I Love M.

hello from minneapolis.

started this leg of the journey in st. louis on wednesday morning. i had to earn the train i caught out of that yard...all my accumulated hobo knowledge and skills put to the test. at first deceptively easy: wide open yard with a shady spot for cover. no sign of a bull as i sipped my morning coffee and watched the workers...as always their activities seemed random and redundant from my vantage point...but, eventually i thought i recognized a train emerging from the chaos...a nice long string of tankers and grainers and it looked like it was pointing EAST. i waited for the workers to disappear and then settled on a grainer for the wait. it was 12:30pm. four hours later i wrote:

Lying here for hours on a grainer in the BNSF yard in St. Louis. It seems that I'm conjuring memories from a different lifetime...or this one but from a time so far removed and forgotten it seems ancient.

five hours passed. six. no activity except a bull patrolling the shady spot where i enjoyed my coffee. so i stayed low and practiced being still. at some point they attached units (engines) to my string of cars but when we lurched forward we were heading WEST. having endured THE LONG WAIT, now i was faced with UNCERTAINTY. over the next few hours, i was on and off different trains...avoiding the bull and the workers. normally, i might have asked a worker for info but i didn't know what reaction i would get as a woman traveling alone. i feared that a worker might decide to bust me 'for my own protection.' so i relied on my wits and sometime around dusk an eastbound pulled in and crew changed on the mainline. that particular train was all unrideable grainers, but it seemed a hopeful sign. hungry, i decided to heat up some chili. i had just started to eat when another eastbound arrived with lots of rides and i abandoned half a can of chili to climb aboard. but not for long. my grainer was in a string of cars that was cut out and left behind among the shadows of the yard. i scrambled again and caught the last grainer on the train just four cars from the end. but to my dismay we backed into the yard and stopped. more waiting until finally at 2AM we left the yard and made our way slowly out of st. louis. lots of train traffic, waiting at sidings, and creeping thru an eerie wasteland of disheveled buildings and industrial ruin. At 4AM i felt confident we were safely out of the city and i rolled out to sleep.

woke to discover the mississippi meandering just exactly as i had imagined. i made green tea, ate applesauce and enjoyed the ride. crossed the river into illinois in the afternoon and entered the LAND OF CORN. we passed hours of corn fields and an occasional farmhouse. several quaint towns announced themselves with an obligatory proud water tower. i wrote:

Looking out at a sea of corn that reaches the horizon, broken only by scattered islands of trees.

we pulled into the yard in galesburg, illinois around 6PM. huge yard. two towers. row after row of sidings, mostly filled with strings of cars. i climbed a grainer to get a view and i could only see the yard stretching out in front and behind me, corn to my left, and rows and rows of sidings to my right. no road or town in sight save an overpass that looked like a rural highway leading nowhere in particular. i decided to cross the yard and keep outta sight amongst the sidings. i started to regret the choice after crossing ten or maybe twelve strings of cars. to cross safely, you've got to climb a ladder, swing yourself up or around, walk across the car, and lower yourself down the opposite ladder. with a 60 pound pack it's brutally tiring and i had no water. i crossed another ten or fifteen sidings and just as i could see the last string of cars, i thought i was spotted by a blue suburban which drove in my direction. i quickly backtracked and hid amongst the rows of cars thinking they were not unlike rows of corn. when i felt brave, i climbed the ladder of a tanker and walked across the platform still cautious and then i saw a shadow moving towards me along the gravel road in front of me and i panicked and tried to turn, wanting to hide, but clumsy and tired, and somehow i fell, landing on my back, helpless on the ballast, the muscle in my left thigh screaming. and i don't know how i got back up or how i finally crossed those last two strings of cars. but i do remember discovering a road beyond a couple patches of weeds and a pair of RR tracks. i felt immense relief and starting walking. it was 7PM.

it took me another hour to walk into town. i stumbled across a really funky cafe...wish i could remember the name. a handful of tables huddled together in a tiny room. i felt huge and alien with my pack. i asked if they were still serving, and then i asked if they had somewhere i could clean up a little before my meal. i was directed thru the kitchen to a bathroom the size of a closet, hot and steaming because of the water heater which took up most of the space. i exchanged sweat drenched clothes for a clean dry tank top and t-shirt. washed my face and started to feel a little human. back out in the cafe the kitchen was clean and they were vacuuming so i asked again if they were still serving. the cook, a young kid, assured me it was no problem and i ordered a grilled cheese sandwich and fries. the only customer besides me was this strange biker-looking man with stringy dark hair and tattoos and a couple of large silver rings. he started talking to me with a voice barely audible...mostly just a mumble. he kept talking while i waited for my meal and continued until i was finished eating. he was telling me an elaborate story about seeing a SASQUATCH while hiking along a native american spirit trail. the waitress was a worn out looking woman probably not much older than me, with a strange speech impediment and childlike mannerisms, who just talked over the guy as if he wasn't there. the cook just sat at a table and watched me eat and told me that my meal was on him. wouldn't let me pay a thing. the entire experience was surreal. it was like we all existed in parallel worlds and the only thing that could pass between was a grilled cheese and some fries.

i left the cafe and walked into the nite. slowly, reluctantly making my way toward the train yard. my spirit sagging. i was craving the mundane and familiar. normal human interaction. i was feeling disconnected and a little lost. i felt small, lonely, alone and the freight yard loomed large and threatening. i lingered a moment under a handsome tree, comforted by neat houses, a sidewalk, a neighborhood. then i shouldered my pack and walked into the yard. i knew i would have to take my chances and ask a worker to help me find a train to minneapolis...no way to tell which trains were heading to chicago.

i was at the end of the long yard...away from most of the activity, the glaring lites, the threat of the tower looming over me. i saw a worker inspecting a train and determined to approach him. only a few yards away, i hesitated to leave the dark shadows of weeds and expose myself but i forced myself to walk toward him. he was sitting in his truck and i walked to his window. before i could say anything he asked where i was heading. when i answered minneapolis, he said: this is not your train. i thought he wasn't going to help but i asked if he could maybe point me in the right direction. he said the train i wanted was called THE SUPERIOR...that it would go to minneapolis thru la crosse and i told him that was exactly what i wanted. to my surprise he picked up his radio and asked what track was THE SUPERIOR on. then he looked at me and said: Don't tell anyone I did this, but GET IN." so i threw my pack in the back of his truck and hopped in the front seat. we drove alongside my train until i picked the car i wanted to ride. i spotted a grainer and he pulled right up to the ladder. he asked my name and i asked his. M he said and then told me to be safe out there. as i grabbed my pack from the back of the truck he asked if i needed any money. i told him i was ok, thanked him again and he drove off. my heart soared and lifted me up the ladder into my grainer. i was smiling and laughing to myself, delirious with good fortune and thinking that i must have an angel watching over me. and wishing that somehow M would be rewarded for his good deed. (there was an article in a recent harpers about misanthropy and the author mentions how on any long journey you eventually run into the phenomenon called THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS and it's true that it is an antidote to the accumulated cynicism of everyday life)

anyway, i woke up to a perfect morning. flying up the mississippi. just me and the birds and the river. after several hours of passing scenery i wrote:

It seems today I finally had my breakthrough. Thoughts and inspirations floating freely...fading and brightening like the shifting intensity of the sun.

a trainhopper i know calls it the zen of the train. not much else to say. i arrived in minneapolis yesterday afternoon. turned out that i hopped off the train directly in front of my friend brakeshoe's house. but brakeshoe wasn't home. happily he is also a hobo and has a tent conveniently set up in his back yard where i slept.

i've got a show here on tuesday, a show in madison on thursday, a show in la crosse on saturday, and winnipeg on monday.

PS: many of you asked about that link in my last posting...it's this crazy guy named Jaks who has a website called deadtrainbums.com and another called ftra.org and apparently he is not a fan of me or my film....

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