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Brian Cray - Budget Travel

Hitchhiking, Train Hopping, & Backpacking

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One Man, One Needle and a Greenhorn

After visiting the in-laws, watching the Super Bowl (uninterested) and getting squeaky clean, I felt that itch to hit the road again after a few days of being housed up.  So that’s what I did, I hit the open road, taking cheap public transportation to the train yard in downtown Phoenix, where I met back up with my road dog, Rooster.

Of course, with a 40 in hand, a few schwills, belches and nothing but time, I knew a long night of drunken shenanigans lay ahead.  Not that I partook at all actually.  I laid off the booze as my doctor, Mr. WebMD, told me it was bad for my recent frostnip experiences ridin’ the rails down through Oregon.

As such, we sat, bullshitting to pass the time as we scoped out the non-existent yard from the overpass.  The yard dog worked trains below, but nothing left, nor arrived, as vibrant colors blasted across the Arizona skyline like a volcanic explosion.  Slowly darkness crept in and we skedaddled below, to the bird-shit infested viaduct, finding refuge on the pavement.  Rooster worked on his second 40 as I sat there completely sober, wiggling my toes in disappointment.

“Man…I’m tryna watch the yard…soak it in…drink…bbburrpp…leave tomorrow…night…maybe?”

“I’m down for whatever Rooster.  Like to get out tonight if we can…see where it goes dude.”

“Fo Sho…bburrpp…hiccup…shiiittt…Dirk’s in Phoenix bro…ima hit him back…seee…if he can come through.

“Cool, surprised he’s back from LA so quickly…”

“Shiitt..he’s bringin’ someone…some chick he met…”

“Aight, well…cool I guess…I’m not ridin’ 4 deep though man…you’re just asking to get pulled off…”

“No doubt…hiccup…no doubt…”

An hour passed and I only heard the brute force of freight cars shunt together like Zeus firing bolts of thunder down from Mount Olympus.  We lounged in the shadows and from the distance street light the silhouettes of two travelers rose.  Dirk and Elena stumbled into the group.

“Sup guys…got a newbie here…showin’ her the ropes…just dodged this oog, hippy kid out west who was rollin’ with us…had no fuckin’ shoes…blew up my spange spot, layin’ sprawled out on the sidewalk like it was a yard sale…couldn’t have it…she wanted to come with…hope that’s alright.”

“Yeah no problem dude, Rooster already told me about it.”

“Hi…I’m Elena. And you are?



“She’s a greenhorn guys, don’t give her any shit, we all been there once. Your bud ain’t have much himself either does he?”

“Eh I’m up to 12 I think, but yeah I’m still a newbie, much to learn out there,” I said.

“How’s the yard lookin’ guys,” said Dirk.

“Dead as fuck…might be here awhile…”

“Aight…well ima take a nap…where we campin’,” said Dirk.

“Over there, past the shit pile, there’s a hole in the fence, nice grassy spot by the overpass there,” said Rooster.

Elena followed him as if uncomfortable of our presence, which I understood completely, after all, we just met.  Without hesitation we shortly followed in her footsteps, forming a small circle against the wall, passing bottles of booze, with sidewalk slammers and Four Locos getting schwilled around.  I passed, only sipping on some bitch drink, Mike’s Hard Lemonade.

What started off as joyful, quiet conversation quickly escalated to belligerent drama.  No one slept. I tried, tossing, turning, and wiggling in my nylon bivy, but a storm of repressed emotions sailed along the seas yonder, screeching my eardrums.  Outcries, tears and suicidal tendencies flowed from the once quiet young girl before us, the greenhorn, to the now schwilly-wasted fool.

“But…but..you don’t even understand guys…like I’m a woman…I’m hormonal…and I…and I…did something…something…really bad todayyy.  Wahhh…wah..sniffle…cough…I killed something…an animal…I…I…hate myself.  Why did I do ittt? I can’t believe I did Heroine…sniffle…I just wanna die…like…you don’t even understand…you have no idea what I’ve been through…sniffle.”

“Calm down foo…you’re gonna blow up the fuckin’ spot…handle your own shit on your own time…what the fuck did we talk about already,” grumbled Dirk in a raspy angered voice.

You’re here with a lot of knowledge at your table.  We talked about this shit.  Pull up your panties, hold back your tears, sleep it off.  Stop fuckin’ screamin’, yellin’ and all kinds of shit…we’re sleepin’ in someone’s back yard,” grunted Dirk.

I sat there with a blank stare of disbelief…”What in the fuck did I get myself into,” I thought?

Metal rattled from behind us, clanking under footsteps.  My eyes scanned the figure, a disgruntled tenant with his arms crossed came into view.

“What the hell’s goin’ on back here?”

“Uhhh….Sorry…just calming her down…tryna catch the next train outta here…we’ll clean up our mess…be outta her in the mornin’,” stuttered Dirk.

“Oh…well, alright…just keep it down please.  I live here.”

“Awe thanks man,” we mumbled in slight unison.

All the commotion made us split.  Our spot got blown up by some 19-year old hipster with daddy issues.  But fuck we all have our share of problems, if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be kickin’ it in the dirt.

Dirk motioned over at me, “Let’s get outta here, find a spot to catch out, can’t stay here no more…”

We all rolled up our sleeping bags as the cool desert breeze brushed against my naked face.  I just wanted to run far away from everyone and catch the next train out of here to Tucson.  Elena calmed down and ceased sniffling, but her drama came with a continued annoyance like a persistent fly buzzing around.  Rooster stumbled and slurred his words after his fourth 40 and god knows what else he drank.  How we would catch out tonight I could not fathom?

Dirk and I walked along watching the others trickle behind.  Rooster held his fair share of alcohol, but even he fumbled around a bit zigzagging back-and-forth down the asphalt parallel to the train tracks.  Elena, she squabbled the same non-sense over-and-over again like a CD skipping the same lyrics.  She stumbled. She fell, tripping over her own two feet countless times like a baby learning how to walk.  We pulled her up off the pavement after face-planting. Her body felt like a limp noodle dripping with blood. It smeared across her cheeks and down her fingertips screaming staph infection. She giggled, babbling on about death.  I felt truly sorry for her mental state wishing I could help her lost soul.

Dirk came up with a small plan, nothing spectacular, but perfectly doable.  We huddled up under a bridge past the mouth of the yard, and out came bellows of jumbled words from every person.  I felt like I stepped into a circus act.

“Aight..aight…everyone shut the fuck up.  Here’s the plan.  Elena…you and Rooster need to sober the fuck up.  Train should be rollin’ in in about 3 hours…plenty of time to nap…sleep it off.  I took you under my wing to learn to ride…right? That’s why we’re out here…remember?  Not catching a train drunk…now are we,” said Dirk?

Elena murmured, slurring her words in a drunken stupor as she cuddled up under a blanket, inching closer towards Rooster, snuggling against his intoxicated body.

“Alrrrright…but I’m justttt so upset…I mean…I can’t believe…”

Dirk cut her off, “Just go to fuckin’ sleep for Christ’s sake.”


They lay there, out cold, like dead bodies oblivious to the world.  Dirk and I sat there on cardboard, itching to catch the next ride-able train, whether on the fly or not, it did not matter. He opened up about his life, the drugs, the downward spiral that led him to the road of freight hopping.  The teary-eyed look on his face made me empathetic of his issues, holding back the remnants of my own past, with a lump in my throat.

A sudden pause of pure silence sliced the thin desert air, and suddenly after the tremors of pain subsided, he sputtered words of approval from his mouth.  “Care if I shoot up here in front of ya?”

I paused, unsure of how to respond, yes I cared, but it’s his life and if he chose to go down the path of destruction, who was I to stop him…

“Sure, I don’t mind…”

He unbuckled the strap to his bag and pulled out a syringe, slurping the liquid into it from a spoon.  Without hesitation the needle pierced his skin, out squirted a drop of blood beneath the other tract marks between his tattoos.  The first attempt in his forearm did not take so he searched around for a more viable option, the basilic vein.  With a quick poke the needle entered and the fluid dispensed flowing freely through his bloodstream sending the pain below.

I cringed at the sight of him shootin’ dope.  I hated needles and just watching it made me nearly faint.  His mood shifted as he sat there spun out on dope.

“Elena WAKE UP…trains comin’…wake the fuck up already…you got your nap…come on…we’re here to ride…god dammit…”

I looked over at Rooster who lay there peacefully snoring, snuggled in his sleeping bag as if in a cocoon.

“ROOSTERRRR…wake up dude…come on…train is comin’ bro…wake up.”

He did not budge, flinch or move at all.  I repeated myself multiple times but my attempts remained futile.  Dirk managed to get his mess-of-a-road dog together while he jittered and fidgeted from the dope, amped and ready to hop out.

She stumbled and fell yet again, not in any condition to ride a stopped train, let alone catching one on the fly.

“FUCK YOU GUYS…fuckin’ suck…you fuckin’ suck.  Took you under my wing to ride trains…not teach you how to hold your alcohol….Fuck it…I’m goin’…you goin’ Brian?”

“I don’t wanna leave Rooster behind bro…”

“Think the two love birds are stayin’… HEY…you guys together now…you ridin’ outta here together?”

They nodded in agreement.

“Sorry Rooster…I’m goin’ dude.”

The front engine roared, a blinking light flashed and I knew the yard dog roared down the steel tracks like an iron snake, but I wanted on that train.  I wanted on that train now.  She clunked and clanked picking up speed, progressing forward, and the first gondola I saw I made a run for it.

“You goin’,” said Dirk.

“Hell yeah”

I ran; my pack thumped along my back and ass, plodding across the ballast, as my hands reached onto the cool metal ladder.  I wrenched my fingers around its cool breath, and as I pulled up, I flung my knee straight into a rung.  My feet found the step and I scurried to the top, jumping inside, hiding in the corner.

Rollin' down the tracks in an empty gondola for Tucson, AZ

Rollin’ down the tracks in an empty gondola for Tucson, AZ

She shunted together a few more strings of freight cars and after two hours of laying there on the brisk metal floor, nestled inside my bivy, she purred along the tracks towards Tucson.  Dirt, sand and other debris fluttered around inside the rattling box, poking my eyes and taking my nostrils hostage, as I moved deeper into my sleeping bag, drifting further into sleep.  A smirk broke out on my face and I wondered if our paths would ever cross again?

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6 Responses “One Man, One Needle and a Greenhorn”

  1. February 21, 2017 at 9:12 PM

    You are doing a great job of learning the ropes!! How does Kelly like her work?

    • February 21, 2017 at 9:15 PM

      She enjoys it and the kids are more well-behaved than the ones she had in Arizona.

  2. February 21, 2017 at 9:35 PM

    Great story bro very nicely written

  3. February 21, 2017 at 9:39 PM

    Thanks bro. Hope you are doing well. I will be back on the road after next week.

  4. Dirk
    April 10, 2017 at 3:52 PM

    ya caught that train like a champ!!!

    • June 7, 2017 at 10:46 PM

      Thanks Dirk. I miss you guys. Tell Booger, and Lincoln I miss em. Hope you’re doin’ well adjustin’ to your new job in Bama. Cya around dude.

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