Don't Cry For Me Rancho Cucumonga

my "you're a'peein' vacation"

Someone once pointed out that if you piss out of a boxcar door you'll be hooked [on freighthopping, not peeing in general] and I can only assume that they meant while you were moving, not sitting still. While I feel that pissing out of a boxcar door while the train is stopped doesn't invoke much to write home about, peeing on a moving train, especially one going fast, can be an experience that might stay with you for quite some time, and by "stay with you" I mean in your mind as well as on your clothes, shoes, etc.

It has been noted that if your train is moving at 60mph and you can somehow manage to pee for 1 minute, then you've laid out a stream, let's say, for 1 mile down the tracks. Try that in any other situation. In my beer-drinking days I joined the "One Miler Club", but I'm not really sure if every last drop landed on the ballast below. Some friends and I were riding from Pasco to Spokane one hot summer day in that boring excuse for a landscape called Eastern Washington. We brought plenty of beer and utilized it to its fullest potential. During the 5 or 6 hour trip we all took turns peeing out the side, and when we finally got off in the train after it stopped in the Spokane BN yard, there was a beautiful Jackson Pollockish design on the side of the boxcar, beginning about waist high in the doorway and fanning out like a peacock's tail, or maybe a comet's trail, depending on your viewing angle.

While the actual process of peeing out the door might not seem too complicated one hand holds onto the door, the other "aims" there are other factors that can interplay to create a delicate balancing act with no guaranteed outcome. Add a little crosswind, some curves, and a bad section of track and the "pros" are cut from the herd of wannabes. After a few messy experiences those without the requisite skill level are doomed to pee in the back corner of the car, leaving an olfactory greeting to future riders in the same car when it is traveling in the opposite direction.

Aside from a challenging urinal, the boxcar door provides a window into suburbia that isn't available in Real Estate brochures. While traveling along side of countless housing tracks, you can tell alot about the people living there by the debris that they throw over their back fence onto the railroad right-of-way. Putting their best face forward along the cul-de-sac, their true face is saved for the tracks. Trimmed palm fronds, grass and leaf mounds, broken Hot Wheels, chunks of cinder blocks... and who knows what lies beneath.

Industrial areas aren't nearly as pretentious as neighborhoods the railroad side of the business looks pretty much like any other side. An interesting sidelight of passing by these sections of towns is trying to guess just what it is that they do there. Coming into San Jose you can get a whiff of fresh potato chips even before you pass the Laura Scudders plant, and the smell of paint greets you as you speed by some auto detailing shop. If you're going through Emeryville at night your approach to the place where rebar is made can be quite a show, with clouds of smoke and the red-hot ladle of molten metal pouring into the waiting molds. Sort of like a stationary version of watching a rail grinder train working the track next to you.

The boxcar door functions as a big screen TV with the added elements of motion and smell. There's nothing like a 60mph wind coming in the door while rocking side to side to add a sense of realism to any landscape, and a photograph of a sagebrush-covered panorama after a rainstorm just isn't the same if you can't smell the sage. And lastly, there's no substitute for the blast furnace of hot air from the Nevada desert in the summer or the bone-chilling cold in the winter.

As nice as wide open boxcar doors can be to alleviate boredom on long trips, they can also serve as black holes to suck up anything not tied down that comes near them. For some unknown reason, on one train trip I brought along a glow-in-the-dark Super Ball for amusement. Alone in a boxcar at night, I brought it out and began bouncing it up and down, after "charging" it with my flashlight. Immediately a game was born, and I evolved into bouncing it off the adjacent wall, and eventually throwing it the length of the car, where it would come flying back at warp speed, looking like a tiny meteor headed right for me. As luck would have it, just as I was becoming engrossed in my skill at turning the little rubber ball into a boomerang that would return at a predictable spot every time, it caught some diminutive rugosity on the floor and came back at an angle, catching me off guard. Unable to intercept its flight, I had to watch it rebound off the wall behind me and strike the far wall way off-center, then, as I watched in utter disbelief, it caromed out the open door. Reflexively I ran to look out behind me and saw what looked like a drunken firefly disappearing along the ballast.

On another trip, also at night, and again for some unknown reason, I brought along a large 3-cell Maglite flashlight, along with my smaller one. I had the big flashlight turned on shining at the wall to create a "canvas" for some inebriated poetry writing with a magic marker. In the middle of an epiphany of sorts the car shook back and forth, which caused my flashlight to roll off my pack and begin to make large, lazy arcs on the floor as it rolled back and forth as the train sped around a curve. Before I could begin to retrieve it, the arcs became larger, and during one of them the flashlight, seemingly in slow motion, tipped over the edge of the doorway, never to be seen again.

As pleasant as it is to sit mesmerized by the passing tableau beyond the open door, the reactions of those outside to those inside can also be an amusement. Coming back from the Hobo Convention in Iowa, I was sitting in the door with my feet hanging out as we traveled across the monotonous expanse of eastern Wyoming (or maybe it was North Dakota? Montana?) when we slowly rolled over a road crossing before entering a siding. A car was stopped with a man and a woman inside. The man had a map unfolded in front of him, but the woman spotted me sitting there and immediately turned to the man and began talking to him and tapping him on his shoulder. Apparently he was engrossed in whatever he was doing, because the woman was in a frenzy trying to get him to look at the "hobo" passing by right in front of them. Finally he dropped the map long enough to turn to face the excited woman, and I knew his next move would be to turn in my direction following the woman's urgings, so I quickly rolled backward out of sight and remained there until we were far down the track, chuckling to myself that the man would be even less inclined to respond to the woman's requests from now on.

Later on the same trip, as we were diverted into yet another siding [the joys of riding junkers against the flow of traffic] I saw a small herd of antelope gathered at the fence line observing the train crawl by. Walking to the doorway I greeted them with an animated Rebel Yell as loud as I could, which immediately started a stampede in all directions of the compass. The speed at which antelope can move if necessary can not fully be appreciated unless they are observed up close and personal, and I was truly impressed.

Riding in the front of the boxcar allows you to see everyone and everything outside "after the fact", and virtually unnoticed as soon as someone sees you and a thought-cloud of "what the fuck?" appears above their head, you've moved on down the track, never to be seen again. Riding in the rear of the car, however, can leave one in a very vulnerable position, as rock-throwing morons can have plenty of time to aim and throw before you get too far away this I have learned the hard way.