On my first day of high school I overheard another student talking about a protest scheduled for noon at the "campanile". This was during the Sixties and protests about the Vietnam War and seemingly every other subject were quite common. The major stumbling block I faced when trying to decide weather I was going to attend the rally or find a quiet spot to eat lunch was that I didn't have a clue as to where the "campanile" was located.
My school was an older type that followed the time-worn mistake of placing "form" over "function". The building had no signs proclaiming "Science", "Chemistry", or "Mathematics", and the room numbers rarely achieved any sort of numerical order. Probably the hardest test I faced during the first few days of classes was to make it to each of my classes before the buzzer, and I was certainly not alone.
High school in the Sixties was a magical time. Nothing was un-debatable — subjects that were taboo in the Fifties were dissected to the nth degree in the Sixties, and forgotten in the Seventies. Everyone took sides... your friends became the enemy... the enemy became your friends. As if there wasn't enough going on in your daily life, there were drugs that multiplied that a hundredfold.
When that decade was finally over we needed to put our new found skills to work — it was time to leave the city and all of its problems and begin a simpler existence in the country. The drugs and free love were still there, but we traded the alleys and flophouses for mountains and forests. It was around this time that I took my first train trip.
Why anyone would not want to hop a freight was beyond me. It was fun, it was free, and it was a great way to travel, especially considering the shape most of my friend's vehicles were in at the time. It did, however, call for a general slowdown of one's activity level in general, as <understatement> the trains didn't always leave upon your arrival in the yard</understatement>.
Over the years, train trips went from 90% riding and 10% waiting to 90% walking to and from freightyards, figuring out which train was "yours", and sitting around waiting for it to leave, with the remaining 10% left for the actual riding. This meant that a large part of the thought processes present during riding the train were now better utilized during the "walking and waiting" stage, and this is where White Port came into play.
With so much time spent in a supportive role to actual riding, I began to focus on what would add to my comfort level when not actually riding. The riding part was covered by that time — warm clothes, gloves, earplugs, a good sleeping bag, foam pad, etc. These had to be chosen carefully, as once the train got going, your environment stayed pretty much the same. Prior to getting on the train, however, a number of activities would have to be addressed. Though large pieces of cardboard are often unwieldy when packed around, they are worth their diminutive weight in gold when hanging out under a bridge for hours. With the addition of a felt tip marker, they can be a canvas for a map of the journey and a journal of witty thoughts that emerge after a White Port session.
I've never had the urge to bring along books or a deck of cards, but a small radio, as well as a railroad scanner, can alleviate boredom quite well. But the absolute King of alleviating boredom has to be White Port. Unlike beer, you can shake it up and not notice any difference in taste. One caveat would have to involve the importance of keeping it at "room temperature" or below. If you want to experience what gasoline tastes like without actually having to taste gasoline itself, just leave a bottle of White Port out in the sun on a warm day. Extreme cold can wreak havoc as well — I unscrewed a bottle of Port when the temperature was below zero and watched it crystallize before my eyes.
The aforementioned cardboard can also smooth out the lumps of a gondola floor, serve as a windbreak, and, torn or cut into narrow strips, makes an excellent fire starter. At the suggestion of a third party I actually took along a small hammock on a train trip once, but it involved an undo amount of time getting me and my sleeping bag and pad situated comfortably, only to have to get up and pee a few minutes later. After swinging back and forth for an hour or two I disentangled myself and rolled out on the boxcar floor and enjoyed a great sleep.
The choice of conveyance has evolved over the years as well. My younger days were spent searching out (and waiting for) hotshots that would whisk me to my destination in the shortest amount of time. In later years, after being in those destinations many times, I opted for a boxcar whenever possible, with the elements in all their fury passing by outside. Trying to pack up my gear on a speeding piggyback when it's –8° was interesting and challenging the first time but definitely something to be avoided afterwards.
I was coming into Salt Lake from Oakland in the winter and wanted to bail off before we got up to the yard office, but the zipper on my sleeping back was frozen after exhaling on it in the cold. I couldn't get out unless I could unzip the bag and I had to rub it for several minutes with my bare hands to un-freeze it. By the time I got dressed and packed up my hands were too numb to grab hold of the ladder, so I had to wait until the train stopped, lie down on the edge of the trailer and roll off onto the ground. I turned around to walk away and the outbound crew, waiting just a few cars up, gave me a round of applause.