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excerpts from "Boxcar Philosophy"

 

JOURNAL: Wed., Sept. 10, 10:30 a.m. Roseville, CA at JavaGardens quaint cafe (on Vernon) w/coffee and cinnamon roll. Arrived here on Greyhound from San Francisco ($12). All Bill's criticisms of Roseville unfounded (imagine) - it's a quaint little town that reminds me of Ellsworth (Maine). People nice so far. Studied (North Bank) Fred's e-mail. Meeting him in Dunsmuir tomorrow. Going to check out suggested hopping point at north end of yard.

So I ended up back at the train station at 3:00. I was reading there in the lobby with my stuff all over (and this is a comfortable place to wait for a northbound) when I see a train slowly start to make the turn onto the north track. I just sat there staring at it because I wasn't going to attempt in the daytime but suddenly I was seized with compulsion. I darted out of the station cutting diagonally toward the rainbow bridge - go! go! All my stuff was in disarray. I must have looked like a serious idiot to anyone watching, big bulky backpack, books, papers everywhere, lurching as fast as I could to catch the last of 3 cars on this train. As an open boxcar came rolling up I heaved my pack on and - oh shit! This thing was really moving. Now I HAD to get on. Grabbing hold of the boxcar floor I found it helped me run faster as I sprinted along and *up!* yes! Holy shit. *pant* I made it.

After 20 min. we stopped. I wanted to get closer to the front (having recently been cut out in Santa Clara on a SLO to Oakland train) so I grabbed my shit and started jogging. 7 cars, 8 cars, no rideable, 9 cars, 10 cars, dammit, 11 *gulp*. Train started moving. Fast. Oh man, I'm fucked! Unless I want to ride that flat car with the two thingys (bulkhead). What did I read about those? Oh fuck it, I'm going for it!

I nailed the bulkhead and had a great ride in the warm evening. Lots of honks and waves from people, people thinking either (1) "Wow, a kid on a freight train! That's great. I wish I had seized life like that when I was young." or (2) "Wow, a kid on a freight train! What kind of a dumbass would want to ride a freight train?"

Around dusk I upgraded once more to a boxcar and laid out my Northface sleeping bag, my ThermaRest self-inflatable mattress, and my earplugs. Nothing but stars and track ahead.

ON LANGUAGE: We use language to elicit a certain thought or emotion in another living creature. When I speak the word "apple" to you, I am trying to get you to think of a certain set of sensory perceptions, "impressions" as Hume calls them, namely, a certain smoothness, a certain redness, a certain taste. When I say "the squirrel went running," I am trying to get you to imagine this little fuzzy thing moving quickly. I would not utter such a sentence to a rock or a car because I believe them to be incapable of forming such thoughts. What if I were born into a lifeless world of nothing but rocks and cars? (let's say rocks and dirt) Would I utter anything at all? Perhaps grunts and moans but would I bother formulating a language? Maybe if I believed there would someday be life that could make sense of my markings (spoken and written language we're taking to be the same thing here, both designed to elicit a certain thought or emotion in another living creature), or maybe if I thought some sort of "life" existed elsewhere in the universe, like a god or something. But let's say I didn't believe there would ever be a thinking mind of any sort joining me in this universe for all of eternity. Would I bother with my vocal chords?

JOURNAL: Sunday, Sept. 14. Eugene, OR. Library not open till 10. Continental Deli on Willamette. Smothered Omelette and coffee, $4.10. Sip n' Surf on Broadway. Bubba's Place on Alder for dinner (right by Univ. of Oregon). Fries good, shake sucked. Internet in Law Lib, NW corner.

The public library proved entirely fruitless for Internet (waiting list, need to be resident) so I ended up at Sip n' Surf. This is a new cybercafe that will be booming in about a year. Internet cost 10 cents/min. I needed to e-mail some girl name K-Line who Fred said knew the east-from-Portland routes well (my hope was to make it to Pocatello and become a waiter). There's several companies that offer free Internet based e-mail now. Mine is called Hotmail.

Later in the evening, I checked my messages using the U of O Law Library. It's totally easy. With your best college student disguise, walk into the Law Library which is on the northwest corner of campus. Veer left and into the first doorway looking sorrowful, like you have 12 hours of penal code research ahead of you. There's about fifteen computers in there, all on line, all free! Anyway, K-Line had responded - they were leaving the next evening from Champ siding, just outside Portland and going as far as La Grande (eastern Oregon).

ON GOALS: Always keep your eye on the goal: to die with the most happiness points you can manage.

JOURNAL: Sunday, Sept. 14. Greyhound arrive (in Portland) 12:15 p.m. K-Line phone message. Champ siding 3:00 p.m. Wait. Bar. Polish guy. Pickle, peanuts, jerky. Train arrive at 6:50 p.m. Back Grainer, frantic, lost gloves. Retrieved gloves. Boxcar upgrade, barely. Clay on floor. Gorge beautiful. Wool socks, rain. K-Line almost dies.

The Hinkle yard is huge. Our train pulled up all way to the eastern end and we hopped off. This was about two in the morning. We sort of nosed around the eastern end for a bit, over couplings, in and around strings. None of us really knew what the hell. We were like three gerbils set loose in the Louvre. K-line thought the head ends stopped at the west end of the yard for crew changes. We didn't know if eastbounds left from anywhere else in the yard but Doc's 97 updates didn't mention anything like that. So we started west following a dirt road that ran along the southern boarder, shadowed and overgrown. It was a strange walk, everywhere around us this barren, desolate land stretching out into the night and then suddenly this train yard, this huge settlement in the middle of nowhere, lights, steam and metal, and in the distance towering machinery and fueling stations, like the last surviving outpost on a deserted planet.

ON FEAR: The antidote to fear is knowledge. G.T.

I'd guess it almost two miles to the west end. When we finally got there an eastbound had just pulled up on the main line, it's head end stopping next to two others, sort of like they were lined up at a toll bridge. We saw the crew change, two guys walking across to the main unit. I figured I'd go ask these guys where the train was going, more to get tacit permission to ride their train than anything (this was a well lit, cement platform area - there was no way we were going to sneak past the head end without being seen). Kollodi and K-line laid low and I approached them just as they were passing in front of the train about to climb the ladder. "Hey, there!" I said at about 20 yards (if you ever do this, take off your wool hat - you look less like a hoodlum). The first guy turned and said "hi" and quickly climbed the ladder. Some engineers are just like this - they're not out to get you but they don't want to get in trouble acknowledging your presence. The second guy said hi and paused for a bit.

"This train going to La Grande?" I asked.

"Yeah. Well, it's going quite a bit farther than that."

"But it's stopping in La Grande?"

"Yeah, it's stopping there."

"Okay, thanks."

I went back and waved K-line and Kollodi up and we went racing back to find a rideable. Yes! We were getting out of Hinkle!