Train tracks mostly follow a straight line, the shortest distance between two points, so as much as our parents told us to stay off the tracks, if we had to walk somewhere, the tracks were the quickest way to get there.
The tracks were also the place to go if you wanted to evade the watchful eyes of adult authority.The forbidden-ness of the tracks puts you in outlaw territory.
I’m a hobo. I’m a runaway. I’m a fugitive.
Fugitive from what? Fugitive from every asshole that ever lived.
Leave me alone, for Chrissakes.
Most of the time, you’d be profoundly alone, counting the ties, matching your stride to the slightly irregular spaces between them, or balancing on the rail, pretending to be one of the Flying Wallenda Brothers.
Every now and then, you’d cross the path of a fellow traveler, a kid from somewhere else and bound for somewhere else, a kid you recognized from school, maybe a kid with a reputation, maybe a kid more scared of you than you’re scared of them.
Neither of you wanted to see the other.
There is no home-field advantage on the tracks. This is not mine. This is not yours. You go your way. I’ll go mine. We might say hello or exchange a nod. We might not. Mind your own business, and there is less likelihood for trouble to start.
And what is trouble, anyhow? You deal with what you have to deal with.
But what are you going to do when a train comes along?
What do you mean, What am I going to do when a train comes along? I’m going to get out of the way.
But what if there’s no place to go? What if you’re stuck, trapped?
You hear that?
Put your foot on the rail. Feel anything?
Put your ear to the rail. Hear anything?
Yep, one’s coming.
How far off?
I can’t tell. Does it matter?
There is nothing quite like being trapped in a narrow little canyon cut through solid rock when a train is coming.
You scramble for place to lay or stand, maybe with your back pressed against the wall of rock. If the engineer sees you, he’ll lean on that whistle. What are you doing here? Get off the tracks! Where am I supposed to go?
You feel the rattle and rumble in your stomach and up your spine, and if you get scared and want to panic, too bad. You ain’t going nowhere till that train has passed.
And after the roar has faded, wow, that was kind of cool.