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 ready for more train hopping 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 ready for another train hopping adventure. 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 women 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.
We sat down in the grass, leaning our backs against our packs as fat, greasy haired slobs, hobbled by the rails, camera-ready, staring at us with a disapproving eye. I didn’t care, neither did Teardrop. We shut our eyes and continued to fade away with the passing clouds, gradually phasing into consciousness with each rumbling and screeching train rolling through. I felt antsy to hop on in front of the crowd as did Teardrop from his jaw-dropping rant of complaints. Cameras flashed with awe as flatbeds rolled by with a series of front engines chained to them. Their new paint shimmered a glinting shiny forest green, and as the FRED passed us, heading southbound, its beep slowly died. Rail fans scampered off to their cars, and the crowd of people turned to just two, two train hoppers, Teardrop and myself.
The once clear blue sky with its fiery rays, became a dark sea of wispy gray swirls, its waves crashing in like a monstrous swell. A storm approached, but stayed dormant throughout the night.
Teardrop and I slept between the shards of broken glass by the abandoned side track and ballast, leaning against the retaining wall. We heard the sound of steel churn only once, a southbound train, before falling back to sleep.
The morning clouds lingered appearing as a timeless state. Bums walked up and down the tracks early morning, breaking jack-o-lantern smiles, in a rampant hasty stroll to chug alcohol. Teardrop bounced around between industries sniping cigarettes as I looked off into a blank stare, focusing my eyes on a man. He stumbled closer into view, his flips flops thwacked the ground in a drunken stupor. His white socks, piss-stained shorts and a Hawaiian T-shirt screamed old fogie from Florida as he swung his plastic bag of booze. Hobbling closer with a cheery drunken voice masked through the rasp of whiskey use he stuttered, “Heyyy babyyyy…most guys get pissed if I call em baby, but fuck it, I do it anyway…sometimes ya get yer ass beat….hahaha…cough…cough…”
I snapped out of my daze, annoyed at the drunken idiot standing before me and said, “Hello,” in a monotone voice.
“Ya wanna beer babyyy…it’s not fuckin’ rocket science…it’s either yes, or goddamn no….hahaha…cough…cough…”
“Nah man, I’m alright…it’s too early in the mornin’ to drink…can I bum a smoke though.”
“Of course babyyy…hahaha…I’m an alcoholic…names Frank…been walkin’ around all damn mornin’ with the shakes, lookin’ for my booze…here ya go babyyy.”
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.
He shuffled forward and in a fluid motion he jumped off the wall, taking a 4-ft tall tumble, all the while, losing his shorts. They hung around his ankles as he moaned in between a burst of giggles. He wore tighty whities smeared with shit stains and piss. He was a fuckin’ mess and as bad as we both felt. There was not a thing we could do, but lend him a helping hand up.
“Frankkk,” I said in a concerned voice….”ya alright buddy? Ya got lucky I cleaned all that glass up earlier from all the broken 40s people smashed. Otherwise we prob would have had to call the ambulance…be more careful man…”
He just chuckled and pulled his shorts back up over his waist oblivious to my concern.
“Hey babyyy, I gotta get goin’…the boys are waitin’ for me hahaha…sposed to bring back the alcohol hahaha…but I drank it all babyyy…remember ya guys can both sleep on my bed hahaha…I can sleep on the floor…it’s not fuckin’ rocket science…”
And just like that he zig-zagged off, mumbling, “it’s either yes or goddamn no,” as he followed the abandoned side track back to town, to meet his friends. We never saw him again, but it amazed me how people like him always managed to stumble back home, in one piece, free of danger, or harm, just completely shit-faced…