Three stories about trains.


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.


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.


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.