“ The first time we only made it a couple of hours outside of Atlanta before we got too nervous to keep going. I ended up calling a girlfriend and having her pick me up. The next time we made it all the way to Florida.”
He paused, taking a sip of beer, and once more I became dimly aware of the sound of football in the background.
It was a typical Super Bowl party and people were sprawled on every available surface or loitering in the kitchen, not wanting to be too far away from a second helping of food or a beer refill. Normally I would be among the unashamed gluttons squatting near the chips and queso, but my attention was caught by what was turning out to be one of the most interesting tales I had heard in a long time.
The source was unexpected—a late twenties 9-5er that appeared, at first glance, more likely to have spent his spare time gaming than riding the rails in the era of planes, buses, and all other types of modern travel, but looks can be deceiving.
“ It started on whim. I was walking along the tracks with a buddy and we were passing a train right before its departure and we thought ‘what the hell, let’s hop on.’ It wasn’t one the passenger trains like Amtrak or anything, it was one of the freight trains. We were so nervous we were going to get caught that we only stayed on until the first stop.”
My first thought—only two guys would decide ‘hey I’m just going to jump on this random train because it’s there and why not.’ My second thought—I’m so glad they did; it makes for one hell of a story and there’s nothing I love better than a good story.
“The next time we made it all the way to Florida. That was just luck. We weren’t sure where the train was headed, we just knew we were going to stay on all the way this time. After a while we got to know the guys working in the rail yard and they would give us tips when a train was going to a location and after that we started taking more and more trips. I got a job delivering pizzas because the shifts were flexible and it was easy to hop on a train whenever there was one heading somewhere interesting. We weren’t the only ones; there was a whole community of us.”
As he blithely continued discussing his years of carefree pizza delivering in between exploring the United States by train, as if it was a perfectly normal thing for a person to do, my mind was busy mulling over the possibilities—a hodge podge community of rail riders in the modern era. I wonder who they were. I wonder how they got started. I wonder what their stories were…
I looked harder at the man who stood in front of me. He wasn’t part of the usual crew that made up the majority of the gathering. He was just a coworker of the host that was new in town. Our conversation had started with the usual polite chit chat reserved for someone you don’t know well but want to include in the evening so they don’t feel isolated, and somehow it had morphed into an unusual tale of adventure.
His story went unheard by most of the party caught up in the game, but it’s fueled my imagination and kept my attention even after all this time. Just as the best stories should…
Moral of the story: Talk to strangers. Not the banal small talk with answers you only half listen to. Really talk to them, because people have the best stories and everyone loves a good story.
The writing hiatus is over. After being overwhelmed with moving apartments, attempting to set up internet (spoiler alert: German internet and cable companies are more annoying to work with than in the USA), and trying to catch up on work, I’ve finally put fingers to keypad and started writing again. I figured the best way to break my longer than intended writing break would be to write about one of my traveler’s tales. It’s a story from a chance conversation in Dallas and one that has stuck with me more than a year later. I’ve been meaning to write about it for a while because a good story should be shared, so I’m glad I’ve finally gotten around to it. It’s been over a year so I’m sure I haven’t gotten every detail of the conversation perfect, but I do believe I’ve captured the essence of it and hopefully provided a bit of entertainment and a bit of fuel for the imagination.
Check back on Wednesday for the next post.