the Firth of Fifth

adrift in a draft

In the beginning of the movie "The Beach", Leonardo DiCaprio (as Richard) notes:

We all travel thousands of miles just to watch TV and check in to somewhere with all the comforts of home, and you gotta ask yourself, what is the point of that?

While I might not have been a particularly receptive audience to that reasoning, I was certainly captive. Huddled in a boxcar in the Ogden freightyard, watching the falling snow accentuated by the powerful yard lights, my thoughts drifted to a faraway beach... a warm faraway beach.

I had walked the only string of cars in the yard and determined that they were going west, and that, except for the one open boxcar that I occupied, the only other rides were a few empty gons near the rear end. With midnight long past and a steady snow blowing off the lake, those empty gons meant nothing more than emergency rides if my boxcar got set out along the way.

The snow had piled up enough now on the ground that all sounds were lost, and a sense of sensory deprivation began to set in. The intensity of the back-lighted snow seemed to demand some sort of accompanying noise, but there was none. I briefly tried to bring up an excuse to just bail and check into a nearby motel for what remained of the night, but it required too much thought it was much easier to just sit back against my pack and drink wine.

I had plenty of food and water (and wine), and I wasn't really even cold, but something about my situation just shouted out that I should be miserable, which I wasn't. I imagined that I was just a tiny bit warmer and there was a TV in front of me, and except for being tired from walking around with a beverage-laden pack all day I really had no regrets.

Well, one regret I wish I knew when this train was going to leave so I could roll out in my bag and go to sleep. Normally, if there were several rides to choose from, I might check out the wheels to look for flat spots or evidence of "hunting", but I was already in the only reasonable car to ride so I left it up to chance if it turned into a "rocker" once we got going.

snow in yard

Getting up to pee I opted for the rear corner instead of trying to pee out the door with the wind blowing. The snow that made it into the doorway was drifting into a miniature version of sand dunes I saw while hiking in Arizona. An elongated pear-shape of snow, seen through squinted eyes, did indeed resemble a sand dune seen from above, and I was mesmerized for quite some time by this miniature drama playing out just a few feet away.

The routine settled down to the sound of the cap on the wine bottle being unscrewed, a swallowing sound, then the cap being replaced, repeated as necessary. I began to feel more comfortable with my ride even though we hadn't moved yet the car didn't shake back and forth when a gust of wind came up, which led me to believe that it might ride smoothly once we ever got on the road. The snow was now over a foot deep outside, and I hoped that whatever crew was called for this train wouldn't have difficulty getting to work.

A flash of light roused me from a brief slumber, and I saw the headlights of a truck making its way along the tracks and stopping periodically. Walking up to the doorway I saw someone get out of the truck and walk over to the cars on my track and disappear for a minute, then walk back to the truck and pull forward. At once the sound of air in the brakelines woke me completely, and I reached into my pack for my flashlight. Standing at the doorway, when the guy in the truck stopped a few cars away and walked over to my train I flashed the light in his direction.

It took awhile but he finally squinted into the blowing snow in my direction as I waved, and I hollered out "Elko?", to which he grinned and nodded, then turned back to his truck. Reaching inside for something, he walked back to the train, then turned toward me and approached my car almost on a run. He reached up and handed me a small lunch sack, then said "I hope you like turkey looks like you could use it more than me". We chatted a bit and I thanked him for the "lunch", then he said "Ride safe you should be leaving in a half hour or so".

He drove away after rolling the window down and waving, and I sat down and opened the sack. In it was the largest turkey sandwich I had ever seen. It was difficult to get it out of the sack, and in doing so I managed to spill a good amount of sauce on my pants. It was incredible! I was used to eating leftover turkey sandwiches for days after Thanksgiving and Christmas, but this must have just been something that his wife put together for his shift. I tried to imaging what he got to snack on if it was actually Thanksgiving!

I managed to get through about half of the sandwich before re-sealing it as best I could and packing it carefully in an outside pocket of my pack. Washing it down with more wine, I felt that if I had to trade the previous several hours inside this boxcar for a comfy hotel room with a hot shower and cable, I'd stay right where I was. I wasn't hungry, I wasn't cold, I had a good buzz on, and the uncertainty of my departure was over. Rolling out my bag, the last thing I remember before drifting off was looking out the doorway at the snow, as if it was a huge TV screen in my hotel room...