Train Hopping Charlottesville
After a long drug-crazed weekend boozin’, watching pupils turn to pinpoints with the flick of a flame, exhaling ice, crack and weed, we hopped out of a jeep by the train yard in Charlottesville completely sober for the first time in three days. 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 his tongue as he glanced at Teardrop, “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 by the railroad tracks, 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. 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. Nothing happened, intermodals 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 heavily over our shoulders while our hunger began to diminish to an empty pit of desires, unreachable, yet disgustingly gratifying. I reminisced to the days of high school wrestling, and cutting weight, the discipline involved in starving yourself. Pain and suffering was merely weakness leaving my body, hunger was no different.
Dumpster food was not always an appetizing smorgasbord of five-star eating, but we needed nutrients; we needed energy; and we needed to eat. We only lived off remnants of peanut butter for so long until giving into food at the top of trash bins or dumpsters. A bun and half-eaten nachos curbed our hunger briefly, as we sat north of the Amtrak station. A signal mast stood tall by the curvature of glinting steel and we stumbled upon the hop out. Broken 40’s piled high by the trackside in mounds of shattered glass with discarded articles of clothing, empty packs of smokes and other trash left by home bums, crackheads and lazy riders.
Teardrop chuckled, “Yep this is the spot…any sign of face tats, dogs, and Dirty Kids?”
I just laughed and shook my head.
“Nah, but what’s with all these railfans dude? Who wastes their Sunday with their camera out, 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 only 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 disapproving eyes. Neither of us cared. I shut my eyes and faded away with the passing clouds, fluttering them open as each rumbling and screeching train rolled through. Cameras flashed rapidly as flatbeds rolled by with front engines chained to them. Their new paint shimmered, glinting forest green, headed for Pakistan (most likely by boat), and as the FRED passed us, heading southbound, its beep slowly died. The awe of voices mellowed to silence as railfans scampered off, and the crowd of people turned to only two.
The once clear blue sky became a dark sea of wispy swirls, its waves crashing in like a monstrous swell. We slept between the shards of broken glass in the ballast by the abandoned sidetrack, leaning against the retaining wall. We heard the sound of steel churn only once that night, a southbound train, before falling into a deep sleep.
The morning clouds lingered like a timeless state. Bums walked up and down the tracks early morning, breaking jack-o-lantern smiles, in hasty strolls 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 flip-flops thwacked the ground in a drunken stupor. His white socks, piss-stained shorts, and Hawaiian shirt reminded me of the old fogeys I saw in 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 it, annoyed at the drunken idiot standing in front of me.
“Hello,” I said 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…can I bum a smoke though,” I said desperately craving nicotine.
“Of course babyyy…hahaha…I’m Frank…been walkin’ round all damn mornin’ with the shakes, lookin’ for my booze…here ya go babyyy.”
Frank handed me a Pall Mall and finally Teardrop stepped into the conversation with a slight grin on his face. Frank stumbled and bobbed as he sipped his Hurricane, spewing the same line of nonsense to my road dog.
“Ya wanna beer babyyy…hiccup…”
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’s wanna drink of Four Loko Gold babyyy?”
Frank’s 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, jumped off the wall, taking a four-foot tumble, all the while, losing his shorts. They hung around his ankles as he moaned in between a burst of giggles. His tighty whities smeared with shit stains and piss as he rolled between the broken shards of glass. He was a fuckin’ mess and as bad as we both felt, there was not a thing we could do, but lend him a hand.
“Frankkk,” I said in a concerned voice….”ya alright buddy? Ya got lucky I cleaned up all those broken 40’s people smashed earlier. Otherwise we prob would have had to call the ambulance…”
He just chuckled and pulled his shorts back up over his waist.
“Hey babyyy, I gotta get goin’…the boys are waitin’ for me hahaha…sposed to bring back the booze hahaha…but I drank it all babyyy…remember ya guys can both sleep in my bed hahaha…I can sleep on the floor…it’s not fuckin’ rocket science…”
And just like that he zigzagged off, mumbling, “It’s either yes or goddamn no,” as he followed the abandoned sidetrack back to town, to meet his friends. We never saw him again, but it amazed me how people like Frank always managed to stumble back home, in one piece, free of danger, or harm, just completely shit-faced.