Train Hopping Charlottesville
After a long drug-crazed weekend boozin’, watchin’ pupils turn to pinpoints with the flick of a flame and the exhalation of smoke, we hopped out of a jeep by the train yard in Charlottesville. Mike leaned over, staring with his bloodshot eyes, tired from sleepless nights of meth and hickory smoked ribs. In a raspy voice the words dawdled off of his tongue, “So long bro, til we meet again.”
Teardrop and I nodded as we clenched our packs and hoofed it down the street towards the steel. Not a single train worked so we lingered in the shadows of brisk air, sleeping, sprawled out among the weeds and ballast. The sun slowly advanced and as the shadows crept away, a fierce blaze of light stung my skin like an army of wasps. I fidgeted; sweat trickled down my limbs like tributaries, conjoining to pools of perspiration. I looked out along the tracks at the stationary blocks of grainers, boxcars and lumber racks, hoping a passing train might stop briefly, picking up either block. But, nothing happened, IMs just hummed by at uncatchable speeds, toying with our emotions like the flirtatious woman of my past.
We paced the tracks for hours, evading the malevolent fire in the sky, walking south of the Amtrak station. Nothing stopped on that lonely Sunday, but a few Amtrak commuter trains, as we roamed towards Wild Wings Cafe. Our packs slung lightly over our shoulders from minimal food while our hunger began to diminish to an empty pit of tasty desires, unreachable, yet close.
Dumpster food was not the most appetizing of meals, but we needed nutrients, we needed energy, we needed to eat, anything… We only lived off peanut butter for so long until giving in to trayed food on the top of trash bins or dumpsters. I skimmed the top layer of the metal can, pulling out a bun, and nachos, which curbed our hunger momentarily as we sat north of the Amtrak station. A traffic signal mast stood tall by the curvature of the steel tracks and we stumbled upon the hop out. Broken 40’s piled high by the track-side in mounds of shattered glass with discarded articles of clothing, empty packs of smokes and other trash left by home bums and crackheads.
I just laughed and shook my head.
“Nah, but what the fuck is with all these railfans dude? Who wastes their Sunday with their Nikon strapped to their neck, prancing back-and-forth, waiting for the next passing train? It’s like it feeds their train boners…I mean…I don’t give a fuck…do what ya gotta do…but we can’t get outta here until they leave…this is the spot.”
“Yeah…I know…I know…the right train will come,” Teardrop said.
Frank handed me a Pall Mall and finally Teardrop popped into the conversation with a slight grin on his face. Frank stumbled and bobbed as he sipped his Hurricane, spewing the same line of non-sense to my road dog.
“Ya wanna beer…it’s not fuckin’ rocket science…hiccup…it’s either yes or goddamn no, babyyy.”
Teardrop nodded, “Sure…I’ll have a swig.”
“Some of the guys back in Nam fucked me up when I called em babyyy…some guys don’t like that shit…hahaha…glug…glug…glug…but fuck it. Three mah friends died man…three of em…glug…glug…glug…right by my side…still call em babyyy. Ya wanna drink of Four Loko Gold babyyy?”
We both stood there shaken up through the sadness of his sorrows. He winced behind the bottle, drowning in decades of relentless pain, none of which brought back his friends as he proceeded to indulge. His hands stopped shaking as he drank more than half of his 40 and dipped into his 14% malt beverage.
I remembered a buildo not too far in the distance to shelter us from the rain for a dry, warm night of sleep. So we journeyed off. I ate ferociously swallowing full bites of pizza out of intense hunger as I piled it on inside my belly. Blisters formed on my feet between the wet crinkles of skin, and pruned toes as a result of puddles and holey footwear.
We walked past the security cameras and through the garage door, marching up the stairs to the unfinished kitchen. I untied my boots and slapped my sopping socks against the brisk floor. My feet felt disgusting. They hurt as I wiggled my toes in utter relief, biting into another slice of dumpster pizza and gulping down the mystery Koolaid. We lay there plumply like fat carcasses, barely moving or speaking, until we drifted asleep.
My alarm sounded early giving us ample time to secure our gear and leave without a trace. The day reset itself with no food, and only water, but the end of breakfast neared. Teardrop plopped in the Mickey D’s dumpster scoring a leftover BBQ sandwich and apple pies for days. We ate like savages, the bottom feeders of society, but experienced the nectar of life riding trains, living free, doing whatever we felt like doing while train hopping Charlottesville.
That day the food bank opened up so we stocked up on a few days worth of canned food, and other expired items. The church needed to keep track of us, scanning our IDs, since they get an incentive from Big Brother. We ate the food for sustenance despite it tasting heaps worse than dumpster food. The slime from the cantaloupe left a sour taste on my tongue while the soft mushy fried chicken skin made me soak up both grease and carbs. Nothing tasted scrumptious or fulfilling, but we gained energy, strength, and the will to move on, and that’s what we did.
We danced among the ballast, checking our first gondola, beyond the bend in the tracks. Her walls lay empty with her floor covered in debris, broken drift wood and railroad ties, made for a stiff ride open to the brisk sky.
Teardrop and I unpacked our bedrolls and five hours later we heard the faint rustling of air beneath us. Her cars shunted fiercely and off she zoomed, picking up speed gingerly, but not too soon. She stopped just 12-miles outside of Charlottesville on a double-track. We got our wish after three days, but it cost us 24-hours in Barboursville, with no movement, no stores, draining our supplies.
“When would this fuckin’ junk train move? Where were we going? In 29 hours we traveled a total of 12 miles…fuck it…I’m goin’ back to sleep…”
But at least we’re no longer train hopping Charlottesville…