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Endless Summer

 


Crossing the Great Salt Lake (photo by C)

Summer Train Diaries - a loop through the western frontier. Caught the TACDEN (Tacoma to Denver) train to Wyoming, a westbound doublestack to Roseville, CA, a northbound grainer to Pasco, WA, and finally the fabled Stampede Pass mixed train over the mountains and back to Seattle.

Here are some cleaned up bits from my journal:

 

8/18
Sitting in an engine unit now, rolling through quiet farmland before heading up into the mountains to our eventual destination of Denver, Colorado. This trip has hardly started so who knows what will happen. There is always this strange feeling of trepidation I get every summer before I leave to travel. Who I will meet, what will I do, will I kiss anyone or make any friends or hurt myself somehow - all of those feelings balled up in my stomach, making me uneasy but excited.

Yesterday R dropped me off at my storage locker around 8am. Met C and his friend J, who was accompanying us to Denver so he could attend the DNC. After the boys took bird bathes in the public restroom we gathered up everything and started walking toward Spokane Street. It seemed to take forever with our heavy bags to get to the underpass by Daniel Smith but that was fine considering we would be sitting on our asses waiting for this train potentially for the next 12 hours. Train riding isn't especially strenuous, save for the frenzied few minutes when you are running over uneven ballast trying to hold onto a moving ladder.

J and I made a bet - he thought the train would come before 5pm, and the cynic in me thought after. Guess who won? He owes me a whiskey. Sometime around 6pm C perked up because they started finally talking about our train on the scanner. We knew this train would be hit or miss with rideable 48s, but J swore on a method of riding suicide (i.e. floorless) cars that wasn't actually suicidal. In a total feat of human engineering and ingenuity, we managed to carry two pallets (five if you count the rejects we left on the side of the tracks), along with this flexible wood sheeting we dumpstered, and plenty of cardboard onto the train. I thought it still looked sketchy with the wheels completely exposed, but the floor seemed safe enough, so I amended my resolution to never ride suicide and hopped aboard. Moments later we aired up and slowly crept out of Sodo and through Chinatown. Later on in the trip we would end up resting our feet on the moving wheels just for kicks.

 





Photo by C

 

We were rolling through the tunnel underneath downtown when we stopped for the first time. I got off to pee by the side of the tracks. I'd always wanted to pee in that tunnel. A few minutes later and we aired up again, only to stop less than a mile away, next to the grain terminal by Myrtle Edwards Park. After the train stopped there it wouldn't move again for nearly 24 hours. But we didn't know this, and we just went to bed thinking we'd be moving along soon. The sky got darker and ominously cloudy, and the air smelled damp like it was going to downpour any minute. I fell asleep more or less but C woke me up a few hours later since it had started to rain lightly and none of us had remembered to bring a tarp. He volunteered himself to get up and hunt for some material to shelter us. Maybe twenty minutes later he was back with some huge fold-out pieces of cardboard that we slept under for the rest of the night.

Morning light finally came and our car hadn't moved an inch. Morale was low as we kept watching train after train pass us on the adjacent track. C had the scanner playing back on his headphones the entire time but it was like all the dispatchers were on a permanent lunch break. Radio silence. After three hours of fucking around and eating peanut butter and jelly on the questionable bread J had found in a dumpster downtown, I issued an ultimatum. C and J had brought rain gear but I was freezing my ass off in a hoodie and a cheap sleeping bag that was only rated to 60 degrees. My vision of summer train riding in a bikini hadn't really included a rainy trip through a mountain pass. So we all agreed to get off the train and walk across the street to a conveniently located Taco Time, where we could thaw out and rest.

Sitting in a booth over an order of tater tots and powdered creamer coffee we discussed our options. This train was the only train going directly to Denver but we had no idea what was going on and why it had mysteriously stopped for so long. I checked the weather and learned that it was predicted to rain the entire way into the mountains. I was overreacting, but considering I had almost died on the last cold weather ride I had done, I was a little touchy about being wet and cold. I didn't want a reprise.

Taco Time was getting old so we walked across the driveway to a Starbucks, where they had outlets for us to charge our phones. We played a game of cribbage and J managed to beat me by just two points. After contemplating our situation over the meditative sound of cards shuffling, I decided that I would ride in the engine over the pass, and then run back to C and J's car before we reached Wenatchee. They didn't want to ride in the unit with me since they were on probation for getting caught riding UP a few months prior but that was ok. I was looking forward to passing out in front of the heater.

Shortly after his narrow cribbage victory, J decided to go wild and splurge on a green tea latte. While he was in line placing his order C started freaking out because he heard them call our train on the scanner. The entire staff of Starbucks was already mystified by us and they looked on slightly bemused as we threw our bags on and ran out the door and back across the street. After a brief goodbye C and J started running back towards their car, leaving me alone behind a warehouse. I could hear the train airing up and all of the sudden I felt so lonely.

I try not to ride in units very often but when I do I always try to observe some basic etiquette. One important point being that you shouldn't catch one during daylight hours, especially when you have to run in full view of the conductor's rear view mirror to hop on. Hiding behind the warehouse I was just out of sight, but as I was sweating and thinking about how I was going to get on I started freaking out, realizing how improbable it was. Just then I noticed two construction workers that had gotten out of their pickup in the parking lot next to the warehouse, arms crossed and intently watching me. Great, I had an audience. Then the train started to move.

 

 

I kept looking at the train and then looking back at the construction workers, thinking maybe they'd get bored watching some weird girl sneak on a train engine, but their feet stayed planted and they seemed to be discussing my next move amongst themselves. The train was beginning to move faster. I said a silent prayer and starting running very fast. Ten seconds later and I was hiding in the engine bathroom, unable to look back and see if my performance garnered any applause. I only hope they enjoyed watching. I spent the next half hour locked in the bathroom wondering if they had called me in.

And now I am sitting on the floor of the unit, warm and dry but all alone. Someone left the radio on but it is very crackly and I can't hear the dispatcher very well. Through the magic of cell phone technology I figured out that C and J are thirty cars back. I asked them to tie some plastic onto the ladder so when I go back I'll be able to tell what car they're hiding in. But I am still worried that if the train sides and I run back, I might not make it in time. I don't want to be left in the middle of nowhere, watching my train go by and worrying if I'm going to be eaten by bears.

 

 

8/23
Well, all that seems like a long time ago now. C and I are riding one of those endangered 48 wells across Utah now. We caught out pretty easily with another boy and his dog in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

I never got caught riding that unit. Before it even got dark I started getting impatient and I ran back to the well C and J were in. I was getting too paranoid about falling asleep. I didn't want to roll out my sleeping bag because I wasn't sure if I would wake up again in the middle of night before we got to Wenatchee, where they'd do an inspection and I'd have to hide in the bathroom. I kept trying to piece together what the radio was saying and it sounded like we were siding for an Amtrak train, so I got my stuff together and got ready to run. Since it was still light out the engineer and conductor could see me if they had looked. Maybe they did, maybe they didn't - I don't know. After huffing and puffing I made it. Luckily it seemed like the rain had passed.

When I climbed back into the well C and J had a cold six-pack of Pabst between them. Turns out at the last siding their car was parallel to a gas station and J made a beer run. The entire time I was up front in the engine worrying they were leisurely relaxing as the train snaked through the forest. It made me wish I had just saved myself the stress and gotten onto the same car with them in the first place. We stayed up a little bit longer playing cribbage until it got too dark to see the cards, and then we laid down in our bags and stared at the sky until we fell asleep.

The next morning we woke up in Hauser, Idaho. We stopped there for a long time, not sure how long exactly, but long enough that we stopped measuring time because it was making us go crazy. The units detached and refueled and the auto racks that had been on the back of the train were moved to the front.


Rootbeer run in Greybull, Wyoming

 

After playing several more rounds of three-handed cribbage the brakes aired up and we were off again. I was starting to win every game and C and J were starting to hate me. The scenery was beautiful but after the coldness of the mountains the heat was blistering. Of course the boys took off their shirts and rolled up their shorts but I didn't really feel comfortable breaking out the bikini just yet, so I just wore my vest and jeans and dealt with it. Soon the green part of Montana slipped away and everything slowly faded to brown, and then we were in Wyoming.

 

 

I had convinced the boys that we should get off at some point before Denver, so we could be tourists and sightsee, and also so J could buy me that drink. C wasn't that crazy about going to Denver anyway, and since Cheyenne was only one stop away from Denver we decided to get off there and J would just hitch in. I was also fixated on the idea of getting a cheap motel room, so I could shower and lay around watching TV movies. Of course C and J weren't interested in such bourgeois ideas like cleanliness but I was buying so they reluctantly agreed to come along. We were pretty filthy. I was getting tired of watching J pick the goo out from in between his toes before he offered to make everyone sandwiches.

 




Photos by C

 

One more day of sweltering hot weather with no shade and we were rolling into Cheyenne. There was a huge air force base north of town that we had to pass through first, but we made it out ok, despite our car stopping directly under the four surveillance cameras next to the fenced border.

It was a long exhausting walk back from the tracks, not sure exactly where we were going but trying to keep the few tall buildings in sight so we would eventually end up downtown.

 

 

8/25
I got distracted. New day here in Oakland. Drinking tea under a warm fuzzy blanket at my uncle's house. C and I got here after our defeat in Roseville. A UP cop pulled us off our beloved train, and now we both have tickets and court dates.

Last night I dreamt for the first time in a long time.

 

 

8/26
Sitting now in a boxcar, up against the warm metal wall, watching little butterflies float by and sagebrush wiggle in the wind. Not sure why, but we've stopped. I thought at first they were throwing a switch but now I'm not so sure.

We are in Northern California now, next stop, K Falls.

Let's see what has happened since I last reported -

In Cheyenne we walked forever until we got downtown. I had been so excited to visit Wyoming, and even though we were going to be in the dry eastern side of the state, and not my preferred western side, I guess I was expecting more. But half the shops were closed or boarded up, and there wasn't anyone walking in the streets. The whole town looked economically depressed, empty and sad.

All three of us were indecisive and tired but we eventually agreed on eating breakfast at a greasy spoon. We trekked over past the freeway to order some bad food. The diner didn't have much atmosphere, and it was part of a chain, with big laminated menus and thirty varieties of pie. I ordered something forgettable and they screwed it up. The boys took turns locking themselves in the bathroom, shaving and sloughing off grime with paper towels. C came back from the bathroom with his whole head wet like he had washed his hair in the sink and the waitress gave me a funny look. The whole time I sat in the booth I wished I had just ordered the apple pie.

After settling the bill I sat outside to put on new socks, and while I was doing that I stupidly left my favorite bandanna on an ornamental rock. That little square of cloth had been around for two years, stained with the sweat of the cowboy I met the previous summer during my pivotal time as a ranch hand. By the time I remembered and went back to find it, it was long gone.

Bellies bulging, we walked over to the train depot, an apparent tourist destination with well-manicured lawns that were enticing us to loiter. C found unsupervised power outlets to charge the batteries for the scanner and we stretched out in the sun like cats to discuss our travel plans over clove cigarettes. While we were talking a local character covered in multiple variants of the same blown out Jesus tattoo came over and started talking our ears off. J had left us earlier to go find a sleeping bag at the Salvation Army, since the original had fallen out of the train somewhere in between Idaho and Montana. When he came back empty-handed he met our mostly coherent new friend and in the space of a few minutes managed to strike a deal involving a trade of Jack Daniel's for a freshly washed sleeping bag that was at an undisclosed location a few minutes away.

After an hour of waiting J came back a new man, gently used sleeping bag in tow. It was then mutually agreed upon that it was high time for a cocktail. There was a bar across the way that seemed suitable, and I enjoyed my whiskey and coke over yet another game of cribbage, which I let J win since I felt bad for him. Victorious, he stood up on his chair and did an a cappella rendition of "We are the Champions" while everyone else in the bar hooted and hollered. I broke my vows of vegetarianism and ordered a buffalo burger in honor of the majestic animals that once roamed freely over the West, until the great railroad barons drove them to near extinction. It tasted bland and wasn't as exciting as I thought it would be, but it did make my cramps go away.

Listlessness had taken over and by that point all three of us were sick of Cheyenne. I had high hopes for Wyoming, but there were no rodeo days, no tight-muscled cowboys. We retreated back to the side streets of downtown, walking parallel to the UP yard. C and J wandered off to buy Kit-Kat bars while I posed as a sweet and innocent young thing and got a single room at the Ranger Motel. Key fob in hand, I unlocked the door and collapsed onto one of the sagging beds, before having some well-deserved bathroom time and calling my mother. A few minutes later C and J appeared at the door and I let them in.

I was pretty disgusting, so I took a shower, washed my hair, and shaved. Thankfully C and J took showers too, and after we were all scrubbed pink we laid around in bed and indulged in one of my favorite motel past times - watching bad cable. Unfortunately the only thing on TV was the Olympics, and not even good Olympics like gymnastics but boring shit like volleyball. Soon the TV was shut off and we fell into a deep sleep. I don't remember what I dreamt about, but the bed was warm and soft and that was real nice.

The next morning J said goodbye and left to go to take his place on the side of the highway with his thumb in the breeze. I went to go check-out and C left the room without thinking, walking right past the office and earning me a ten-minute lecture from the Pakistani motel proprietor. $10 poorer, I walked out of that motel office and didn't look back. C was waiting down the street but I caught up and then we wandered.

The previous day we had met a fellow train rider and his cute little dog. He had hopped all the way from New Mexico and had just gotten back from the Rainbow Gathering. C and I were having coffee on the sidewalk outside some awful cafe that sold teddie bears and pre-packaged baked goods when we ran into this young man again. He was also heading west, but just one crew change stop away, to Green River. The three of us (four, including doggie) fell into sort of a motley crew, not saying all that much to each other, but content with our new company and sharing a common interest of getting out of Cheyenne as soon as possible. For the rest of the day we walked around town with our gear, stopping by the Safeway and the library to print maps, and then to the catch-out spot just down the road. We settled down on some forlorn-looking pallets and began a wait that would take us into the late evening.

Up until this summer I had never traveled with a scanner, even though my dad bought me one for Christmas two years before. It had always seemed too complicated to program, and besides that it just felt like cheating. I already knew how to track trains with my cell phone and that seemed bad enough. I had given my scanner to C a few months before since he had lost his, and after doing this trip with him and using the scanner to track trains I had to admit that cheating felt good. Before every train rolled by we would already know where it had come from and where it was going.

I finished reading my book (Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, which I was reading because a regular customer of mine at the peepshow always told me I reminded him of Oryx) and we must have played another ten rounds of cribbage before finally an eastbound IM train heading for Oakland was announced to be approaching by the yard dispatcher. Drowsily we began the usual scramble to pack everything away in our bags, ducking into the bushes for any last minute pees. Staying close to the shadows of buildings, the three of us began running alongside the train, half-squatting in the dark, and scanning each car to see if it was ridable or not. When the train finally slowed to a stop we got lucky - there were three or four 48s right in front of us. Sometimes it's almost too easy. I threw over our bundles of cardboard and grabbed one of them while C helped our friend hoist his puppy into his own car, and then he ran back to me and we were off.

The next thing I remember is waking up and looking out at a bright blue sky. We were in Green River - our first crew change. Our friend hopped off his car with his dog and came over to bid us farewell, before I pulled my sleeping bag back up over my eyes and tried to will myself out of Wyoming.

When I regained consciousness our long intermodal train was snaking through a dry desolate landscape of red rock and dust. Welcome to Utah. It was hot and C and I sat up on the ledge, taking turns smoking cigarettes and laying down, sucking up all the sun and feeling the wind hit our bodies, our faces. Quietly we watched the world pass us, invisible. This feeling of invisibility is why I love riding trains so much. I love to sit back and observe without participating. Maybe it's a cop-out.

I was so excited to finally cross the Great Salt Lake but the wall of black flies that greeted our arrival were just as excited. They swarmed around our heads until our train picked up speed and started its long straight shot over the salt plains. For the first twenty minutes it was novel, but after an hour of staring at nothing but gray I was really starting to miss trees. It smelled bad, too.

After Utah, riding through Nevada was more or less forgettable. Nighttime on the train means no reading without using a headlamp and no passing out in a bikini on top of your cardboard. Try as I might to destroy my lungs and liver by smoking and drinking whiskey (classic nighttime train activities), I never last longer than a few minutes before I get bored or I start feeling sick. And so most of Nevada for me was experienced on my back, staring at the sky through the small sliver opening of my sleeping bag.

 

 

C and I woke up early with the sun rising, near the California/Nevada border and on our way to the scenic Feather River Canyon. I grew up traveling up and down the west coast and in California, and leaving Nevada and all points east meant saying goodbye to cowboys, wild west frontiers, prairies, white people, and organized religion. California to me means hippies, easy hitching, the ocean, safety, and decent coffee. Despite everything, it felt good to be back.

Our train was destined for Oakland, where the UP yard is only a few miles away from my uncle's house and where we could stay for a night before heading back north. Everything seemed ideal. The ride through the Feather River Canyon was gorgeous, and after we passed Keddie we began the last haul through the fertile central valley, on our way to the coast. Strip mall, farm, strip mall, farm. Our next crew change was Sacramento, but before then we had to pass through Roseville - the largest freight yard on the west coast. It was also known as being rather hot, and I'd always managed to avoid it. I have ridden through dozens of so-called hot yards before and if you're smart it's not really an issue, but it was just one more thing to think about.

We were still fifteen or twenty minutes outside of Roseville when I got impatient and peeked over the edge of our car to see how close to civilization we were. Stupid. Directly parallel to our train was a cop car trailing us on the highway, and not just any cop but a UP cop. I was down in a second but he would have had to been blind not see me. C turned on the scanner to see if they'd started talking about us, but everything seemed normal. When the train reached Roseville and started slowing down we thought about bailing but C still hadn't heard anything on the scanner, so he thought we were probably fine.

Our train stopped and within a few minutes we heard the familiar sound of car tires on ballast, and then a door slam and the crunch-crunch of someone walking towards us. He knew where we were and went directly to our car. "Hi there." He peered over the lip of the well and told us to get our stuff together and get off the train.

It was sweltering and we sat in the shade of his SUV while he wrote out citations. We said everything we could say but it was no use - after getting caught so many times and riding trains all over the country I guess I was due for my first ticket. He took our pictures and said they were going into the nationwide UP database, but I knew that meant nothing because everyone I knew was in that database and they never checked it. C had already been ticketed and arrested several times. I took my hat off for the first time in three days for my glamour shot and my glasses broke. Then I watched as our train aired up behind the SUV and left without us. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Officer Conley drove us to the train station and wished us good luck. When I asked him how many kids he caught in Roseville he said usually one a day. "If they're smart," he smirked, "they keep their heads down." Eat shit, asshole!

C and I found a taco place, drank horchata and discussed our next move. We carefully folded our tickets up and put them in our packs - we were due back in Sacramento in two months for a court date, and if we didn't show we'd both have national warrants out for our arrest. If we wanted to catch out from Roseville we'd have to wait until our friend's shift was over and it was dark, but by then we were so close to Oakland that we just said fuck it and got on a bus. By evening we were walking up to my uncle's porch, where he had hidden a key for us. Him and his boyfriend were on vacation and we had the place to ourselves for the night.

After a leisurely day spent showering and eating hot food we packed up and took a bus out of Oakland. We could have caught out of the UP yard by my uncle's house but if we got caught again on UP property we would probably get arrested. So instead we went to the BNSF yard in Stockton.

We used the directions in our crew change guide to find a little dead end street in a residential neighborhood, where there was a hole in a fence, and on the other side, the BNSF mainline. We camped out for a few hours, reading and cracking open almonds from the tree we were sitting under. C went on a run to find cardboard and burritos, and I got my kicks seeing how long I could videotape him without him noticing. He was listening to the scanner and the first train the dispatcher called was headed for Pasco. Perfect. We waited for the train to pull in front of us and then we went through the fence and climbed onto a grainer.

I have taken the train through Oregon many times but always on UP track, passing through Eugene after descending from Klamath Falls. BNSF trackage also went through Klamath, but soon after the tracks split off and headed through the mountains to Bend, and then back down along the Columbia River before reaching Pasco. I was excited to see new territory but it was going to be cold as fuck going through the mountains on a grainer at night.

Our grainer ended up being the grainer from hell, because once the train got going it rattled so hard that we had to hold on with both hands to keep from falling off. My knees got cut up from slamming into the floor again and again, and so when the train sided for the first time we packed up our things and tried to switch cars. We were adjacent to a huge farm and before we hopped off two workers in an old pick-up truck saw us. C ran over to say hello and after rattling away in Spanish for a few minutes he returned with his arms full of presents. The workers were total sweethearts and we were now in possession of a watermelon, cantaloupe, two Red Bulls, three sodas, ice cold water, juice, over three pounds of almonds, an entire bag of cucumbers, and a salt shaker (absolutely essential for the cukes, they insisted). We ended up carrying that watermelon across two states!

We decamped to a boxcar and then we were on our way.

 


Time tables - exciting. Photo by C.

 

9/1
I spent last night sleeping on a sheet of plywood in the backyard of a restaurant. But I feel fine.

What else, what else - oh yes. Klamath. Uneventful. Many moons ago I got stranded in Klamath Falls with my friend A, left by a train. We ate pancakes there, hitchhiked with a lonely trucker. This time I stayed on the train. After a few hours of waiting around it finished working in the yard and then we started north for the mountains and the cold.

It was gorgeous out but freezing. After laying down in front of the open boxcar door all day C and I moved to the far reaches of the front corner. We slept, more or less, tossing and turning under a mountain of cardboard, sleeping bags, blankets, and the fabric of my hammock. When we woke up we were on the edge of Oregon, crossing one of my favorite rivers, star of the Northwest - the Columbia.

Boxcars are beautiful and for traveling through scenic country, hard to beat. You can sit in front of the door and zone out on nature for hours. But I don't like getting on or off of them when they're moving, which drastically reduces their desirability. I like fast exits, and accidents are too easy when there's such a wide space beneath your car, sucking air and limbs under. C had a lot of experience in the train yard in Pasco and he figured that we'd have to bail off when the train was slowing down before it entered the yard. So we moved yet again, this time to another grainer.

After eating our watermelon we were in Pasco. As the train took a wide turn into the yard and passed the Amtrak station we got ready to jump. But it was still going too fast for me. I started arguing with C - he didn't want to get caught in the yard but I would rather risk getting caught then jump off a train that was moving too fast. He kept trying to make me feel stupid, even though I have jumped off plenty of fast trains. I wanted to hit him for being such a dick but before I could he jumped off without me (of course he was fine).

I stayed on the train and watched him get smaller and smaller and then I really did feel stupid for not jumping. I started dreading walking back with all my gear just to catch up with him, so I climbed around the ladder. I had gotten off trains going the same speed but for some reason I just didn't feel good about getting off of this one. I put my foot down on the ballast and it immediately kicked up. Oh well, here goes - I threw my water and backpack off the side and held onto the rungs and ran with the train for a few seconds before letting go. But something went wrong - it was all a blur, but somehow I lost my footing and then I was holding onto the ladder with one hand as the train dragged me through the rocks. Without using my legs it was hard to push away from the train but I let go anyway. I landed on my bad shoulder (I have a torn rotator cuff) but on the upside at least I still had my legs! I wanted to get out of the yard as quickly as possible, so I hobbled back to where my stuff fell, grabbed it, and ran to the highway.

By the time I reached C I was not very happy. "Did you see that?" I asked. "See what?" I spent the rest of the day hating him and rubbing my arm. We began the shitty, long walk down the highway back into town, eventually reaching the train station, where we used the bathrooms. Just down the road from the train station there was a building C knew we could wait behind to catch the once-daily Stampede Pass train to Seattle. It was C's favorite ride and one that had just recently opened after being out of service for a long time. It was rather elusive and not everyone knew how to catch it, but it wasn't much of a challenge if you just knew what to look for.

We had gotten bored with waiting and had gone on a pastry run so C could feed his sugar addiction and flirt with the Mexican mamacitas in the aprons. I was holding his extra large coffee when suddenly he froze - he was wearing headphones and listening to the scanner as we walked around (dork) and he heard them call our train. Out the door, he started running to the train yard, without me. Like an idiot I started running after him, with his coffee. By the time we reached the tracks I wanted to kill him. My shoulder hurt, I was out of breath, and the train was going too fast anyway. He yelled at me to get on it but my left arm wasn't fully functional and I couldn't get a grip on the ladder rungs. I told him to catch it by himself but he stayed put, pouting. The FRED on the last car passed us and then it was his turn to stop talking to me.

 


Empanadas, anyone?

 

The Stampede Pass train originates in Pasco and does a long crew-change in Ellensburg, before chugging over the mountains and into Seattle. If we missed it we still had a chance of beating it to Ellensburg and catching it there. So we walked to the bus station and bought a ticket.

Nothing says 'loser' quite like Greyhound. We got in line and noticed a tall, slim Vietnamese kid waiting to get on the bus with us. He had a death stare like you wouldn't believe and when people walked by him, saying 'Excuse me', he just stood there, mute. When it was his turn to hand his ticket over and board, he just looked at the driver, silent. He was already weirding out everyone and we weren't even on the bus yet. People started whispering to each other - this was just a few weeks after the news story broke about the guy on the Greyhound bus in Canada that decapitated the kid sitting next to him, before taking the whole bus hostage.

C and I were sitting across the aisle and a couple rows back from him. Every so often he would slowly turn his head and stare at me blankly, before I forced myself to look away, terrified. A few minutes after we got on the highway he stood up without a word, moved to the aisle, and laid down on his back. Everyone was silent. A beefy, bloated pink man sitting across from him finally told him to get up, and when he didn't get a response, he lifted him up by his arms and threw him violently back into his seat.

This went on two more times before the idiot put the kid in a choke hold and everyone on the bus was horrified. The bus driver, of course, was completely oblivious. By the time we got to our first stop, a gas station in some nowhere town, everyone leapt out of their seats to get out. I bought a newspaper and sat on the curb while everyone paced back and forth with their slurpees and someone called the cops. When the bus finally pulled away from the gas station the pudgy group of white boys sitting in the front gave each other high fives. Out the window, the boy that got kicked off looked completely devastated, while the cops looked at him, mystified.

Despite an hour delay by the time we got to Ellensburg our train was still waiting for us on the mainline. Up the highway we found the Red Horse Diner, where I promised C I'd buy him a slice of pie (our past grievances had been forgotten in the bus drama). But the diner didn't have pie (what kind of a diner is that?), so instead we shared a root beer float on the back deck, just thirty feet away from the train tracks. The scanner was on and when the crew got called we could just settle our bill and walk on over.

A couple hours later and it was time. We got our coffees in 'to go' cups and walked down to the tracks to find a car to ride. The train was made up of mostly tankers, but toward the end there were some grainers with floors. We found one that seemed suitable, climbed on, and began our final descent home to Western Washington.

Like our first ride out of the city, the sky turned dark and it started to rain. We retreated to the twin cubbies of the grainer, scrunching up but staying dry. I've always liked sleeping on grainers (especially Canadian ones, which are rather spacious), but C hated it and kept complaining, which I had to admit was a little satisfying to hear. Riding this train through the mist of the mountains and over Stampede Pass was beautiful but somewhat anti-climatic. It was around 2am when we reached Georgetown, south of downtown Seattle. We stood up and stretched, and just as I thought all the slack in the train had been let out there was a tremendous jolt and I went flying toward the coupler. Luckily the crossbar stopped me from falling over, but I got a huge cut on my arm, despite all the layers of clothing I was wearing. A parting kiss, I suppose.

It was too late to show up on my ex-boyfriend's doorstep so we hiked up Airport Way South, trying to find a safe place to sleep. Behind the Rainier Cold Storage building there was a good spot C knew of, but before we put down our cardboard we noticed a security guard making his rounds. We went back to walking on the main street and eventually found a fenced backyard to slip into. We found a piece of plywood and propped it up behind a storage shed before passing out on the ground. By 8am the next morning we were back at our storage locker, dropping off our bags, before splitting up for the last time and going home, wherever that was.