"dear [G]od," i had prayed, in the manner of a cowardly supporting actor, "please help me [not die]." and then i had jumped--a downward leap from a sprinting train--and hurtled prehistorically and penitently toward the supporting cast of rocks below...
"you've got to land rolling." i've heard it a dozen times. i've been interviewing hobos and freight-hopping dirty kids since i got that job at the gas station, age 16. easy for you to say, you story-spinning travelmongers! but they're right! when you're hurtling off a fucking freight train, rolling on the landing can be quite important.
other things to remember when interacting with a fucking freight train:
hold on. trains have a habit of jerking a lot when they get started and then settling into an easy rhythm. a little down the road, however, adjustments in speed between the engines have the potential to throw the casual freight-hopper off balance.
duck low. remember: most people aren't looking for you, but don't give a bored copper a chance to call the railroad authority on you. just be smart.
look out. some people are looking for you. you might learn to call these bulls [urban definition]. bulls and engineers have the responsibility to turn your ass in to the police. so hide it out during checks, and don't get caught with no escape plan.
that's not remotely what michael and i were thinking when we hopped our first train of the adventure. at a denver light rail stop, 11:30 pm, equipped with just our backpacks and my guitar, we stole onto an empty engine on a train bound for [G]od knows where.
"this is so great," i said. "i have extra money!" michael exclaimed.
twenty minutes later i was hopping back on our stationary train, arms full of a conspicuously shaped plastic bag. cracking into our first 40, we started talking philosophy and relationships, hitting the deck in genuine paranoia whenever another train would pass.
|me (with tree)|
we decided to wait it out. i leaned my head out the window and yelled casually, "hurry it up, motherfuckers!" high on the dashboard, the radio crackled to life. the engines started. we looked at each other with simultaneous alarm and excitement. did they hear that? are we finally going somewhere?
we were. the bulls caught us scrambling to hide in the cabin of the freight train's rear engine. we bolted.
back at the light rail station, we were starting again. trish was just getting off work when i stepped up and asked her for a spare cigarette (i swear i must have quit back in oregon). she was amused to hear that we had so recently failed so embarrassingly to hop a train. she stuck with us for a bit while we talked travel and asked her about her life. a couple stops up, michael left her his number and we were on our way.
this time we hopped an old-school train car, which was only mostly full of scrap metal. 'we can't be detected down here,' was the premise. "you know..." i trailed off, michael turning toward me from his low-lying perch, his internal frame pack holing himup off the rusty scrap metal.
i continued: "we sure have a habit of hopping stationary trains." it was 1:30 am, and we were staring listlessly up at the denver moon.