Riding the Möbius Line

the beginning is never the end

I had been in Seattle for three days now and was getting the itch to move on. I'd checked out the Pike Place Market, several used book stores, the Sallys, and even visited an Ozzy Osbourne concert at some park near the Space Needle. That rated a definite "weird" as far as the touristy spots went. You've got a bunch of normally strange looking people to begin with you know, people who live in Washington, and then they dress up even stranger and sit out on the grass under a bright, intense sun for hours listening to strange music... and you end up with a bunch of red-faced strange-looking people who are either drunk or stoned or neither, and it was just a little too much for me, so I picked up my pack from the bus station locker and headed first to a liquor store and then to a bus stop so I could get up to the BN yard north of town.

The thought of hanging out in a freightyard without hundreds of strange looking people around seemed almost too good to be true, and I didn't mind at all when I arrived at the bus stop and some vet in a wheelchair said that I'd "just missed the bus" and that there would be another one in about an hour. Feeling obligated to continue the conversation, I asked him where he was headed and he replied that he was meeting a friend in town to score some dope. I cautioned him about avoiding the army of mutants leaving the outdoor concert and he expressed remorse at not being able to attend, so I in turned feigned my own remorse, and we began to share some invisible bond.

He asked if I was riding freights and I told him yeah, I was going to catch out going north up to Everett, then east over to Spokane. He replied that he'd always wanted to try that [freighthopping] but somehow never got around to it. The conversation flowed back and forth between traveling by train and traveling by fishing boat, as he'd spent a few years on a boat between here and Alaska fishing for bottom fish. I was relieved that the subject of Vietnam never came up, even though he was decked out in camouflage pants and shirt, with several medals or patches or whatever it is that they wear on their uniforms. He never seemed to dominate the conversation or let it lag, for that matter. When my bus arrived I was almost reluctant to get on board, as there have been way too many times when I was stuck next to someone who wouldn't shut up about incredibly boring subjects, and listening to the vet had been quite relaxing, but the thought of getting out of town on a train was foremost in my mind, so I said goodbye and got on the bus.

Almost before I had a chance to set my pack down and get my bearings, the lower end of the freightyard came into view, and I realized that I had lost track of where I was and could have easily walked to the yard during the time I spent waiting at the bus stop. Oh well, I thought, some things are just meant to be. The yard was set in a big depression in the ground, and passing by in the bus didn't afford me much of a view as to where I was supposed to wait, so I got off at a major looking cross street and began to head over to an overpass to check things out. Peering over the edge of the bridge at the tracks below, I was startled when I heard someone yell for me to get back away from the edge. Apparently there was somebody under the bridge that was warning me to stay out of sight, so I walked around and climbed down underneath and came upon a couple of older tramps who apparently were hiding from the Bull.

the freightyard

They said that they'd been waiting since this morning for a northbound train but every time they'd climb down the embankment to cross over some yard tracks the Bull would drive by and they'd have to retreat. I learned that the Bull was well aware of places that tramps would wait to catch out, and was no slouch in appearing there at just the right moment. We discussed the pros and cons of catching out in different parts of the yard, and even calling in a phoney report of "people throwing stuff on the tracks" at some distant location to draw the Bull away just as a train was leaving. We soon developed a bond similar to the one I shared with the vet at the bus stop, and I set down my gear and brought out a celebratory bottle of White Port, which was greeted as if Jesus Himself had just walked up.

The afternoon was spent telling stories about events that occurred either before, during, or after riding freights. Unlike the vet, whose repertoire was quite diverse, the tramps were content to limit their experiences to those occuring on or near the rails. Getting kicked off the train in Minot, getting kicked off the train in Billings, etc. Some of their fondest memories were from stays in rescue missions, strangely enough. The few times that I had to resort to a night in a mission were unpleasant, to say the least, as it seemed like sleeping there was like being in the middle of an all night coughing contest. Breathing through my nose wasn't working, and I resorted to pulling my bandana up over my face to ward off harmful pathogens that were no doubt swirling around me in the dark

It was now getting into the late afternoon and I was getting tired of sitting around, so I gathered up my gear and told my friends that I was embarking on a little surveillance journey to check out some strings of cars for possible rides, This was met with disbelief from the tramps, who advised me to wait until dark, when the Bull must surely be off duty, but I told them that I'd be careful and only be gone for a little while. From their expressions you'd think that I was some soldier going off alone into Indian Territory, and they took bets on how long it would be until I came running back with a stern warning from the Bull not to be found in the yard again. Thinking myself to be rather adept at eluding the Bull, I climbed down to track level and made my way over to the end of a string of cars.

There was not a whole lot of room between adjacent strings, and with a slight curve to the tracks it would be difficult for anyone to see me unless they were walking around like I was. Thinking that the Bull would probably be driving up and down a service road that paralleled one side of the yard, I remained a track or two away, and calmly made my way up one string and down another. At one point I was startled to see a figure approaching me, wearing coveralls and a cowboy hat, but not carrying any gear. Thinking it was another tramp who had stashed his gear in a nearby boxcar, I smiled when he got near but it quickly melted away when I saw that he was wearing a pistol belt with a revolver, badge, and radio tucked in a hip pocket. I couldn't believe it the Bull was dressed in "civvies" and walking through the yard!

Almost cracking a smile when he saw the confused expression that must have been on my face, he identified himself and told me that I was trespassing and would have to leave immediately. He asked me if I was alone, then filled me in on the reason that he was on foot an alarming number of breakins to containers and trailers had prompted the change from just driving around the perimeter. Since at the time he stopped me I had made it almost down to the south end of the yard, I meekly asked him if I could just retrace my steps and go back up to the north end where the overpass was, but he said no, that I'd have to walk out the south end and go over to the same street my bus came in on, only about a mile south of where I got off. Relieved that he just kicked me out and didn't issue me a ticket, I dutifully exited the yard and began the long route back to the overpass, where I planned to hang out until dark before I re-entered the yard.

Noting that this would require an extended stay under the bridge with the two tramps, I stopped at a small market and came away with a few more bottles of wine. Finally arriving back under the bridge, I was besieged with questions about what I encountered in the yard, and they were as surprised as I was when I told them about the "cowboy" Bull I met. They, it seems, were apprehended by a Bull driving a car, and from the description they gave it wasn't the same Bull that I met. This meant one of two things either there was more than one Bull in this yard or they changed shifts sometime in the middle of the day, which seemed odd. In any case, I wanted to get the heck out of there on a train, so it was settled upon that we'd wait until dark, and then make a concerted effort to leave town.

part 2 of 3