Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Hiatus Roundhouse

When I think of trains I think of the whole thing, from engine to caboose. Except they don't make cabooses anymore, so it's engines to infinity. We need that ending but they don't care. I hate a train that leaves you dangling. I can't be looking at an infinite train.

A train goes strictly in a straight line, except for the curves, then right back to the straightaway. The tracks are designed for the width of the wheels. They've got them nailed down to wooden posts. In some countries the trains ride a smooth cushion of air above the tracks. It's air travel about three inches up.

I can remember some of the stuff they taught us in 2nd grade about trains. But not much. The different cars have names. Like coal car, box car, and flat car. An engine can go forward or reverse without turning around. The engine driver is called the engineer. His job is to keep the train going and also to look out for hobos.

The yard dick -- that's seriously what he's called -- is also on the lookout for hobos. A hobo is a bum with some pride. I used to want to be a hobo. A big can of mulligan stew would taste good right about now, depending on whether I like mulligan stew, since I've never had it. I met a hobo right off the train once. He was looking for potatoes.

It might be a good job to be a yard dick. You don't have to do much, just mill around the train yard and look for hobos. I would probably have an eagle eye to see them with. Except I would have a hard time capturing one. I'd rather be a hobo than capture one. So let's say I'm a yard dick and you're a hobo. I do see you, but I'm pretending I don't. Except for meeting the quotas in order to keep my job, I wouldn't capture very many hobos.

If I met a hobo I might hide my yard dick badge. And he'd be going, "Are there any yard dicks around?" And I'd be going, "I hope not. Just keep down and they won't see you." Then I'd hurry back over by the roundhouse and they ask me if there's any hobos around, and I'd be going, "I hope not. It's been a busy last few months we've had and I think we scared them all off." Then the roundhouse master wants to walk with me and we're getting closer to the hobo, so I start into a really rough coughing jag to let him know we're getting closer.

The hobo sees me and knows it's me, the very guy who had said I hadn't seen any yard dicks. Then he knows that I am indeed the yard dick and gives me a sly "O" sign with his hand. Pretty soon I have the roundhouse master ensconced in his office, keeping him busy hand stamping old hobo reports. And I rush out to tell the hobo that I am indeed a yard dick, but a devious one, who despises capturing hobos, and that I wish I were a hobo.

After I punch out for the day, I head down to the hobo jungle, and they're playing the harmonica and singing old folk songs. Alan Lomax comes out of the trees and records us. I end up on a Folkways album narrating the story of the hobo in search of potatoes. I add to it to make him seem less selfish. Such as this, that he was in the town and heard the story of a poor family without food. So he enlisted the other hobos to find potatoes, carrots, and other food to give them. Then just as he was about to get out of the train yard he was run over by a train. But everyone knew he died doing good. (It didn't really happen like that, of course.)

Ever since I took this hiatus -- at least in the last couple days -- I've been in a reverie. Someone mentioned to me about the existence of theme rooms in motels. I've taken that idea and run with it. Yesterday with a boating theme. Today with a train theme.

Reveries are so much fun. It's like meditation, with a secular emphasis.

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