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Brian Cray - Hitchhikin', Trainhoppin', and Wanderin'

Wanderin' the world, at will, by any means

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Archives for March 2016

Train Hopping

My First Train and the Puke that Followed

Train Hopping Arizona

I hitched out a few days ago with Randolph from the Grand Canyon after spending a two and a half months working in the food and beverage department in Maswik lodge. Randolph has been hopping trains for 7 years in between working seasonal jobs. He left his home in VA at the age of 18 and started walking down the Appalachian Trail. The first train he saw strolling through town he hopped on and he’s been riding the rails ever since then. He ended up in Montana and became trail crew up in Glacier National Park eventually switching to packing in and out food on mules.

Train Hopping

Train Hopping Arizona to New Mexico.

We cruised towards Flagstaff and sparked up a joint for the ride past Valle. The last time I smoked was in Colorado when I visited my boy, James. So after a few puffs it kicked in quickly making me feel like I rode on the short bus. We talked about our lives and traveling until we reached the mall outside of Flagstaff where hundreds of trains pass through town each day. He let me out at a pull off towards the roadside where I staked out in the bushes for hours until night fall. I crossed the road and slept in the bushes next to the train tracks in a semi-lucid stupor, awakening every two hours to check my pack and surroundings. Around 2 AM a loud, screeching noise approached. Metal-on-metal ground together equivalent to the sound of chalk screeching against a blackboard. I sat up, alert and ready to approach the train. It reached a halt and then started shunting together a few cars in the yard. I made a run for it alongside the dark highway checking the cars as I snooped by through the shadows of the yard. I tiptoed up the steep, gravel, incline and found an open boxcar, which I hopped up into. The cold floor touched my ass sending chills throughout my body. I waited, antsy for it to move and afraid of getting caught, since I did not know where I was going or what I was doing. Butterflies flew around in my stomach and I felt woozy with all the adrenaline pumping through me. I waited patiently in anticipation for this beast to move as my eyes fluttered due to lack of sleep. As I nodded on and off, suddenly, the train started up, slowly rolling through the yard and I burst out into a huge grin, ready for anything ahead. Quickly, the junk train picked up speed as I cruised through the night on my first freight train. I whizzed by the open desert as my eyes adjusted to the night sky, my hand clinging to the boxcar door, the breeze hitting my face like a wind tunnel and I just smiled. Blurs of stars cast out into the bright sky as the train sped down the track towards the unknown.

Train Hopping

Train Hopping Arizona in a gondola from Belen.

The train stopped on a few occasions and my heart thumped in fear, but eventually it moved after shunting together a long series of other junk cars along the track. I traveled over 330 miles through the Sonoran desert into New Mexico where I hopped off the boxcar at mile marker 2 right outside the Belen Yard. The yard was blown up with security, ATVs, lights and tons of workers making it hard to infiltrate, but I found a back road that meandered alongside the train yard and stealthily watched through the shrubbery at trains rolling through. Farmland stood by the yard as I walked through dirt roads finding my way to the tracks by night fall. I ran across the tracks finding refuge in the bushes across the yard.

I tried my luck catching on the fly on a few Intermodal trains that headed out of the yard, but every time I clasped my hands onto the ladder and pulled myself up onto the porch, my eyes only saw the running wheels underneath the cars, no floor existed. So I hopped off and tried again, two and three times, without any luck and pulled a muscle in my leg. I grabbed my leg in pain and gasped for breath as I looked around the yard for security. Around the bend I saw lights and the revving sound of an ATV off in the distance. I panicked and ran for the woods using all my energy as I threw myself in the bushes, covering my heavy breathing with the palm of my hand as I crouched underneath a cocoon of dead branches next to the tracks.

I waited and waited, my heart pounding in fear and sweat dripping down my legs. The train finally departed towards Texas without me on it. Instead I ran for cover in the field next to the yard taking refuge in a semi-circle of trees with long strands of wheat shielding me from view. That night I slept well without a peep of restlessness.

I decided that day to not go east, but head north or back west to see where the next train took me. I waited patiently in the yard making my way back to the same spot I hopped off the day prior. Two trains departed at the same time and I made a choice to head north towards Albuquerque instead of west. I caught on the fly, running fast with my pack jiggling side-to-side, as I clenched my hands on the ladder of a gondola. I pulled myself up and hopped in as the train picked up speed, bumping around, debris and dust flying everywhere around me as I headed towards Albuquerque.

Hitchhiking to Sedona

After Train Hopping Arizona we stopped in New Mexico and started hitchhiking back to Sedona!

My wife wanted me home for Easter because she missed me so I promised to see her by finding the next big city with a Greyhound station. When I got there the cheapest ticket was $90 so I said fuck that since it did not leave until 5 PM the next day. Then I bumped into Chello, a transgender traveler from Gainesville, Florida. The side of his head was shaved with a bleach blonde comb-over and stick-and-poke tattooed eyebrows above his eyebrows. We made the decision to head west towards Phoenix, AZ as we walked towards I-40 West ramp in the ghetto of Albuquerque, NM. We stopped at a Love’s gas station and immediately got profiled by a security guard who asked us to place our packs next to him while we used the restroom. Chello bought a soda and we sat outside on the curb while he made a sign for Gallup. The security guard came outside, and in the tone of any dick police officer, he asked us to leave. We obliged; as we tried to finish the sign quickly Chello sparked up a conversation with a fellow rubber tramp who traveled from AZ to NY to live in his van for the summer.

Quickly altercations escalated as the security guard came back out a few minutes later. The rubber tramp yelled at him, words were exchanged, as spit came out of the older tramp’s mouth. His five o’clock shadow, baggy eyes and receding hairline looked as if he just awoke in his vehicle not long after meeting us on the curb. But he did not take any shit from the guard, who said we loitered on the property despite us being paying customers. I kept my mouth shut as the officer ego tripped while Chello and the rubber tramp reamed him a new asshole getting us all banned from the Love’s.

Hitchhiking down 179

Hitchhiking down the 179 in Sedona headed towards Phoenix

We walked away and the rubber tramp invited us in his van for a ride down to the Flying J, a few exits down the road. Chello ended up sucking his dick, after the creepy rubber tramp pulled him aside and took him out back. The rubber tramp had a wife and kids, but that did not stop him from sucking a random traveler’s dick. With every exit covered in Jersey barriers we flew a sign right outside the Adult Video store where we met a dreaded man in his 30’s with a huge backpack strapped on his shoulders. His name was John Human from Flagstaff and we made the decision to walk towards the next Love’s, 2.9 miles away, because it had a shoulder on the on-ramp, which he discovered on Google Maps. We all trotted up the hill overlooking the myriad of lights shining out from the city of Albuquerque while we sought out a place to sleep. John made the bad decision of picking a field off the side of the highway with a shit ton of sticker bushes. So that night I spent the majority of my time pulling goat heads out of my feet, bivy sack, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and all of my gear. It sucked and I tried to calm down Chello from his Schizophrenic paranoia as she is afraid of the dark.

After several hours of calming her down and shooting the shit we both fell asleep for a few hours. Morning came and we all tramped up the road towards the Love’s. John flew a sign on the on-ramp, Chello and I, flew a sign near the 4-way stop. We lucked out with some food from random Jesus freaks as we sat there on the curb scaring down food with our fingers and hands. We switched spots with John who gave up flying his sign on the on-ramp. Chello and I stood there for a few hours with the occasional wave and scowl as vehicles zoomed by, revving their engines up to merge onto the highway. Then a trucker stopped. He waved off as his rig came to a halt. Excitedly, we both ran towards the rig trying to hop in but the door remained locked. We walked around the front towards the driver’s side door and Don Jordan rolled down the window. Picture a trucker, with the stereotypical mustache and an attitude similar to Clint Eastwood’s, that was Don. He shot the shit with Chello after declining to give us a ride and recanted.

Train Hopping

Train Hopping Arizona going through the Sonoran Desert

We jumped in for a ride to Flagstaff which took us 400 miles east. He talked smack about beating up truckers, selling drugs, buying 40 acres of property in Florida, and hitchhiking for two years in the 60’s. The man was crazy, but a great story teller and awesome person at heart. He bought us lunch at a cafe in the middle of nowhere and showed us petrified wood. His stories went on and on for the duration of the trip while Chello napped in the back of the rig between the seats using my backpack as a pillow. We passed Gallup after a few hours and continued on-wards to Flagstaff where Don dropped us off on the off-ramp next to Butler Avenue. The wind nearly blew us over as we hopped out of the rig bidding our farewells to Don.

We walked down the road headed towards Buffalo State Park to sleep for the night. The temperature dropped making the city feel like a winter wonderland, a traveler’s worst nightmare, but we continued our walk, not really thinking about the forecast as we plopped down behind some bushes and rocks. We made a fire-pit with loose rocks from the park and gathered tinder, dry wood and newspaper. As we ignited the flames the wind threw the fire in every direction making it roar in front of us. We backed up, taking in the heat, ready to set up camp for the night, and then a small splash dropped from the sky tickling the hairs on our arms. A light drizzle rustled around with the wind and we doused the flames with urine and water, unsure of where we might sleep for the night. We walked out of the park and took shelter underneath an awning waiting for the drizzle to halt. After minutes of sitting we roamed back down San Francisco Street trying to find refuge off the road. We wandered not really knowing where to go, but then I remembered a vacant building across from the hospital and saw a small bridge we could sleep under.

Train Hopping

The morning sunrise train hopping Arizona 330 miles to New Mexico.

It spanned the length of a door frame and width fit for two bodies to comfortably sleep under. We slept head to toe and the drizzle turned to a mixture of sleet, hail and snow, as I drifted in and out of my dreams. Little tiny white specks splattered on the ground, but as it grew colder, they piled up, resembling pieces of salt.

We awoke early around 6 AM and I met Chello at the Sunshine Mission where we indulged in coffee and oatmeal. He picked up some extra clothing, and shoes and we hit the road for I-17 South to head to Phoenix. The blustery weather froze our fingers and toes as we walked towards the first on-ramp in Flagstaff. We approached a bridge and saw the tag of a fellow train rider and hitchhiker named Church so we assumed it was a good spot to catch a ride. We stood there wiggling our fingers and shaking our legs as the wind shifted in every direction making it feel like winter. There was not much of a pull-off so we gave up and took shelter in the Walmart across the street. John Human hit me up and a college kid on the side of the road both suggested we hitchhike out of the next exit towards 179 South for Sedona. The two roundabouts meant heavy traffic and in no time we found a ride from a ortho-molecular nutritionist from Germany as we meandered through the mountains of Oak Creek Canyon towards Sedona. Its greenery and rock looked like a mini version of the Grand Canyon. She dropped us off at Burger King putting us 28 miles closer to Phoenix and we spent an hour basking in the sunlight and beauty around us.

We tried to find a place to hitch out of Sedona without much luck so we started walking down the road towards I-17 South as we followed 179 South. Chello counted the mile markers as we came one step closer to the on-ramp of I-17. Tramping down the road we searched for cigarette butts as cars passed in heavy volume. I placed the Phoenix sign on Chello’s backpack and within five minutes we hitched a ride from the back of a pickup truck for 4 miles through the canyon. This man drove like a lunatic, passing cars, speeding, and swerving as we rattled around in the back of his truck, but he took us within 10 miles of the on-ramp so for that we broke out into appreciation.

Don Jordan

My boy Don Jordan…don’t fuck with someone with two first names.

We walked and walked, and walked some more, further and further away from Sedona and the small villages into the middle of nowhere, nothing but canyon surrounded us. For the first time in Chello’s lifetime he saw the real scenery of the west coast in true form and to make matters even better I spotted my first needle in a haystack, a perfectly rolled, unsmoked, joint. Of course we sparked it up and took a ride down the road mentally. Weed made everything amplified and better in nature. The vibrant colors burst out and sounds became more sensitive, but the pain in my toes and feet dissipated as we trotted along getting closer to the on-ramp while the sunset over the canyon. A car turned around and the thought never even crossed my mind that we found a ride to Phoenix until a blonde, Russian chick hopped out of the vehicle. She asked one question, “You can get in as long as you don’t smell.” So we turned and looked at each other, then jumped in the car. The whole time I felt stoned off my ass. I felt the vibrations of the music tingle the hairs on my arms and my mind felt adrift as if I was tripping. Maybe it was laced? We never found out, but the drive to Phoenix landed us at our destination so I could spend these next few days with my wife before traveling to the west coast to see more of the United States.

Havasu Falls

Havasu Falls, Permit Not Available

Havasu Falls Day Hiking

Little Navajo Falls

Little Navajo Falls

So I really want to do a blog entry on my wedding in Arcosanti with my beautiful wife Kelly Donaldson, but I am waiting on the pictures to come in and I really want to put some time into writing the post. I plan on doing it once Juan, our photographer, sends us the wedding photos since I have some down time between now and my next job.

Little Navajo Falls

Swimming in Little Navajo Falls

My last few days in the Canyon are finally here as I leave on the 25th. I plan on hitching a ride with Randolph while he gives me some tips on hopping trains out of Flagstaff. I have two months to roam around and visit people, and potentially find a short gig before skydiving season starts.

Little Navajo Falls

Little Navajo Falls

But in the meantime I hiked Havasu Falls with Graeme in a day and without a permit. We woke up at 4 AM to head to Supai on a long ride around the canyon and back to the trailhead. With not much sleep we slammed down a few energy drinks to keep us going for the long 27-mile hike, which we thought was only 20 miles at the start. Just like any other hike, the start sent us into the Grand Canyon as we hiked down a flat, gravelly path, towards Supai Village.

Supai Village

Supai Village

Nothing really changed much compared to the other hikes in the Canyon until we reached Supai Village, where the Havasupai Native Americans still live to this day. Tons of spring-breakers waddled their way up the trail with huge packs fit for hiking Denali or living in the woods for a week, yet they only camped overnight. We laughed as we strolled through the canyon towards Supai Village. I heard the village looked depressing with trash scattered everywhere and unfavorable living conditions, but I did not see it that way, either did Graeme. Of course, a few homes looked dilapidated and abandoned with broken windows, boarded windows and doors, trash and clutter thrown about around the yards, however, the quiet breeze, fresh sunshine, calm mules grazing and beautiful scenery made it peaceful. I stood there in an envious manner wanting a simple life similar to the Havasupai. Packing in and out on mules, playing with a myriad of little doggies, lounging around and tending to gardens of vegetables and other food. It reminded me of a better version of the old run down mining towns along the TransAmerican Bicycle Trail.

Havasu Falls

Havasu Falls

After a few miles we finally made it through Supai Village. I carried a small satchel with oysters, apples and sardines, sporting a gallon jug of water in my hand, alternating ever so often and Graeme carried a day pack with minimal items as well. The scenery really took a change past the village. No longer did we wander through a walled canyon with a gravelly, wash-out, susceptible to flash flooding during monsoon season, instead we meandered along Havasu Creek, admiring its bright blue tint from its high concentration of lime. We stood there in awe of its beauty, staring straight down to the bottom floor, which in some areas covered in granular pebbles and others it just looked like a crumbling texture of plaster. As we walked the blue hue became more prominent as if someone poured a huge quantity of blue Kool Aid into the creek and it never dissipated. Then we reached the most eye-popping view, Little Navajo Falls. Havasu Creek trounced over little walls of rock a few feet in length, its bright blue complexion vibrant from the rays of the sun, with a white sea floor seen clearly from the shore. We scrambled and took off our shoes quickly, walking into the brisk water as we tiptoed across the rock walls. Tiny waterfalls ran over our toes with a rough texture scraping and rubbing against the bottom of our feet. It felt like clumps of plaster digging into my feet as I walked out to the middle of Little Navajo Falls. We basked in the beauty around us for about a half hour before we continued down to the other falls reaching Havasu, Mooney and Beaver Falls all in a day and trekking back for a long day of hiking, lack of sleep and driving. We stayed up 20 hours, hiked 27 miles and drove 8 hours. It took a lot out of us.

If you enjoy hiking Havasu Falls in the West part of the Grand Canyon you should also check out the following hikes.  In Flagstaff I recommend hiking Mount Humphrey’s Peak. And on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon I recommend hiking Rim 2 Rim.

Mooney Falls

Mooney Falls

Goodbye Canyon and Crazy John

My days in the Canyon are shortly numbered as I approach the end of my contract. I hoped to stay until April 4th, 90 days into my contract, to request a transfer to another national park, but honestly I knew I would not make it. Xanterra is one of the worst companies I ever worked for and I just want to wander free again until work picks back up in New York for the summer.

My life will change in a few days as I get hitched on Saint Paddies Day to my lovely Kelly. Once her contract ends in Arizona for teaching she will join me at WNY Skydiving in New York for a summer of jumping, packing and wandering the area then it’s off to either London or South Korea teaching English, Structural Analysis or Science classes. I look forward to our future endeavors together, whether we end up in the same place or not, I know we will find ourselves running back to each other. The canyon will always have a place in my heart for the warm people I met, along with its crazy nights of partying.

I hiked a ton of trails on the South Rim while I worked here in the Pizza Pub and as a dishwasher along with hiking Mount Humphrey and free climbing Red Mountain near Flagstaff. Despite the robotic tasks of pizza making, pressing dough, pulling it out to a nice 16” circle on the pan, stuffing it with custom toppings and slamming it into the oven for some nice burn marks against my forearms, I will truly miss all of you clowns. As much as I hated the pub life working my ass off for minimum wage, minimal tips and dealing with the rudest, stereotypical tourists, I did enjoy the night life, partying and making new friends all over the world.

I met some interesting cats here, some of which I will never see again, but seasonal work builds some of the best friendships that will last a lifetime. Irish Mike and Graeme, I will miss you both, with our many drunken nights wandering to the Peruvian parties, tangoing with chicks from Peru and Thailand being the only white folk who spoke English. We always partied the hardest, starting 10 minutes after our shift until 7 to 8 AM in the morning.

Many nights I woke up with 3 to 6 hours of sleep feeling hungover as shit for work the next day at 4 PM going into work with pigtails and smelling of cigarette ash and stale beer, but this was a daily occurrence. I remember nights wandering to Kim’s house to eat Thai food before my drunken stupor home across the railroad tracks. We always woke up and did it again, taking a few rest days from drinking, but it came with the industry of Food and Beverage.

Some nights we dabbled in, “Cards Against Humanity” tearing up the common room of Victor Hall by learning you cannot pour a bag of popcorn into an empty bag of Cheetos. Other nights we spent partying at Tye’s Cabin playing King’s Cup, posing for ridiculous pictures. Each night had its own story as we all embraced alcoholism after a hard day of work.

Some of the best nights started off with absolutely no plan other than some PBR and American Spirits. Maybe Graeme passed out in the bushes or on a neighbor’s porch across from the Peruvian Cabin right next to Maswik. Maybe Peruvian Richard shouted to me in a cabin full of Spanish people to speak his language and I responded with my perverted sentences of:

“Besa en mi polla.”

“Me sudo en el polla.”

“Me gusta las tetas y culo.”

It all happened. Piecing it all together was the hardest part as each night felt like a coma of experiences, like a dream. We experienced so much in such a short period of time it almost felt imaginary. Certain nights happened that if I told you, you would not believe me. I always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time or maybe it was the right place?

Wandering down to Anson’s room after a few beers, circling around the room was me, goofy Travis, Irish Mike, Angela, Boston Steve and Yoselyn. I did not clash well with Boston Steve since on all of his drunken occasions he acted like a complete jackass and that night was no different. I came inches away from smacking his face with a nice right hook until our crew broke it up, but this was not the first of nights where potential fights, stabbings or mishaps needed broken up.

No. No. No. It was just one of many. For Irish Mike’s 34th birthday we all gathered around in Victor Hall and sloshed back a few beers between several shots of whiskey. In our drunken states we managed to hold my man down for birthday spankings, open hands thumped down on his ass, leaving perfect red hand-prints on both cheeks. He did not mind as we pushed it further, each slap smacking his bare ass harder until we lost count of the number. Then out of nowhere, Stephanie, flashed her big, pierced tits to the entire room. Making a great night even better, but it already started to get out of control with noise, and sloppiness. Old folk came by banging on our door with pissed expressions of anger. But I always swooped in before words sprung out of their mouth and solved everything with a shot of liquor or a beer. That solved everything and keep NPS and security off our back despite most of the top floor of Victor Hall hating us for partying every night into the early hours of the morning.

What it did not stop was violence. That shit was unpredictable, but it always found us. After mediating altercations with some other folk in the dorm by coaxing them with alcohol we found ourselves on the balcony, smoking, laughing and talking loud non-sense. The birthday spanks turned into birthday slaps across the face, until Stephanie took it too far and whacked Irish Mike across the face with a wind up swing enough to stir up war. Irish Mike immediately broke out into a thick Irish accent stomping on a cowboy hat in a rage fit for a bull, but he calmed down within minutes. Verbal attacks between the two ceased and everyone dispersed back to their houses as the three of us stood there smoking cigarettes. I peed off the balcony and heard the static sound from a Walkie Talkie off in the distance then the flash of a light searched through the brush. We all paused, looked at each other and instinctively ran through Victor Hall out the back entrance away from NPS.

We tripped through the dark stumbling on loose rocks and sliding down small dirt inclines until we crossed the railroad tracks headed towards the Canyon where Bright Angel Trailhead links up with the South Rim Trail. Beer in hand, we bumped into Katie and Kim who tug along as we wandered off the trail a few feet overlooking the dark Canyon cast before us. We drank PBR as the wind blasted through the Canyon screeching against the walls. My hands chilled from the cold breeze. All of us sat there seeking warmth as Kim and Katie locked onto each other in a shivering hug. We gazed out into the copious stars sprinkling light down on us waiting for the sun to rise in the early morning hours. Kim and Katie left after several attempts to gain warmth, but the three of us remained, throwing back beers for hours until Irish Mike pulled out his lighter and the true mischief began. We propped up dead wood against a few rocks, ripped up some cardboard and sparked the lighter. Then we all huffed and puffed until the fire caught dead leaves, dry debris and cardboard, kindling bright orange embers in our drunken stupor. We slouched there until sunrise in the early morning and realized just how close to the road we actually were and the fact we stayed out of trouble, not facing jail time, job loss and hefty fines. Irish Mike’s birthday was a success and I spent another day at work hungover with pigtails again, hating my life, but loving my friends and the moments we shared on the Cliffside.

We drank pretty much every night after I started working in the Pizza Pub, not by choice, but to wind down and because of a pure hatred for our jobs. Graeme drank to have fun, since the Recreation Center crushed any food and beverage job in the park. A new influx of people hit Xanterra in those few weeks bringing more crazy people into the canyon and we experienced it first hand when a 300 lbs. Native dude with a friendly vibe started hanging around Victor Hall to hang out with the boys. He recently suffered a divorce and battled for custody of his three kids as we found out through a few nights of partying and consoling him. But the night that stands out in particular was day 1 of my bachelor party. The night remained a blur for the most part as we all lounged around tossing back beers and shots like no tomorrow, but it quickly turned unexpectedly when Irish Mike popped a “fear boner” while hugging big Eric, the Native man who looked like a house with a bulldog face. Irish Mike reached in for a simple hug and the man flipped shit as the two of them entered a silly slap battle, which shortly escalated into Eric choke slamming Irish Mike to the floor. Anson jumped in separating the two of them, but the man kept wobbling about like a bowling pin on its edge, until he pulled out a knife threatening Irish Mike’s life in that instance and the following day. We kicked him out of the room, literally. Me, Graeme, Mike and Anson all stepped in removing him from the dorm, but he refused to vacate trying to ram his way through like a linebacker in an effort to grab a few more beers. It was obvious he could not handle his liquor. Graeme pulled him aside to talk in the stairwell while I hid behind a corner watching his every move, ready to shank him if he stabbed my friend. The guy stood there in a drunken state, completely unstable and unpredictable and then it happened. He tackled Graeme, putting him into a headlock against the ground. Graeme feared being squished like a fly trying to squeeze out from under this man and in that moment of struggle NPS was called. Six officers showed up within minutes and the lot of us all filled out similar reports of Eric’s threats, choke slams, headlocks and violent nature, which all stemmed back to a simple, “fear boner.” The best part was a few days later he still walked freely among Victor Hall, and maintained his job, exemplifying that all you need to get a job at Xanterra is a name and proof of who you are because apparently assault charges and threats are not enough to lose your job with this great corporation.

After months of partying, working and losing my mind I left the canyon to get married in Arcosanti, but not before a brief streak down Bourbon St. with Katie. My ass will forever be remembered as the little engine that could. If you end up working for Xanterra remember that food and beverage is not just about, “Drugs, Sex and Serving,” but fending for one’s life through slap battles, fights, and potential stabbings. I will miss the village and the crazy stories that came along with it.

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