Because of Rooster’s outstanding warrant in Ohio we needed to stay low-key while we wandered around Cleveland waiting for our next train. Somehow or another we ended up sleeping under a bridge on the sidewalk adjacent big orange traffic drums. I yawned feeling too tired to argue with his tomfoolery, but low-key to me meant hidden. This explained his active warrants in multiple states though.
I dozed off to the droning echoes of traffic zooming across the overpass. Somewhere down the road I adapted to this amplified thudding and thumping of tires and buzzing of engines in an almost soothing melody, otherwise known as complete exhaustion.
Rooster always took forever in the morning. No matter how much he snoozed it felt like that itch he could not quite scratch, fluttering his eyes in a groggy fashion, yawning, whimpering and dozing off for just a few more minutes while he cuddled his dog.
Me, well, once the sun struck my face, I wiggled, turning on my side, but within a few minutes I succumbed to its piercing fury upon my brow. I always packed methodically as to not leave anything behind, but even so, I geared up in five minutes, watching him lay there with drool pooling at the corners of his fuzzy beard. It agitated me, our differing schedules and routines, but I felt safer on the road with a travel companion and a dog.
He struggled to open his eyes, lying sprawled out on the sidewalk with his dog curled next to him. My mind drifted to a blank space, waiting, growing slightly angry with each wasted minute. My ears wrestled the sounds of rumbling vehicles in a rush to work and that hounding echo menaced my agitated mood. I stood up with a scowl.
“Dude…ROOSTER…I’m hittin’ the gas station for food and gonna charge my phone. Then I’m headin’ to the yard dude…tired of sittin’ here listenin’ to this shit.”
He moaned, yawned and grumbled with a pouty face, “aiiiight,” letting out a huge sigh.
“Guess I’ll meet ya ova there in a bit…” he grumbled.
As I walked away the loud monotony disappeared to a bearable white noise, morning traffic, and my mood changed, perking a smile upon my lips. Breakfast that morning consisted of a bowl of Ramen noodle with spicy shrimp seasoning. Unlike the prior night, the store clerk’s distasteful stare stalked me, rounding each aisle of the store. So I chose quickly, placing the bowl on the counter. His eyes attacked me in a blank stare as he stood there with his bulging muscles, Guido haircut and V-neck shirt clinging to his chest.
I stormed out of there, using the sidewalk by the icebox as my stoop while I ate my hot soup and stealthily charged my phone. The Ramen warmed up my chest as I gulped down the hot broth.
I bummed it on the side of the store for about a half hour until my road dog stumbled over. He walked in slow motion while his lazy pup followed dragging behind on the leash. Both of them looked pathetically tired waddling across the street towards the store.
“Hey man…ya mind watchin’ Nakita while I grab some grub?”
“Nah dude, but I’m headin’ to the yard soon…wanna find cover before the weather shits on us,” I muttered.
He swung open the door darting to the aisle with Ramen. I looked a bit dirty, but his level of filth trumped mine by about 50 shades of train grease. The clerk eyed him up and down raising his brow in suspicion. After Rooster paid in EBT, the Arabian body builder followed him through the swinging doors, folding his arms together with dissatisfied concern.
“Excuse me, you cannot be out here begging the customers, please leave or I will have to call the police,” he bellowed in his thunderous Spartan voice of gold.
“Umm…we’re not beggin’…just sittin’ and eatin’ the soup we bought,” mimicked Rooster in a raspy dehydrated voice.
“Well, you cannot be outside the store charging your phone’s…you’re loitering and store policy says I must call police.”
He mouthed off to us like the Soup Nazi, standing there with his skinny legs and top-heavy torso.
“Alright…alright…we’ll leave…just lemme put away my stuff and we’ll be gone in a few minutes,” cried Rooster.
He shuffled back inside with his misshapen body, one of those gym buffs with bigger biceps than his quadriceps. As the door closed behind him Rooster mocked the clerk in a disgruntled voice, “Fuckin’ dick…”
“Whatever dude…I’m tryin’ to leave anyway to get the fuck outta here…sooner I get to Oregon, sooner I find work,” I told him.
“Yeah…yeah…I know…he’s just a dick…”
We tramped along the sidewalk steadily making our way up the inclined overpass. A locomotive with a consist of oil tankers slowly rolled along the mainline below, squealing along the steel until it came to a halt at the signal. It felt like Memphis all over again. We trudged along with the wrong color skin, in the wrong place, but instead of inflammatory comments, people welcomed us in Cleveland.
We sat at the gas station, bippin’ it, while Rooster flew a sign to score some cash before we caught the next westbound train to Chicago. Panhandling made me uncomfortable. I would eat out of the trash before ever stooping low enough to beg, but any money people handed me I gave to Rooster. People of all color, ages, gender and size walked past us without flinching, judging of wincing in disgust. Instead they greeted us with cheering welcomes, snacks and money.
The gray wispy sky with its creamy clouds spread thin like butter gloomed over us. The moist air touched my lips and I tasted the presence of rain, but we walked parallel the tracks anyway.
Old run-down homes with small yards and junk cars flowered near the tracks as they do in every city. Occasionally we cast our eyes on a vacant boarded up home, and a random dive bar until reaching industrial buildings. At first backyards kept us from the tracks, but now barbed wire fencing made our efforts of accessing the yard nil. The chain linked fencing glimmered brightly even in the dismal sky, lacking holes as we perused the fence-line. We continued to walk scanning the fence without much luck as we meandered onto the next parallel road.
A stray dog wandered the streets rushing up to Nakita, greeting her with a few solid sniffs of her rump before locking onto her face. His short brown fur, stout muscular frame and round head depicted a mix of pitbull. He followed us for a few hundred feet while Rooster coaxed me into keeping him as a pet.
“Dude there’s yer dog, Scooter…we’ll call em Scooter. He likes you bro…and he likes Nakita…it’s perfect,” he yelled in excitement.
“Nah man. No fuckin’ way. Stop callin’ him over here…he’s followin’ us and I don’t want anything to do with a dog. Hitchin’ with a dog is one thing, great for protection…ridin’ trains…you already know my opinion. It’s fuckin’ stupid. You can’t catch on the fly and if dogs were meant to ride trains they’d have thumbs,” I grunted.
“Chill out dude…I’m kiddin’…I know ya don’t wanna ride with a dog…sheesh…lighten up,” he chuckled.
“I know…I know…I just don’t like stray dogs man…let’s go…there’s gotta be a way in further down…”
After a few miles of walking, a junkyard of dilapidated vehicles filled the lot to our left. Dingy old cars with smashed windows, flat tires, and rusted frames squished together filling every empty space. A clear view of the yard beyond the brush sunk into view, but this was not the hop out. Tow trucks dropped off wrecked vehicles and workers roamed the lot. We moseyed along with our eyes exploring the adjacent barren lot, finding entry.
A small piece of wire held a gaping hole in the fence together. I jiggled it slightly and the fenced curled open. Rooster unbuckled his strap throwing his pack on the ground. He shimmied through first while I held Nakita back with her leash wrapped around my wrist. She tried dragging me forward in excitement, wagging her tail and panting heavily.
But I braced the concrete with my feet yanking her with abrupt tugs, afraid she might cut herself on the open fence. Her anxiety subsided after a few moments and then I let her dash through unscathed towards her daddy. She pounced up on her hind legs and showered him with wet, luscious licks all over his face, pawing at his chest.
My pack plopped on the ground like a case of heavy textbooks and I pried open the fence even more while Rooster pulled it through. I crawled on my hands and knees sliding through to the other side while Nakita jumped with joy and cradled me with loving kisses. I laughed at her separation anxiety as we roamed deeper into the vacant industrial property.
The aroma of freshly cut grass tickled my nostrils as my eyes followed the shell of the deserted complex. Rusty I-beams towered to the sky and aluminum siding floundered against the structure with each burst of wind. It pinged and panged flopping freely with sections of cattywampus siding stacked 20 feet below.
The dog dashed around using the foundation like a dog park while each of us read the train tags scribbled out across the beams and wall. Some left their tag with wax pens, some with permanent marker and some with spray paint. A few tags stuck out, Nash, Creak and Faggots Ride Freight all within the last few years. This was the hop out. So now we waited watching eastbound IMs creak by and blaze past, the ballast rumbling and steel shrieking. In those next hours I thought about Chicago and seeing my friend, Noodle. Last I saw him we bummed it in Hawaii for a few days while I showed him the highlights of Oahu.
“Ahhhh…the road…,” and I spaced out to the muffling static on my train scanner.