It had started to get a little chilly on the train and I was getting kinda tired. Lee said that we should be there soon. I was filled with all kinds of thoughts on whether or not I should go. There were about ten people on the same car as me heading through the mountains of Northern California to Dunsmuir for the West Coast Hobo Gathering. They had been talking about it non-stop since I got into the same car as them when our train side lined. I was supposed to be in Olympia to see one of my good friends graduate from college.
F*** it, you know. It's just gonna be one of those dumb formal gatherings where I'll go in caked in train dirt smelling like I haven't bathed in a month (which I haven't) and just be uncomfortable the whole time. Anyways this train isn't due to arrive in Seattle until the 16th and I have to be there on the 12th to make it on time.
Right at that moment the train started to slow down; we had made it into the yard and everyone was jumping off before we got too close to the yard office. I decided I was for sure gonna go. I threw my pack off and jumped down from the train.
It was a beautiful night, all the stars were out, the air was cool and fresh, the whole town had an amazing feeling that little mountain towns like that always seem to have with me.
We made our trek through town, digging through every dumpster we saw. After being on a train for almost three days dumpster food was heaven. We made it to this covered area where there were a couple water fountains and we all filled up our water bottles with Dunsmuir's self-proclaimed "best water in the world", which it says next to every water fountain in town.
We set off again and soon we had made it to the tracks on the other side of the yard. We walked down the tracks a ways and eventually saw a camp fire off in the woods. We yelled to them, they yelled to us, and we all kinda stumbled down the hill towards the fire. I made it through all the brush and got to the opening standing next to the fire while my eyes adjusted so I could see everyone around me.
Before I ever got that chance I was tackled by some drunk person yelling Flee and hugging me. It was one of my friends, Eric, from Austin, Texas, that I had squatted with in this amazing abandoned movie theater. Then sitting down right next to me was Trent, too. They introduced me to their old roaddog, Rob, and we sat down and talked all the rest of the night, catching up on who was where and what had happened since we last saw each other.
The next morning I woke up to people sitting around everywhere drinking coffee and beer, cooking breakfast. I sat down and started listening to one of the old train riders, Train Doc, tell a story about hopping on a barge that went from Seattle to Alaska in six days. Then came Northbank Fred with beer. Not only had the man gotten the permits for everything and had it all set up for us but he also bought beer. I knew I was in heaven at that moment. I had two of my favorite things there. I could sit and talk about trains with people that love them as much as me AND drink beer.
The rest of that day I sat around with my friends, got to meet all the old-school riders, and drank beer. I met Adman, Roadhog, Virgina Slim, and all kinds of other folks that had been hopping trains for more years then I've been alive. It was really great too, 'cause most of the old tramps and hobos that I meet are the drunks that sit around the yard and mumble to themselves the whole time and these guys were normal people (in my eyes) that made me proud to be a part of the train culture. The next day we all woke up and walked into town where this church was having an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast. We got up there and it was five dollars for each person!!!!
We didn't have any money, or if some of us did I'm sure other things (like alcohol) were higher up on the list of things to buy. So I went in there and talked to the guy taking money. I said that we were real authentic train riders here to celebrate their Railroad Days... and we had no money. He said we could all come in and eat, so we all piled in. When we got in line the guy stood up and introduced us as Hobos who came for Railroad Days and they all stood up and clapped for us. I had never felt so welcome in a town where I was bumming around. We all ate until we were going to explode and then went down to the Main Street to march in the parade for Railroad Days.
We were all waiting with our different instruments for the parade to start when the cops came and told us that we weren't permitted in the march and if we tried to be in it that they would arrest us. After some running back and forth between the organizers of the parade and the police the main organizer let us march as kind of a trial for years to come. We marched with our bindlestiffs, homemade instruments, and other weird sh*t we picked up along the way proudly.
We, who were normally shunned by society, had our moment where people treated us as equal human beings. It was amazing. The night was flowing with beer and whiskey. We sang and drank all night while Banjo Fred played the music. We were the kings and queens of all the universe that night, nothing mattered and everything was perfect. The next morning a group of us all woke up and after drinking some coffee to help jump start the day we all headed down the track about three miles in the blazing sun, trying to ignore our torched backs.
Finally we made it to a train bridge; we followed the trail down to one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. A waterfall that was at least a hundred feet across. Spilling down fresh water from the mountains. We all ran down to meet others that had been there. I ripped off my clothes and jumped into freshly melted snow. I don't think I've ever been in water so cold in my entire life.
The air was pushed out of my lungs and I think I turned blue but it felt so d*mn good after that walk in the murderous sun. We all sat around jumping in and out of the water for hours when some people started showing up. Half the people I was with were naked while the other half were in their underwear. Whole families started showing up with their kids and dogs and cameras so we decided it might be good to get dressed and go back to camp. When I got back I felt a heaviness in the air.
It was time to leave and people where all getting ready. I got all my stuff together, and sat around for awhile so that Trent, Rob, and Eric could get their stuff together. We said good bye to everyone with promises of being back next year. We went through town, hardly talking, to the hop out spot. It wasn't long before a train came; we got into a box car with both doors open and rode right past camp.
Now lots of crazy sh*t happened after that too, but this is a story about my experience with The West Coast Hobo Gathering, so I hope to see more people there next year.