Trains, Trains, and Automotrains

Issue Zero 087There are several very American things, peculiar institutions of our cultural landscape that remain constant no matter what shifts occur in other areas of our society. Green suburban lawns, disco fries, and running away from home. It is to this later aspect of our common culture, I will subscribe.
Over the next fifteen days this blogger will be doing America. Yes, traveling about This Great Land of Ours and doing it by rail – yes, on the inside of the train, yet there is still some element of the modern hobo is there not? No? I can count a great many friends who have crossed this nation on freight trains, spent harrowing hours in the elements, had brushes with the yard bulls, been tied onto a platform on the side of a training rushing at breakneck speeds through he screaming wilderness or groaning through yard after yard, each city reduced to a view of the worst elements of an industrial or post-industrial skyline, the flat warehouses and parking lots, gravel dumps and nameless shops. While the adventures of the dying art of hoboism is exciting, it is not for me at this stage in my life, I would think, while I can camp and such I would be that moron who gets under the wheels of the train or otherwise breaks a hip in the process of legging up that third step with my rucksack. I believe I can see just fine from the inside of a train and see how this country is connected together by these old rail lines, the few that remain.
It is a strange experience, actually a little stressful in preparation of my embark, considering that I am not leaving the country. This blogger has crossed the Russian Federation Moscow to Vladivostok and back (7 days straight on the train) and St. Petersburg to Pyatigorsk by rail and boat, been to Beijing and Harbin, People’s Republic of China, up to Kashmir and then Calcutta in India by bus, train, boat, and camel, and crossed into Africa on a very suspect ferry to visit Morocco and drive a very antique Citron through the Western Sahara desert. Peru in an election year, Mexico in a drug war, Guatemala during the same, and a calm time spent in Honduras and Equator since the labor riots there did not involve me. I have driven a vintage (1981) Jeep to Labrador and back, a convertible (1984) to Nova Scotia and also James Bay, Canada, much of it on a gravel road – had a few freakouts when the car looked like it was going to catch fire and we were 200 miles away from any village, the windshield was cracked by stones tossed up by a huge truck and came face to face with wolves, a potentially rabid arctic fox, and some kind of a mutated coyote, it was an exciting adventure. While Guatemala did concern me quite a bit, it was only after I got there and saw the armed guys guarding the KFC joints and read the news paper sensationalist stories about the new way robbers were attacking cars… shooting everyone inside and then inspecting what they had left over…. Not quite a moment to say, “porvafor senior, take my dinero just no murte mi, yo tengo une familia, me ninos mucho want me back home, you look like bonita hente” especially since I speak Spanish about as good as I write it, which is not well at all and only slightly worse than I speak and write English.
Issue Zero 005Yet, I am concerned about traveling to the land of 7-Elevens, Higgidilipiggidlies or whatever they’re called out there, the world of KentacoHuts and 12 lane highways, and the western lands, the “no there, there” the thousand suburbs searching for a city, and the many cities where large banners flapping in the abandoned downtown may be all that will welcome me as a visitor. So why do this? The first time I ever saw the Pacific ocean was standing in Russian territory. I could see Sara Palin’s house from where I stood, to give you an idea of where I was. I have been to Florida, once to change planes on my way to central America and one time my family and I went to Disney World Land Place in 1978 or 1979. I remember being to Tennessee once when I was fifteen or sixteen to visit family. We never went back. I was married to a girl from Columbus, Ohio, so I drove out there every holiday or so, but we never took in whatever sights there may be other than a really great art museum in the downtown and got to have a drink at the Tiki bar the Brat Pack used to hang out at before they tore it down. I once drove to Chicago and hung out with my sister’s ex-boyfriend which seems stranger now that it did way back then…. It was a blast…, he had a cool car.
Having motorcycled about New England and much of New York State, I have been on every road, land, byway, and limited access road. In a way, I have seen only a little of this nation, and now it is time to see the rest, and to do so in a similar way I have seen so many other countries. By rail. I always made a priority of the countries that were changing faster, needed to see the rain forest before it was gone, experience the old Ireland of thatched roofs before it was absorbed by Europe and became Supermodern, and catch a peek of village life in Russia, even if only for a moment. Now it is time to see America, before she changes. Which may be soon, perhaps later, maybe this way of life we have is it and Positive Liberty will continue to, like the stock market, expand and expand, a phantasm out of Bely’s Petersburg or we can expect Bulgakov’s Woland to come to New York because people have moved well past believing in the Devil and he can do whatever he likes, as long as he does so without causing noise after 10PM or using a 16 oz. soda.
I am not sure what to expect. Who will be on these trains? Can I really keep moving, make the connecting trains and circumnavigate this entire country in one go? Do the trains outside of the Northeast corridor conform to OSHA standards or will I be ridding1982’s version of comfort. Will I meet at least one rail enthusiast who wears that ridiculous stripped hat? Is there a bar car, and when does it open and do they take credit cards? Perhaps this is not as unique as John Waters hitchhiking across the United States the other year, but then, anything someone like John waters does would be interesting… No HUNTER S. THOMPSON going to just somewhere outside of Barstow or bat Country. No Motorcycle Diaries. No On The Road. It will be whatever it is and maybe along the way something will emerge as this is a trip taken deep into the “information age” where movement and staying still seem to produce the same google results. However, in a few days the first station stop will be the Big Easy. Let’s see what happens along the way.

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