Train I Ride

The Last Pale Light in the West.

The Last Pale Light in the West.

I looked out from the window.  Watched the passing shacks, sheds, shanties, and week-end torture cabins that dot our great Northwest.  Haunted houses.  Suicide barns.  Junked cars.  Algae-filled kiddie pools.  Crumbling brick buildings.  Rotting timber.  Rusting machinery.  Rusting everything.  Everything rusting and getting overgrown.  Moss.  Mold,  Weeds.  Plants.  You can see the earth trying to digest all this man-made ugliness.  Trying to return all this shit back into molecules it can use.

Lori and I were on our way to Seattle.  We love the Pacific Northwest.  Gloom is good for our complexions.  We flew into Portland, hung out for a few days, then took the train up to see her brother in Wallingford.  I like train travel.  Always preferred it.  Very relaxing.  I like staring at the landscape.  I like it when it’s beautiful.  But I also get a kick out of seeing ugly places.  Always have.  Ever since I was a little kid.  My favorite family vacations were the ones to Tijuana.  After that Las Vegas, which is a different kind of ugly.

Anyway, the best way to enjoy any kind of bleak landscape is from a train speeding away from it.  Barstow.  Gallup.  National City.  29 Palms.  Folsom Prison.  There it is.  And there it goes.  Perfect.  Now make your way to the bar car.  And really make it go away.

Take Amtrak and see America.

Take Amtrak and see America.

Speaking of bar cars.  While we were sitting at the station in Portland, these five business guys clad in Casual Friday climb into our car.  They’re all together.  Going to somewhere to do something.  Where or what I couldn’t give a rat’s ass.  Guys like this are so un-intersting ta me they usually turn invisible after my first glance.

They overhead their little rolly suitcases, sit down, plug in their lap tops, and evaporate into thin air.  Poof.  Gone.

Actually, only three of them.  They were on their way to the bar car before the train was even moving.  The first man up was a porcine chap with a burr haircut and a red face.  Of course him.  Retaining a little water he was.  You don’t just get bloated eyelids…you earn them.  He was the first to hop up.  He also made it easier for the other two to follow.  The Ice Breaker.  Taking point.  God bless you, soldier.

“Hey get me one,” the guy sitting right behind me calls out.  In a pointed way.  Like he knows the score.

Buzz-haired fat guy stops.  He gets the dig.  Decides to take it head on.  Turns to the guy and asks him what he wants.

No answer.

He turns back and opens the sliding door.  The three file out into the next car.  Well played.

“Do you have a lot of work to do?” the guy behind me asks the guy sitting next to him.  I figure it’s to feel him out.  Like maybe unwinding with a cold one in the lounge wouldn’t be the worst idea a man had ever had.

“I’ve always have a lot of work,” the other dude says.  He stays seated.  Uh-oh.  He’s that guy.

Shit, I’m thinking.  He’s blocked in.  Can’t climb over this one to do a little early afternoon drinking.  That’s giving away a lot of leverage in the office power struggle.  Might pull that ace out of his sleeve someday.  Especially now that there’s been talk of downsizing.

Fuck it, dude.  Climb over the corpse.  Leave him to his lap top, while you suck suds and watch hobo jungles roll by.  You hate this job anyway.  Just get drunk in the bar car and hop off at the next stop.  Where ever it is.  Wander around.  Looking for adventure.  And love.

He could max out his cards.  Hock the company computer.  Shack up with some cocktail waitress that only has her kid two days a week.  Get into a fist fight with her ex in the parking lot of a KFC.  Spend the night in jail with him.  Listen to how that woman ruined his life.  Feel guilty he ever made it with her.  Get to experience the awkward handshake when she bails you out and not him.

But it was not to be.  He remained seated.  Starts clacking away at his keyboard.

Not one of my people.  Not like the Ice Breaker.  I bet he’d hop off.  Given the right barometric pressure.  He’d make that run for freedom.

I put on the Bose headphonic system and cued up Ben Nichols on the I-podular.  It helps to listen to good music while appreciating the passing scenery.  It really does.  I take better pictures too.  Sets my imagination free.

Beach front property.

Beach front property.

I watched a dilapidated Victorian house pass by.  A child molester’s ghost lives in the attic.  There was an abandoned mill that used to grind human lives into meaningless gristle.  A trailer where the wife beats the husband.  A tree fort with moldy Playboys.  A once magical place.  Where hope was born.

A decrepit men’s hotel.  Where it died.  In a hot plate fire.

A tin shack.  Bad things happened there.  More then once.

Sad gas station.  Spray-painted boulder.  A pile of tires.  A toxic pond.  A man with a big head standing by the road.  Holding a small stick.

A rusting swing set.   Last swung in 1991.  By a guy who did a lot of meth in Tacoma.  Robbed pizza guys before he got sent up to Walla Walla.  Now doing a fifteen-year bit.  Still remembers the swing.  It was his happiest time.  He knew it would be.  Even back then.  And he was right.  Now he dreams of dying.

I really love travel.

A choice of bridges to jump from.

A choice of bridges to jump from.

We hit a patch of beautiful scenery.  I watched but couldn’t add anything to it.  It spoke for itself.  After a while I took off the headphones.

Lori was under the influence of Sudoku.  Forget trying to talk to her.  I decided to listen to the two guys behind me.  The conscientious employees.

I had to piece things together, but I got that they were all from some company.  One that sells supermarket check-out systems.  Pretty exciting.  Every kid’s dream.  Anyway, their main competitor is NCR, who according to the guy behind me, has been aggressively underbidding them.  They’ve also been offering a very generous service agreement.  One their company can’t match.  NCR is also better at innovation than the company these guys work for.

Why those dirty fucks.  Sounds like you’re on a sinking ship.  Better hit the bar car.

Thank God they still have the Safeway supermarkets contract.  Problem is Safeway doesn’t  keep up a lot of their stores.  They spend a lot on their check-out systems, but don’t spend enough on remodeling.  Some of the fixtures are over thirty years old.  It drives him crazy.

“My wife’s parents tell me they love to shop at Safeway…because there’s nobody there.  Oh God, I think, don’t tell me that!”

The other guy just grunts.  He’s the one who always has work.  Probably doesn’t appreciate all this defeatist talk.  Especially when there’s so much work to do.

The whole thing was depressing beyond anything I could cook up watching rural-industrial blight.

Pretty sweet deal alright.  I had hit the bummer bonus.

These were some unhappy warriors.  Lot’s of sacrifice and no glory.  Or whatever glory there is in paying the daughter’s orthodontist bill on time.  Doing the right thing, as best they can, and still pretty miserable.  Charging the bill.  Charging the hill.  Even when they know it’s going to murder them.  Pretty heroic, actually.  Heroes.  Everyday ones.  Like me.

Because it was pretty heroic of me not to get up and head to the bar car.  And try to drink their misery away.  For them.

The most brutal part was when they all had to get off the train at Tukwila, just before we hit Seattle.  The town was a quarter mile away from the platform.  It didn’t look like much of a town either.  I nudged Lori.  We watched them pull their little suitcases along a path so overgrown with summer weeds, it looked like they where making their way through a rice paddy in the Ia Drang Valley.  The Ice Breaker pulling up the rear.  His suitcase wobbling wildly.

Our train started to pull away.

“Just let them make it to the treeline, God.  Before the Cong get them.”


Tukwila, the end of the rainbow.

Tukwila, the end of the rainbow.

16 responses to “Train I Ride

  1. Pure Genius. well worth waiting for. Please write a novel with this as it’s start. Thank you. If you get blocked just jump on a train and write it onboard. On The Rail. Genius. (that’s a double genius which makes you a genie…eye. In a bottle of course)

    • I’ll tell you what, Johnny. This genius keeps a bent up wire coat hanger wrapped around his gas cap. To use as a spare key. I had to use it tonight as a matter of fact. Went to a secret meeting, and realized I locked the keys in. Some friends were with me, and I tell them “No problem, I have a spare.” I pull the coat hanger off and pull the lock. Wrap the hanger back around the cap.
      “That’s so ghetto, dude!”
      Ghetto genius, I say. So yeah, I have to agree with you on me being a genius. The kind that borders on crippling madness. And often foot faults right into it. That kind.
      Say. We know you’re a real bonafide genius. Have you ever teetered on the edge of madness?
      You don’t seem like the type. When I saw you the other night drunkenly wielding that ax in front of all those gypsies. The camp fire light shining in your blazing red eyes. I thought, this guy’s got it together. Staid individual. Typical ax-wielding conformist. I wonder if he even knows how to cut loose. I feel sorry for guys like you. All work and no play.
      I wish you’d let some adventure into your life, Johnny.
      (Made myself laugh there)
      Okay, wide-o. Thanks much for the props. Props are greatly appreciated here. The idea of writing a novel doesn’t seem like the worst idea a man has ever had. We’ll see where it goes from here. But it’s a start.
      Thanks for the nudge. And the support. And love.
      Like a brother,

  2. Marius…this is breathtaking work here. And I am not just saying that. You wrote about a dozen short stories in there. Some of them just a few words long. The power in your word economy is spellbinding. And what you were writing about – just truly powerful stuff.

    “A rusting swing set. Last swung in 1991. By a guy who did a lot of meth in Tacoma. Robbed pizza guys before he got sent up to Walla Walla. Now doing a fifteen-year bit. Still remembers the swing. It was his happiest time. He knew it would be. Even back then. And he was right. Now he dreams of dying.”

    This really got me tearing up. In those few sentences I GOT what was there – childhood gone, pain beyond compare, being stuck, waiting to leave this mortal coil. That is how I felt for so long. And the grief just welled up in me reading this. Seriously, this is stuff that needs to be put on dead tree paper and pumped out for thirsty eyes to read. You have a gift, and it’s beautiful to see it.

    As for the stuff inside – what can I say? I identify so much with it. I was that keep working guy on the outside, but inside I was the red faced chap hopping to the first bar. Business on the outside, party on the inside…sort of like a mullet, but completely not like a mullet at all.

    The train ride…well, what can be said about the metaphors in that. Trains are resplendent with imagery and a cacophony of visuals and a mess of stories that seem to light up more when on the rails, for some reason. And that’s what I get reading this. Can’t get there from here, but you certainly can chugga-chugga-choo-choo your way in trying so. Glorious pasts come haunting into the cars, and you meet some of these personified in guises that bring you a deeper understanding of your true journey in life.

    Beautiful pics too, Mr. G. You’re a quadruple threat. Quintuple if you include either the championship level extreme cocktail weenie eating or the chainsaws on fire juggling act.

    Pleasure, as usual…and yes, it was worth the wait.


    • Lori and I roared at “sort of like a mullet, but completely not like a mullet at all.” Oh dear God. No more delightful words have ever been penned. Ever. Seriously. Then “can chugga-chugga-choo-choo your way in trying so,” just murdered it. So fucking good. I wish I wrote it. Fuck.
      The whole comment, once again, had me blushing and kicking at my Keds. Thank you for the generous kindness. I know you ride a similar box car. From what I understand, reading between the lines, you too might have struggled with a drinking issue. Not calling you an alcoholic. But perhaps a person who once or thrice sought solace in the bottom of eleventeen bottles of booze on the wall. And is now not doing that. That whole train ride.
      That is, if I may be so abstract as to liken my recovery to a journey. A train journey. And then infer that we are on a similar journey. A bold indulgence, for sure. But one I must grovel for. In order to apply my next train metaphor which includes hobos, Pinkertons, and shapely ankles peeking out from layers of petticoat.
      I can’t fit it in otherwise.
      I’ll tell you what, I’ll employ my mastery of economizing words, and just drop it. Like a hot steaming turd.
      I’m a little tired tonight, Pauly. No reason really. I didn’t do much today. Lazy Saturday. Had a pretty good nap too. A drooler. The kind you wake up from and don’t know what day it is. Only this time I had my wallet instead of a Mexican hooker’s bra. And nobody was yelling at me to put my manos arriba. Still a deep nap though. I should have more pep tonight.
      Maybe I’m still tired from that other nap. The Mexican siesta. Those took a lot out of me. Who knows?
      I won’t waste too much time trying to figure it out. Why loose sleep over feeling tired?
      I always say.
      I have your noggin’ in a headlock and am squeezing it with brotherly love,
      And thanks, again. For the good feelings and laughs.

  3. I love the line…”Because it was pretty heroic of me not to get up and go to the bar car. And try to drink away their misery. For them.” After reading about their depressing lives, it makes me want to join you in the bar car and help drink away their miseries. It makes me appreciate that our lives are so much more interesting.

    • Well Lola, my life is more interesting to me these days. Interesting. Instead of terrifying, sad, brutal, shameful, and wracked with pain. I’ll take the upgrade. Interesting is fine. Though I’m not sure how interesting my life is these days to other people. You know, compared to before. When I was a tad more impulsive. Ah well, you know what we always say around here–fuck them.
      Besides, I still stay up way past my bedtime. And take tea at three.
      Now if you’ll excuse me. I must attend to my levitation exercises. Then feed my bats.
      Welcome aboard.

  4. Loved this!
    Soundtrack: Mermaids / Hans Zimmer / Pirates OC, On Stranger Shores.
    Current Location: 7900 South(side), Chicago, IL. Da Hood.
    Activity: Swimming in the Love
    also love the NW… Seattle, Fremont, Woodland Park, Poteland (in and out on the qt…the downlow…

    Train shows the backside of everything; ugly bad and good.

    I’ll return to the Sea one day. Maybe soon, maybe knot.

    • Glad to hear you enjoyed it, Frater. And that your choice of soundtrack worked. Splash some of that hood love over this way. I’m into it. Although, the swimming in these parts has been pretty good this season. All backstroke. At a nice, lazy, Esther Williams pace. Not out to set any world records. Just want to make the film look good.
      It’s been a good summer. Hope the same for thou and thine.

  5. Thanks for checking out my post on Not This Song. I’m really glad to have discovered your site, and I agree with the great things people say about your writing. Your archives are on my to-do list!

    • It was my pleasure, I assure you. Great stuff. Regarding your last post, I haven’t read any Martin, but the Night’s Watch sounds like a perfect gig for this disenchanted idealist. The French Foreign Legion is out these days. The age cut-off is 40, but even if I could get my mom to write a note, their web-site says you have to learn French. Very disappointing. I may have to pay-off my credit cards after all. Thank you for stopping by.

  6. Aside from the subway in NY, the trolley in San Diego, and Marta in Atlanta–and those probably don’t count–I’ve never ridden a train in the US. I’d love to travel cross-country in one though, assuming the bedroom was larger than a closet. James Bond movies make train travel look so much fun and elegant. I’m sure they probably are fun, but I wouldn’t hold my breath about elegant though.

    You’re a very talented writer, Marius, I really love your stuff. Have a wonderful weekend,

    • You know, Christy, I don’t think I need a bedroom any larger than a closet. It’s when they get smaller than one, that I start to gripe. My back is not what it used to be. That’s why I have to get a sleeper for any train trip lasting longer than thirty-seven hours. It’s amazing how something like being horizontal can become a delicious forbidden treat you obsessively fantasize about. I’m talking about just being able to lie down. Straight. So yeah, sleeper car.
      Oh, for the record, I think any train ride counts as a train ride.
      Awesome epitaph. “Any train ride,
      counts as a train ride.”
      Broad enough to seem heavy. Obscure enough to maintain academic interest. Lends itself well to innuendo. There’s also something inherently unsatisfying about it.
      Kinda smirky, too.
      I like it. Okay, that’s on the tombstone, until I come up with something better. “Any train ride, counts as a train ride.” Make sure they put the comma in there.
      Now, where were we? Oh yeah. Train rides. I think some of the elegance and romance of train travel still remains. Certainly compared to the elegance and romance of Greyhound bus travel. That golden age has passed us in a cloud of diesel smoke. Spent three days constipated in a fetal position on a bus once. My only comfort coming from a bag of whiskey, warm beer, weed brownies, Mexican Valium, and some Tylenol-3 left over from a root canal. It was barbaric.
      However, I do remember having a life-changing realization when we pulled into a stop at Fort Stockton Texas. I don’t remember what the realization was though.
      Something about oneness. Oneness of something, but what? Oneness of everything? Or maybe just of some things. Doesn’t matter.
      It had to be an authentic spiritual experience, since any concept of oneness is the last thing that would come to mind while in Fort Stockton, naturally.
      That much I can clearly remember.
      Thank you for liking my writing.

    • Thank you. I shall attempt to just graciously accept your generous gift. It’s difficult. I want to say something self-effacing like “Are you fucking crazy?” But then, that’s a tad rude to you, isn’t it? So I will try not to let any inner awkwardness at receiving a compliment knee-jerk me into a stupid response.
      Hold on…I have to count to ten.
      Thank you for the kind words.
      Why is everything so hard for me? Is it all my fault?
      You don’t have to agree so fast? Maybe like wait a beat or two. Make it seem like an afterthought.

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