Road Trip
first time's the charm

The mid-70s were well within the "Golden Years" of train riding. The sex and drugs of the 60s merged very well with the wonder and excitement of hopping freights. Having no money meant that you were immediately accepted, rather than chastised, and being dirty was a badge of acceptance we all wore proudly.

One drawback, though, was that most, if not all, of the early "seekers of the Holy Rail" were a notch or two below fully grasping the meaning of freight train riding. Here was a form of amusement that had counterculture written all over it, but any moron with a backpack could join the scene. On one hand we wanted to keep it cool, but at the same time let everybody know that it was a total and complete groove. There was also History to deal with we were jumping on a boat going down river, not launching our own, so there was Tradition to deal with also. Back off and Respect. Listen. Learn. For many it was the first time that they actually had to listen to what their elders were saying, not a bad habit altogether. These people (established tramps) were older, but they sure as Hell weren't anything like the "Parents" that were never a part of our circle of friends we embraced them and sucked them dry for whatever knowledge they could impart on us.

view under freightcar at speed

On a classic June day in the late 70s I took a friend of mine on his first train trip. We'd hung out together for several years, and always there was the anticipated barrage of questions about train riding. At that time in my life I still had a modicum of patience left, and used it often to elaborate on endless queries related to the chances of getting killed, raped, or worse on said train trips. Fearing the impending "train-trip-together" that would never actually materialize because of thoughts of ghastly mutilation, I was relieved to hear that he had changed his mind (and mindset) and was chomping at the bit for a taste of adventure and reckless abandonment surely the stuff of train riding.

As goes with most train trips, there was an undue amount of waiting in the yard before our train materialized. During this time, the usual rant about gear and mental attitude was foremost I hoped that I hadn't blown our simple venue clear out of proportion. Satisfied that whatever preparations tantamount to the success of our journey had already been made, we sunk into the depths of Demon Wine, a curse I carried for too many years.

Once our lips were lubricated, all manner of subjects were fair game, but the first that I recollect was the magical quality known as the "babbling brook". We've all sat next to a flowing watercourse and, in the background, heard a faint but recognizable sound of murmuring, or soft conversation, to suggest that one or more persons were speaking in a low voice somewhere nearby. My point, at the time, was that if we were, say, in France, would we (or a person of French extraction) hear the same murmurings, but with a French accent? Do Japanese people, in Japan, hear murmurings in their own dialect?

All resolve about how many hours it would take for our train to arrive vanished as the wine was consumed, and subjects that I previously had no interest in whatsoever were vehemently debated without a thought toward fact or reason. We were transposed to a place where "thought" was "action", and I felt as if I was in a marathon.

Another topic of conversation centered around "air" specifically, the air that we hold in our lungs. Mention was made that if a person were to take a big breath of air and hold it in their lungs for as long as possible, a point would be reached where that particular volume of air was reaching the limit of its usefulness and immediate expulsion was called for, followed by another intake of air. Was this second intake of air not dissimilar from the first? Why is it necessary to blow out a lung full of air, only to replace it with another lung full of air? Why not merely keep the first lung full of air indefinitely? What was wrong with it? How could a volume of air be altered in any way by simply being held captive for a moment or two in our lungs? What, exactly, did our lungs "do" to the air? What was it that air had that our lungs needed so desperately? Could a person die by just exhaling a lung full of (already used) air, and then having another person, with a lung full of "already used air", blow that used air into their lungs? "Second hand" air? Isn't that what we all breathe in crowded rooms full of exhaling persons?

Eventually the train came, and whatever further adventures we might have had are now forgotten, but what remains is the fact that by merely thinking about a train trip, we both were able to achieve whatever state of mind was necessary to fully let go and just be in the moment. I wish I could get there without all of the trappings of physically taking the trip it would be nice to just let my mind go while I sit at home in the hot tub.

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