atmosphere is an opaque gas and you can feel it rushing over across and swirling about you in whorls of photophilic mufflers. The slight phosphorescence of fungus on the trees, of what small starlight filters through the treetops to flicker (time and again) on the shiny tops of the rails.

First: a whispering, sussuration, tickling reminder. High frequencies dancing in the dark. The feeling (not sound) of torque and stress, the forces acting on the steel jumping across the darkened interstitial space as some flex lightning to creak and gently push our bodies.

Second: faintest smear of brilliant light ahead off faraway and over the hill; a moving wizard's light of flickering shadows and occasional ray bursting up into the night sky.

Third: whispers becoming moans and quiet muffled shrieks; the stereo of the rails making one (almost) want to lay there down on the trackbed and listen to the varicolored slow and lethal speech of steel to steel.

Final: reluctantly moving aside to see the closing lantern slide around the mountain's face, scything down across us in the hellish glare of an angry storm as the locomotive approaches with a ringing bell (-click-DANG-click-DANG-click-DANG-click-DANG) to indicate that perhaps the engineer has seen us walking quietly down the cut besides the rails. The earth moves to the train, but it's hard to feel that when the rhythm of the Diesels is causing the very air to thump its way through your body so that you can feel the train in your lungs, huge and metal and loud and hot and THERE and gone, off, into the night where we had walked to find it for itself, and all that's left

the rhythmic murmuring marching cadence of the cars that followed it sleepily into the night

trucks sounding off the rail joins in steel drum harmony.

A mostly unused railroad right-of-way ran right past our house in Pennsylvania, when dad briefly worked for Dupont. The old man at the end of our cul-de-sac, Mr. Pete, was an old Locomotive Engineer. He had never graduated from high school. Instead, he ran away from home when he was 16 and signed on to shovel coal on a steam engine. He was a big man, who looked like he could shovel some coal. He was a smart man, and worked his way up to chief locomotive engineer. He and my father, a mechanical engineer and something of a polymath of the physical sciences, would have long conversations about steam power

He had bought his house because the lot backed up to the tracks. His entire basement was a giant electric train set. It was so big he had these trapdoors in the middle of the town that he could open and poke his head out of, so that he could add and change things. Anytime we wanted, we could come over and run the trains. It has a switching yard and everything.

Mr. Pete and his old rail buddies had bought an old steam engine and several cars, then restored all of it. He would have them bring the train around and PARK IT IN HIS BACKYARD! right on the tracks. Then he'd give us run of the train. We could hang out in the engine car, eat lunch in the dining car. Once, we got to sleepover in the caboose car. A couple of times, I got to watch my Dad help Mr. Pete get up stream in the boiler and boot up the train.

What a super old guy. I was really lucky to have him next door.

I’ve always loved trains. I guess this is because I was raised on the wrong side of the tracks.

I would wake up in the middle of the night hearing their ‘chugga chugga’ blow in through the screened-in window. I could only catch the rumbling it would let through, it was either that, or hordes of mosquitos buzzing around my head. Their noise is like the symphony of cricketss or the purring of the Boston Whalers cutting the water behind my parent’s house. It is a remembered comfort, a lullaby of memory as I get older.

Trains excite me, I know there is always an adventure waiting at the tail end of them. It’s magical to watch them swing through the desert like oblong snakes of Pez candy. They don’t scare me, with all of their clanging metal and molten guts of rattling fire. They’re like huge beasts to be petted and soothed, not unlike the horses I grew up taming. Trains can take me wherever I want to go, particuliarily in dreams where they carry messages, warnings and pieces of my subconscious back to me. Trains bring me places and people, remembered or present.

When I lived in Jacksonville, FL, my last year in that town, I got to see where it was that they make trains behave. You know trains could figure out a way to get around without tracks, if we'd let them. They're animals, we made them that way. One of my dear friends, okay, deepest scars, worked in one of the roundhouses. CSX…ech! I still hiss everytime I see one of their logos. But I loved walking around that cylindrical building, looking at all of the screens, figuring out which crossings I drove over to get to school every morning. But that wasn’t all. I also was able to pinpoint the crossing right by my parents home. I looked at my friend and said, “Hey, there’s where home was.” He shook his head and dragged me outside. “I want you to meet someone.”

We walked over to the guardhouse and in through the open door.. A head of chin length blonde hair whirled around in the chair.

“Kir, this is Scott. Scott, this is Kir, my girlfriend I told you lived in Savannah over the summer.”
I know I blushed to my toes as soft blue eyes that lit up like Cathedral rose windows touched on me then quickly looked down. “Nice to meet you.” Thanks Mom for teaching me all that politeness bullshit. It comes in handy when I’m nervous.
“How’s it going?” He asked softly and we shook hands, just as the five-‘o-clock came roaring by. And there was a JOLT! The wind lifted up around the guardhouse, spinning and flipping leaves, and the noise from the tracks got louder and louder. Wrists! My god, here I am staring stupidly at the hand I’m still holding looking at the bones and dark tanned skin of his wrists. I swear there’s something wrong with me sometimes.

We let go quickly, even more embarrassed that a moment ago. Greg, my friend, started shooting the shit with his buddy, as Scott leaned back in the chair and had an easy smile on his face. I looked out the windows trying to find something else to concentrate on, as both of our eyes darted back to one another.

I knew. He knew. And the whistling of the train faded in the distance. Scott began asking me questions, about Savannah, about Daytona. I don’t remember how I answered, but I know the words were shaky and shy. Definently not the Windigo style of today. And his voice was light, soft lisp because of those adorable rabbit teeth. And I knew I would know you, know you well, come hell or high water.

I had no idea I’d love you.
I had no idea you would set the standard.
No, I didn't forget. Not until you did.
And Maryland got reborn into a place for other people.
But you were supposed to go.

God, you’d laugh your ass off at all the trouble your Kir’s gotten herself into now. But you knew I would, and you kept telling me…
Where are you now? Can you hear them wailing in the night where you are like I do? If I run to catch this train, would it take me to you now so late in the game?
7.17.2009 What an absolute moron I was. All the way around. And probably will continue to be....

For a few minutes the clouds keep up with the speeding eastbound LIRR train. The train rumbles rhythmically, humming out a whole note every other bar. The sky is a still life painting out my window, but the ink held in my hand - black and red - reflect a different mood, this time not dark...but one of diabolique love. I'm quite enchanted, and intrigued at how two children that radiate white light invoke the dark goddess in each other. Perhaps it's as simple as recognizing that pure heart. Deeee-ahhhh-bleee-tahhhh, she rolls off her tongue. It still echoes in my head.

There's nothing that gets my creative juices flowing faster than a train ride.

I'm a narcoleptic in a car (fear not, I don't drive - no license), whether I'm in it for five minutes or five hours. Pens out, book open, techno music on or off, and my mind draws a blank. I wake up some time later with evidence of dreams. Perhaps if I put it under a decoder screen of some type it'll give me a transcript? Okay, wishful thinking. At any rate, I can't even focus on a book in a car.

Buses are too bumpy, and oftentimes I'd rather people watch outside, anyway. Long road trips by bus aren't as sleep inducing as they are in cars, but the stuff I've produced on bus rides isn't nearly as brilliant as the end result of a fruitful train ride.

Trains move cities. The average city dweller probably spends a quarter of their waking time in the subway. At any given moment, any hour of day or night you have captive character studies (even better when they're sleeping, you can stare without getting your ass kicked). In a day of riding, you've seen a good representation of society, a tell-tale crossection. So many faces, the energy flows and ebbs. But be careful what you absorb. Shields up! Red alert!

I always itch for a seat, only so I can get-a-workin'. Sketchbook out, eyes down, the crowd disappears. My sharpie just moves on the paper, my mind translating shapes and sounds, no clear end picture in sight. White space to fill, ink to spend, a story must be told. I'm trying to put together a puzzle, and people watch on curiously. Sometimes I feel like I'm drawing solely for their sake though, trying to get these hundreds of clueless, mindless, drones to see the world as I see it: the beautiful truths, fulfilled passions without hurt, the love. Love between people, and an overwhelming love for life.

If I could set up a giant canvas in the middle of a subway car, I would. Perhaps someday, when my brushes have learned to talk, I will. I can't quite show the people what I see through my eyes yet...I still draw in baby talk. But they're watching, and they're curious. Miserably packed into the crowded subway car, they're watching. There's my ray of light, shining again.

Fierce Grrl and I love sharing our train tales. Actually, we constantly reiterate how wonderful it is to have a huge smile plastered on your face, uber-glowing, just sitting there on your commute, while everyone else has eyes that are glazed over. It's basically the equivalent of wearing a bright red jacket in a group of people wearing all black. You stand out quite a bit. People stare. You might as well be a loony talking to yourself. All because you're smiling. I love being high on life!

A Saggitarius in motion is never an unhappy one. I guess the train is my horse. The clicking on the tracks is the sound of my gallop. I can almost hear the swish of trees as I speed through the concrete jungle. Out the back of my Bronx apartment there's a view of a Metro-North train yard and multiple tracks. When trains pass I'm entranced, at ease. They're a reminder that there are places to go, that a world exists beyond the confine of my walls. That the world breathes, even when I try not to. Perhaps the next time I'm caught in a stagnant rut, I'll do a visualization exercise and picture a train headed my way...nudging me from behind at full speed. Gotta move those short little legs to keep up or I'll end up squashed. Such is life in the city, I've learned. Make use of what it has to offer or it'll eat you. I'm not afraid of being dragged into the seweres and eaten alive by the city's karmic rat warriors. It is wearing on me a bit, though. Perhaps it's time for an extended vacation.

Between Island Park and Long Beach my train crosses a bridge. The water's a deep blue-gray and from inside the heated train car, I almost believe it's warm enough outside to go for a swim. I close my eyes for a brief second, imagining how wonderful it would be to be in the middle of a large body of water, just floating for some time. The train slows pace with my heartbeat, and I know the platform is just a bit further ahead. I'm conscious of the air blowing out the vents, and I exhale. Serenity washes over me.

It's time to close the book.
Until we ride again, my friend!

It goes like this:

I'm eating an apple bear claw with some milk and sitting up in this car with a bubble on top of it, so I can look up at the sky. No matter what time I go up there, we are always unable to see. We pass through the Appalachians, and every time I go up there we pass through a mountain tunnel or whatever.

As usual, when I get up there and sit down, we pass into a tunnel and I eat my bear claw and prepare to get up to go. The second I stand up we exit the tunnel and we're on a bridge. My ears pop and I look around and I feel like I can see everything. I have never seen so much in one glance.

I see factories pumping out smoke, I see roads criss-crossing the landscape like stitches. I see farms in the valley and I see houses balanced in the wooded foothills. I see where lives began, end, and are acted out with the same manner that I had.

At this moment, I stop thinking of myself as something special, and I am in awe of what humanity is and will become. From this moment, my dreams came.

It was back in the late 80s, when the Soviet Union was still strong (or at least it seemed so to me.. I was pretty young). Every few years my parents would go to south to Caucasus, Black Sea to be specific. They weren't rich or anything - my dad was a head surgeon of some department in one of the Moscow's hospitals. My mom worked in the Lenin Library. We weren't well off. We were ok. We couldn't really afford plane tickets, so we took the train. For three or for days, I remember the track winding through forrests and little cities. Waking up and falling asleep to a same dook-dook dook-dook sound of the wheels. Gradually the temperature became noticably warmer. On the final day of the journey everyone seemed a bit more excited then usual. People were collecting outside the little rooms, watching out of the windows. Then, as we neared a turn around a mountain the wide expanse of the Black Sea appeared. I don't think I'll ever forget that moment. The sun was gleaming, the distant waves were crashing on the still distant shore. The air smelled different - of heated metal and wood, and the freshness of the water...the white specs of the seagulls....

of course i grew used to it fairly soon

I remember everything about those two days, except for the moment I turned my back on you in the parking lot, hoisted the overnight bag higher up my hip, and walked into the station. I almost looked back. I almost imagined you watching me.

This subway system is foreign to me. I'm trying to make sense of the fare chart, trying to work the goddamned ticket machine. A train shakes the whole world. My last wrinkled dollars disappear, and a white ticket finds its way into my hand. Fourteen minutes until the next train. Fourteen minutes to think about you driving home to your family. I briefly fantasize climbing the stairs to find you still there in your car. I'm sinking. I call home, make a few vague statements about how the trip's been. I'm happy for a minute, letting forty-eight hours worth of memories cozy up to me.

There are two more trains to ride, at least five more hours in transit. I am grateful for every stranger's tiny kindness. When I finally board the last train, and slump against the cold window glass, a busy looking man sits beside me in a tidy suit. We are in the quiet car, and our conductor has to scold him twice before he'll hang up his cell phone. We ride. I am trying to make myself small, to keep some distance between our thighs. The man and I don't talk at all for hours, until we're pulling into my station and he asks me if I know when Presidents Day is. I want to tell him about tragedy; instead I pull a datebook from my purse and point.

At some point on this trip, you joked that our relationship is old enough to vote. It's old enough to drive. Old enough to know better. Outside my home station, it is freezing. I call my husband again. He won't say it but he didn't believe I'd be back. He's missed me. By this time, you've kissed your wife, you've probably put the kid to bed. Your eyes are wet. My cheeks are pale. We are always riding trains.

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