Train Hopping Tucson
I awoke later that morning to the sun piercing its rays upon my droopy eyes, train hopping Tucson. My eyes flickered with a perturbing itchiness as I rubbed sand and dirt out of the corners of them. My nose felt clogged like I inhaled plumes of smoke from a fire. Snot rockets ceased to help. I staggered to my feet unaware of where she stopped. I slept awhile that night, at least 8 hours, so I feared the worst, ending up in Tucson yard. I heard another train roll past my freight car, the sharp sound of air brakes screeched the air, followed by a complete stop, and metal clanked like dominoes. Naturally my curiosity led me to take a peek over the wall of the gondola. I inched closer to the wall poking my head slightly over. Sure enough…she lay stopped in the departure yard, next to a row of antsy locomotives, ready to depart at any time.
As I waited for an opportunity to hop the 5-foot tall, mesh fence, I plotted my escape. With my head low, dressed in jet black gear, I stood silent. I heard the faint sound of gravel crackle beneath tires as a vehicle drove past an Intermodal stopped on the main line. My body lurked hidden in the shadows, unseen, and I continued my game of hide-and-seek. The bull continued driving along the train, getting further and further towards the front engine, until he looked like a black speck. That’s when I made my move, sprinting for the only bushes near the fence. I huffed and puffed gasping for air as sweat dribbled down my forehead profusely like the fat kid in gym class. Man, I needed to stop smokin’. I recouped for a brief second and pulled myself up the mesh fence, treating the tiny holes like finger holds on a climbing wall. With one thrust I threw myself up and over the fence and the shoulder of the highway broke my fall.
I trotted along casually. My toes tingled and their once numb existence started to pain again as they regained feeling. Breaks came often followed by sporadic napping as with each new step came a thousand needles pricking at my frostbitten toes. I washed them diligently, but still managed to suffer from a thick crust of athletes foot on both of my heels. Walking came with the territory of traveling on the cheap, hitchhiking, train hopping or taking the bus. I did not complain, instead I lounged outside of the Wal-Mart, resting my feet, and charging my phone.
My ass sat comfortably on my pack, which hung onto its last threads. People looked at me scornfully as they walked by, the typical reaction towards travelers in any town or city. I nodded respectfully and held my pride, ready to hop the next train to Texas, getting me one state closer to my wife.
A small lab puppy piled on top of me, galloping from his owner.
“DOBSONNNN….DOBSONNNN….get ova here….NOW,” yelled the owner.
As he stumbled into view I witnessed a drunk man about my age trudging along the sidewalk. His scruffy blond beard, face tats and punk clothes screamed Dirty Kid as he hobbled closer into view. He looked rough; his body covered in stick and poke tattoos and he reeked of Steelies.
“HEY kid…why ohn’t ya come over there with us…hiccup…got a group of Dirty Kids kickin’ it by the dumpster.”
“Alright man…I’m just chargin’ my phone real quick.”
“Awe c’mon…ya can do that later kid. Kick it with us…we’re drinkin’ Steelies…DOBSONNN…get the fuck over here…fuckin’ dog needs ta learn…”
I took my eyes off the plus signs that curved up his cheeks towards his temples, following him and his puppy over to the Wal-Mart dumpster. I felt out of place. I rode trains, and hitchhiked for fun and because I found myself temporarily out of work with no place to live. But, we all ended up there, sitting Indian-style under different terms.
“Oh…almost forgot…I’m Star…this is my old lady Stacy…and these are two Dirty Kids we uhh…uhh…just met…I uhh…well what’re yer names again…,
“Olivia and John,” they said.
“And where ya comin’ from Brian? How’d ya get ta Tucson.”
“Came in on a train earlier this morning from Phoenix. I was with a group of three other Dirty Kids, but I think they’re all back in Phoenix…they got too fucked up last night and couldn’t catch on the fly.”
“Pfff…trains ya say. I got my fair share, 30 or so…where ya headed Brian?”
“Alabama to see my wife, think ima continue ridin’ the rails til Birmingham, figure it out from there.”
Star continued to schwill Steel Reserve after Steel Reserve falling deeper into a sloshing mess of slurred speech.
“Well fffuck…we’re all hhheaded to a rrrainbow gatherin’ in New Mexico for 3 dddays. Ima cccook…ggonna be ddoin’ some ppeyote, acid…ggood times kid…ggood times…get ya a lil further.”
“Dunno Star…much as I ppreciate the offer…I’m tryna get there as soon as I can…three days is a while.”
“Wwell…ride…lleaves…rride…leaves tonight. If I…if I could jjust…get ahhold of this fuccckface…he probly…he probly…tripppin’ his face off…Went ta New Mmexico…hiccup…earlierr tah-day…to gget…acid…he’s def tripppin’ face. Sposed ta be hereee.”
“Thanks for the offer bro, but I think ima just keep riding.”
“Ya…okkkk…you say so…hop out eeeast…is all the way…the way dddown there…mileee…two…eeasst.”
“I already know where it is, but thanks.”
“Fuuuuccck…I neeed muh gearrr…where is this…fucck? Stacy…stacccy…grab meee a burrr.”
“Star? I already been in there five times today. Fuckin’ tired of walkin’. Go in and get it yourself and bring me one while yer at it.”
“But…but…babeee…you know I ohn’t have ID…puhleeease?”
“Damn you Star…makin’ a pregnant woman walk all the way over there, in the way back, to get ya another beer…fuckkk…alright. Gimme a smoke babe and I’ll go.”
“Alriggghtt…Heyyy…Brian…hiccup…sorry…I keep bummin’ off yaaa….haave another…smoke?”
I reached down in my pocket and grabbed an American Spirit out for both of us, passing the lighter in my hand. My once full pack I ground-scored on the way over here, now felt empty, with only a few cigarettes left.
“Feeel bad…keeep bummin’ off this kid…kid we jusst met….thanks Brrrian.”
I pulled out a loaf of bread and a can of peaches, passing them around the circle. Stomachs gurgled faintly through the sound of passing cars and a solemn look of hunger struck the circle of Dirty Kids before me.
“You guys want any of this, or any cigs? Also got an extra chilli if anyone wants it.”
“Yeah sure!” John and Olivia spoke up for the first time that whole night. The love birds sat there cuddling hand-in-hand whispering in one another’s ears like school children. Olivia cutely twirled John’s long, lustrous, golden locks around the tip of her finger and giggled in bliss. As I passed the can of peaches my heart shattered in jealousy…I missed my wife and the same moments we shared just months prior hitchhiking around Hawaii.
We all puffed on our cigarettes passing the time until night fall. Star continued to binge drink Steel Reserves getting inebriated until the point of complete non-sense rolled off his tongue.
“Neverrr…neverrrrrrr…wouldd I…suckk a DICK….awwghhh…just…nastyy…I’d cudddle…naked with a duuude…mayybe kisss em…buttt nahhh…justtt ohn’t doo it…”
Everyone chuckled and I felt like I stepped into the same shit-show as the previous night. I tried to think of an escape plan to rid myself of this drunken Bastard and his hussy. Despite his cheerful nature and harmless charm my gut told me to leave. Too much alcohol and Dirty Kids never bode well, especially with new encounters. Then it happened for me while Stacy pranced back sippin’ a Steelie in-hand.
“Well guys, as much as we wanna stick around, Olivia and I gonna head to bed, gettin’ dark out and we wanna settle in for the night…”
“Awwwwwwe maaaaannnn….reaaaaally? Reaaally,” muttered Star in his limp state, with his eyes rollin’ around his head like a pinball machine.
Off walked the straight-edge, traveling couple, and just as I tried to speak up and politely leave, in stumbled two more Dirty Kids, Will and Daisy.
“We’re hoppin’ outta here in three days…gonna take Will on his first train…gotta celebrate…,” yelled Daisy in a charismatic voice.
Will jammed out to EDM with his ear buds in, rockin’ back-and-forth, feeling the music as he reached in his pocket and popped some pills.
“Fuuucccckkk…gimmmeee some,” cried Star.
Now the circle turned into a rave, a rave I wanted nothing to do with, as I sat quiet on the concrete. Stacy pounded a Steelie and chain-smoked a pack of cigarettes. Star sloshed around, bobbing his head and laughing. Will stood their dancing in his own world as if in a trance and Daisy, she babbled on-and-on too.
“Damn girl…you better get that drink outta yer hand…and what the fuck…smokin’? What I tell you about that…yer pregnant…last year when I was pregnant…I quit…had to…not good for the kid,” pleaded Daisy.
“I knowww. I knowww. Cuttin’ back,” exclaimed Stacy.
I sat there stupified among a bunch of goons, when all I wanted to do was ride trains and write.
Daisy calmed the commotion amongst the group.
“Guyyyys…settle down…guyyys. Good news, seven is in town, he’s just a few miles away.”
“Nooo shitttt,” cried Star, giggling and shuffling about. “We gotta seeee em. Wee got ta…we got ta…”
And with that notion the lot of them stood up, cramming all their packs and gear into a shopping cart headed towards the local bus stop.
“Bbbrrriannn,” yelled Star. “Yer not comin’…?”
“Sorry dude…dunno seven…and it’s kinda outta the way.”
With that exchange of words our paths followed down different roads and I found myself wandering the streets of Tucson in the yawning of night. I remembered the hop out from the week prior, before visiting my dog and the in-laws in Phoenix. So I carried on through the dark shadows and non-existent street-lights heading towards the industrial complexes downtown.
Unsure of my train, I waited at the dead end of the road, laying beneath a cactus on a cobblestone walkway, creeping in the shadows. Trains rolled past, horns blasted, lights pierced brightness at my eyes, the sullen sound of steel creaked before me. I just basked their like a seal waiting to make a move.
Hours passed and I found myself lurking in the wee hours of the morning, debating sleep. The crisp sound of my zipper ruffled along my pack and I ceased movement briefly, listening to the sound of a distant whirring. As it inched closer its deafening noise screeched louder coming from the west. The hellion inside me tip-toed along the adjacent wall by the train tracks. An incognito ninja of the night who failed horrendously at finding a ride-able freight car quickly. I ran and ran, peeking under each car to find a ride-able porch or well. My frustrations grew with each wobbly step on the ballast as cars drove past along the highway.
And then it happened, my flashlight shined bright against the floor of a freight car on an Intermodal.
“A WELL,” I smiled with snickering success.
I climbed the ladder and off came my pack as I wisped away into the corner of the icebox, reaching for my mummy bag to keep me warm. I hoped to wake up in Texas past the Border Patrol checkpoint as my mind drifted quickly to sleep.