Train Hopping Winslow, Arizona
"Take it easy..."

(Spring 2019)

My eyes felt heavy like stone as I woke to Spanish chatter from an early morning construction crew. It was 5 am. Men stood around a concrete pad working on a foundation as I fumbled around trying to pack up my gear, completely drained of serotonin with bloodshot eyes, and a strong will to keep myself from falling back asleep in the desert weeds by a mound of dry concrete.  I hid behind a cement mixer at the bottom of an embankment near the highway, waiting for the right moment to enter the train yard without being seen by passersby or construction workers.

A night of tripping ecstasy in the low desert industry of downtown Glendale had completely stripped my brain of its normal functionality.  My head felt wrapped in a stretch band with a giant pulling on one end, unable to escape his brute strength, its tension, and throbbing pain, while I tried to complete basic tasks in a slowed state, running on a few hours of sleep.  I wet my lips with my tongue licking the cracked grooves as flakes of skin fell off like Lemmings.  The roof of my mouth felt as dry as a prune even after glugging down a liter of water until my stomach bulged like a balloon, bloated and intoxicatingly lethargic.  I still felt weak and dehydrated from the prior night of wandering through the Hundred Acre Woods down the path of the blue pill.

Grandiosity and ego made me feel invincible at times, but this time in particular, deep down, I indulged to free my mind from the shackles of its own demons, to douse the hell rattling around inside my head, the pain, the anger, the hate, the loneliness.  Feeling numb helped evaporate these emotions and the nightmares of my mere existence with a temporary ecstasy, but the highs always followed a crash like falling through a dark, bottomless well, and oftentimes I couldn’t escape it.  I kicked.  I punched.  I fought the race inside my head and always walked away with the “L.”  But, free drugs, free booze, cheap wine and beer and weed made me the “Yes Man” and as I stood there peeling my eyes back open under the taunting, desert sun, I remembered the plastic baggie with a gram of caps and stems and shake tucked away in my pocket.  Suddenly, my proclivity to catch a train had changed to the drugs I forgot I had and what to do with them.  I didn’t wanna throw them out, or I should say, I couldn’t throw them away.  Who wastes free drugs?

My attention shifted to the rumbling wheels on the steel as my feet felt the surge, the vibrations, shooting up through the ground, quaking the earth as the loud beast entered my view on the far track.  A few latent strings sat between me and the beast as I crouched in the shade behind industry and I could no longer wait for the perfect moment to enter the yard, it was now or never, and I wasn’t waiting a whole nother day for the opportunity to ride the PEAVINE back to Winslow.  So, I took my chances but I did so smoothly or at least tried to.

I stood up with my pack cinched to my shoulders and walked nonchalantly to the overpass, hugging the wall as I stepped through fissures of cracked dirt until reaching cobbles of ballast.  My head swiveled looking both ways before I climbed up and over the dead strings sitting on the tracks and when I reached the steel rails closest to the highway, I walked the line of piggybacks looking for a suitable ride, one with broad wings.

It was 8 AM.  Rush hour traffic whirred by under the overpass like high-pitched roars from a hurricane, echoing and pounding and scrambling my thoughts.  I regretted this zombie-like state, this drug-induced hangover, a feeling of numbness from my own free will, a bender of sorts, an ice cream scoop out of my head like they funnel down your throat in D.A.R.E. when you’re a kid.  Though dramatized and a bit extreme, it certainly felt that way anyway.

I bent down and freed myself from my pack, flinging it up and onto the spine of the flatcar before I hopped up off the tracks to ride between the wings.  I’ve experienced my fair share of self-induced serotonin depletion over the years from experimenting with hard drugs, which was really just my own distorted perception to describe my addiction and chemical dependence of cycling through anything freely available within my reach.  Looking back on it all, it’s quite possible the years leading up to my sobriety I spent in and out of psychosis.  Lack of sleep didn’t help me in these situations and it certainly didn’t here either.

I lay out sprawled against the cold steel like basking in an ice bath on a warm summer’s day.  I must have dozed off in a paralytic stupor as I don’t recall falling asleep or even hearing that sibilant voice of imminent departure as she aired.  That slow roll.  That jerk forward.  Those creeping wheels.  I woke up and stared at the undercarriage of the trailer that shielded me from the highway and the public eye.  The spine of my car reverberated from her thrumming, like riding in a wagon and the shaking, further agitated my head, but I just stared at the spare tire and the jingling wires attached to the trailer, to try to disappear.  It didn’t work.  

She whistled through town, blaring the horn at every crossing as we waltzed through downtown Phoenix like Kings of the Road, but I felt like a vegetable, dead to the world.  She sided briefly in El Mirage.  Paranoia spread as thoughts dancing around in my head and I couldn’t help but think someone saw me on the train, someone had called me in and the police were taking their sweet time to search for riders.  It was just this voice inside me, not my conscious, but a soft whisper goading me to get rid of the shrooms smooshed deep in my pants pocket.  I contemplated for a moment, knowing if Arizona had strict felony charges for holding miniscule amounts of weed, I couldn’t possibly fathom the charges that Big Brother would slap on me for a schedule I narcotic (heh, a psychedelic).

I didn’t wanna ride with drugs on me so I did what anyone would do in this predicament.  I reached down into my pocket pulling out the fungus and pieces of lint and chowed down on every cap and stem, moistening my fingers and dabbing them inside the Ziploc to get every last morsel of shake.  I washed the crunchy, stale taste with a few swigs of water, and watched the baggie sail away with the desert wind to become an ornament on a nearby fence or a guardrail or an arid bush.  I waited for that yawning thunder to propagate in my ears, the sharp pixels of reality to birth like a moving painting, coming to life, the racing thoughts and cyclical emotions to burgeon and fruit deep imagery and thought.  Then a train sliced the air like a stampede running down the mainline.

I smiled.  The circus of thoughts rattling around in my brain alleviated to a happy place as the paranoia disappeared.  The only pigs present sat latent on the siding, not in blue with nightsticks and flashing lights, and I realized in that moment I was fuckin’ crazy.  Crazy for the voices.  Crazy for the paranoia.  Crazy for trippin’ ecstasy the previous night, alone in Glendale by the Intermodal facility, traipsing about through industry near the train tracks covered in dry concrete, giggling and laughing in my own paradise, and stuck in a ramblin’ epiphany on the phone with friends both new and old.  And now, crazy for shroomin’ on a freight headed to Winslow.

I didn’t have earplugs so the assault of air triggering beneath her wings and the crunching earth from the passing train struck like thunder.  Its excruciating ring drilled me to the bone, but still I smiled.  My sense of smell and sound and eyesight heightened in those moments leading up to departure.  The earth moved and the train sat still in my mind like playing the first GTA ever created.  She levitated on the tracks as the wheels kept on turning, shrieking, and squealing.  I surrendered to the cloudless sky, its baby blue pool, and the floaters on the other side running rampant in my eyes.  The wind crashed from all sides tickling my face and I laughed.  I was on a freight train to the moon.

The train zigged and zagged and curled around in a sinuous path through lime green fields with blurs of verdant pom poms blanketing the desert floor.  Gnarled squiggles of naked scrub brush painted the landscape in silver hair between the coarse grains of sand, between the flush green leaves waving with the wind under milky pillows floating in an ocean of sky.  I became enthralled with the numbers on the mileposts and the ballast flying by like beds of lava rock.  Sharp contours of sandstone chiseled the horizon like jagged teeth, and as clouds rolled in, it all shifted to dark silhouettes in the distance.  

A river ran through it with deposits of wet sand scattered about like little islands.  The clarity of the landscape transposed from sharp walls of limestone and mounds of rock to a water color of vibrant vegetation.  I watched the small remote towns and ranches become pinpoints with distance as horses masticated and the train slithered around each curve of track, shrieking and squealing, and continuing along the silver path.  I lost track of time and space and location.  Emotions surged.  I cycled through happiness and fear and sadness and the desert felt mystical and surreal like an animated dream.

As I approached Ash Fork, trepidation tingled and the paranoia burgeoned as the train slowed to a pittering roll.  The train walked by a white truck parked just inches from me beside the track as I fidgeted back and forth, moving my head, afraid that the BNSF worker saw me lurking behind the wing of my piggyback.  Nothing happened.  Relief set in like an electric feel and the fear faded as she chugged along through the redwalls and kaibab limestone, through the high desert, jeering eastbound towards Flagstaff and Humphreys Peak watching the cones blur by in forest green blazes as the train climbed in elevation.  The mountain proceeded to get taller and taller in the background, standing in its wonder like a giant pyramid of chiseled rock, crafted by the hand of God, dipped in white chocolate at its peak.

As I came down off that magic pedestal, from a high back to normalcy, I faded quickly under the pig with wings, flying onward to Winslow and beyond.

Previous articleRidin’ Dirt Outta ‘Kirk
Next articleThe Leaves are Changin’, I’m Slowin’ Down