Sunday, June 20, 2010
my best impression of boxcar bertha or notes from my business trip to cleveland, part 1
after a prolonged battle with technology and banging my head against the idiocy of copyright laws (iphoto will only allow you to export videos using music you've downloaded ILlegally--tell me how THAT makes sense), i present to you a less than perfect slide show of photos not set to the right song (though this one is beautiful), and edited choppily. at this point i just have to throw in the towel and post these....oh, and now i see that youtube degrades the quality of the images. grr...will repost elsewhere and send link!
6am friday 11th of june 2010
train stopped in rochester. first we thought we'd get caught. paranoid from yesterday's experience. yesterday we hopped the wrong train and ended up headed back toward new york. it was still gorgeous though. the four of us sat and slept on the back of a grainer car, looking down gorges to rivers below, teetering on bridges you'd think couldn't support these metal beasts. but they do, so what's four more people?
apparently someone at a railroad crossing spotted us and called 911. really? 911? big roll of the eyes to the 'if you see something say something' society we run with. or against, i suppose. and just like that, the new york state police and the ulster county sheriff awaited our arrival at the next crossing and stopped our ride. the anti-cruise.
so we packed up the sleeping bags we'd been huddling under and got out. they let us go, warning us we'd be on CSX's trespass list, and attempted to seem tough. but really they seemed embarrassed to be wasting everyone's time. the sheriff rummaged in his squad car and pulled out a laundry bag to help us pack up. and we were on our way. we walked the "three miles" toward new paltz feeling that classic disgust from all of those passing by in their empty suv's, by walking, by being dirty, by carrying backpacks, we are marked, reviled and feared. it's ridiculous, meaningless and as easy as putting on a costume to assume this role. the world is a bunch of pretense and bullshit.
but right now we are living high. four hours after our little bust, we made it back to square one. the rail workers whom we had dodged and hid from previously pulled us up from hiding on the tracks and hooked us up with our own empty boxcar. better than a room at the ritz carlton. they propped the door open for us, gave us a ride in the back of their work truck through the quiet strands of trains and we climbed straight up off their truck into the waiting car and waved good bye. they loaded us up with water bottles and rail lights. there are incredible people in this world. and then there are those who call 911.
the train is moving full speed now, hence the difficulty with the pencil. rochester rolls by. we see the old kodak building, which is beautiful, because kodak is all i know of rochester.
duke draws on the boxcar door--a full shanty town aflame. it is one of the central images of the cleveland show--the whole purpose of our trip.
sarah rests, brett plays the banjo. he's learning still but the sound is intoxicating. i take pictures. loads of them. they will be repetitive and boring but this moment is so special. which does nothing to encompass it.
last night i peed in a ziploc bag. i would have gone over the edge of the open door but duke and sarah had set up their sleeping bags there, leaving us to marvel at the stars, the hills of nighttime trees glittering with fireflies. the first of the season. fucking magic.
i didn't expect this triumph. the first day was discouraging. we got a pretty late start. it was pouring rain. duke drove us to albany in his truck. duke and sarah up front, brett and i in the back, laying on tires he'd gathered as bumpers for his sailboat--a tarp shielding us from the pouring rain--and johnny law. three hours later and miraculously we weren't drenched.
the first night, which i mentioned, was tough. we had to cross a field of knee high grass. by the end of it we were soaked toes to thighs, with the rain steadily working on catching up on top. at a clearing, i stole into an old caterpillar and changed into dry socks. not smart--because then we had to cross a deep and mucky stream and then bushwhack through some insane jungly forest. at the yard, sunset was on. we hid in the phramites before darting into the yard gravel, which are little boulders. ground unstable.
we climbed up and over the first track, but then saw a csx vehicle, panicked, and ran low. with the heavy gear i carried, i flet like i physically couldn't make it over the tracks. i had fallen to my knees. and oh, i am not a child anymore! but still, the truck rolled toward us. so i hefted myself over the tracks, ignoring the huge pain in my knees, and rambo log-rolled down the track, backpack and all. ridiculous.
the rest of the evening continued in this fashion--me pushing my body to its physical limits and having to go still further. in order to cross between trains, you cannot just duck under their hookups. the train strands seem constantly to shift. we saw creepy 'ghost' train cars rolling remotely down the tracks to join the strands. and when they did, there was huge rumbling and jostling. careless people are apparently killed this way. so you have to climb up metal rungs on the side of the cars, shimmy across, then back down the rungs on the other side and jump down to the gravel. with 30 lobs (or whatever it is) on your back. we did this no less than forty times. while it rained on us. near the end, i was increasingly cranky, internally. quiet externally. i had developed some kind of abdominal cramping. be it gas, or more likely a result of the physical straining--climbing with wight like a monkey--and being so muscle-clenchingly cold. it made me wince with every ladder step. i'd say i was close to miserable, saved only by the excitement of attempting to hop trains.
finally we found an open boxcar--a dream--and climbed inside. i remember the boxcar kid books i used to read when i was a kid--the magic of inhabiting your own world in there. it was after midnight. we'd been monkeying between trains for six hours. the boxcar started to move. we yelped with joy. it slowly moved through the yard. then back to the other side, where it sat. by 2am, exhausted, unsure if it would move again and without a clue, we crashed out for three hours, literally freezing with the wet feet shoes legs pants. the works. but actually slept a little.
more journal and photos to come...