memory is transient like a train and i realize the events of the past few days are already slipping past. i'm in chicago and--sadly--my journey on the rails is behind me.

i survived 5 screenings in 4 cities in a week. the show in minneapolis sold out...standing room only, hot and steamy like a swamp. eventually had to turn 20 or 30 people away and then decided to do a second screening. nice to draw a crowd, but i was somehow depressed and felt like abandoning the film. took greyhound to madison the next day and realized that once you become accustomed to traveling for free...paying a fare sucks. 30 dollars to sit in an airconditioned tube on the highway and go from point A to point B without seeing a thing. no towns or farms or fields...just the highway and other cars and gas stations and fast food restaurants that rely on the cars.

in madison i was discouraged by the lack of publicity for the screening: no press, no posters or postcards around. but telepathically the audience arrived and the energy in the room rivaled the screening in seattle...people were really engaged and responsive and i learned to love the film all over again. a special treat to have luther the jet in the audience...his childlike giddiness contagious as he excitedly called out all the places he recognized: kelso! keddie! after the show a woman named jean faraca invited me to do a morning interview on wisconsin public radio. i also found myself a ride to trampfest! in la crosse with an old squatmate of jess & dan.

so i arrived in la crosse on friday afternoon with justin, geneva, their 120 pound akida named virtue, and another trainhopper named karen. we found the campsite stashed under the trees where the black river feeds into the mississippi. sitting around the campfire, the hours glimmered like beads strung together on a thread of conversation and camaraderie. afternoon faded to dusk which disappeared in the gusty winds of nite. i fell in love with a radiant, beautiful boy...a very innocent affair just talking and talking and holding hands while rain threatened and then retreated. eventually the fire dwindled along with the gathered crowd, and i made my way to my sleeping bag.

the rain woke me in the depths of nite's darkness. too late to keep dry, so I tried to avoid becoming soaked. i wrapped my rain poncho around me and curled my body onto my sleeping pad to avoid the surrounding mud. dawn broke with unrelenting dampness. i don't think i dried out until early in the afternoon when i stretched out in the sunlight of the sandy beach.

later in the afternoon our primitive paradise was invaded by a gaggle of cops. i was actually scavenging in the communal kitchen when they seemed to materialize out of nowhere. they had already cuffed a couple of trainhoppers in our clan. several hours of tense confusion transpired: negotiations with the police, pleading with the property owner, and hasty, chaotic meetings amongst ourselves. the police threatened to evict us with force before dark, but as daylite started to fade they hadn't returned.

the screening of "catching out" was scheduled for that evening at the odin gallery in downtown la crosse. hesitant to leave our belongings unattended during the screening, we debated skipping the film in order to stand our ground. but eventually we all packed our personal belongings and gathered in ramshackle glory to walk into town. musicians playing fiddle, guitar, harmonica, and found objects lead our procession. i carried a sign that read, "hobo marching banned"--a tribute to a similar procession at the dunsmuir gathering this spring. we created a ruckus: jesters on bicycles flanked us and others tossed donated chocolate bars to the citizens of la crosse. parked at intersections and emerging from the stoops of bars and restaurants, the townsfolk watched as the cops in their cruisers plagued us like mosquitoes, lights flashing as they circled. despite their best efforts, we were triumphant in our celebrated freedom.

arriving at the odin singing "this land is your land" we climbed three stories to the screening in the attic. the gathered crowd rose to their feet to greet us with a thunder of applause. aware of the unraveling events, they had waited patiently for an hour to welcome us. tramps settled into every corner and aisle in the place and we happily passed bottles of fortified wine and white port while watching the film.

after the screening and a collective Q & A session, a man in the audience offered his land for the orphaned hobo gathering. i parted ways with the tramp family and got a ride to the catch out spot for the northbound BN. I was hoping to get a hotshot thru minneapolis to fargo, north dakota where I would snag a greyhound to the show in winnipeg.

i waited, shivering in the unexpectedly crisp nite, under brilliant stars, the clustered pleiades keeping me company. around 4am a stack train arrived, and i found a rideable 48-foot container car for my journey. i surrendered to the perfect contentment of warm sleeping bag and rushing rails. still savoring the sweetness of the gathering, i considered all the reasons that the trainhopping community has inspired me as both a human and a filmmaker. the folks out there choose a radical freedom that requires a rebellious courage. while others work to support homes, cars & families, they invest their time in meaningful activity. they value relationships, camaraderie and community over material possessions. some pursue creative expression and others devote themselves to changing the world thru social, political and environment activism. trampfest! brought out the best in the community and i feel it also brought out the best in me.

BUT. my utopian dream ended abruptly in minneapolis the next morning. My hotshot stack train turned out to be rather lukewarm: i was abandoned along with a string of cars in an intermodal yard south of the city. i tried to slink away but stumbled upon a worker. he escorted me from the yard, but he didn't call the bull. he actually told me that a hotshot that would depart between 9:30 or 10:00 that nite. he said it wouldn't stop but go straight to fargo. i hoped it would be my train.

i waited patiently under skies that carried a premonition of rain. i was getting tired of midwest thunderstorms, but i made my way to a string of abandoned grainers which provided perfect cover from both impending rain and yard surveillance. the train did not appear as scheduled, and i started exploring other options. i called greyhound and - listening to a recorded message - i learned that i would need a birth certificate or passport to cross the border into canada. potentially a big problem. but somehow, magically, my friend synthia was home at my little house and faxed me a copy of my birth certificate.

i was grumpy and discouraged by couldn't resist walking back to the yard to see if my train might still be there. AND IT WAS. now i was sure it was my train and i walked deliberately, purposefully toward it. not running but not wasting any time. the train was all pigs - trailers from trucks mounted on rail cars. i found an ideal ride and climbed aboard. i was in the process of stashing my gear when workers drove by inspecting the train. they must have ratted me out because a couple of minutes later the bull drove up, straight to my hiding spot and told me climb out. after running my id and discovering that i am in the computer for a bust in seattle in 1996, he let me go without a ticket. i hauled my very sorry ass to greyhound and realized that - like any great passion - when the train is elusive you just want it more.

i made it to winnipeg via greyhound, arriving delirious from several consecutive nites of marginal sleep. i was overwhelmed by the attention i received: two TV stations aired stories, plus an interview appeared in the weekly free newspaper. the show was packed and the Q & A afterwards was infused by the still simmering energy from trampfest!

in fargo, north dakota last nite i drank guinness out of a huge goblet while waiting for a 2am amtrak. over the past few weeks i've discovered that i'm happy out here in the world. i feel liberated by my experience hopping trains alone and i've decided to keep showing my film and hopping trains to screenings whenever possible. maybe a sequel tour next year??? and while i'm continually tempted to try mainstream distribution, i can't imagine anything more rewarding or fulfilling than my do-it-yourself tour. anyway. that's it for this leg. on friday i'm off to africa...

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