One Way Around the World (1)

As the rolling freight car jolted me awake, the door seemed to have moved.  On my next levitation as the train ran over another bad section of track, I realized the door was slowing closing with each jolt and if it continued on its trajectory, it would close me in for good.  

When I jumped aboard to ride the rails from the Chicago freight yard to the Northwest, I checked the door and it was stuck open.  This was becoming the nightmare scenario naysayers had warned me about.  “What if you get stuck inside and no one finds you for weeks…and by then you’re a goner!”  The railroad workers had given me a ride on a working rail yard engine to the train (advising me to stay on the side opposite the rail yard control tower to avoid management scrutiny).  They found me a Hot Shot bound for the Northwest that would shoot straight through to my destination in a matter of days.  They dropped me off and generously suggested I pick any freight car.  I checked several…this one was too dirty, that one might have an unknown occupant (though I did not stick my head in) and finally I found my suitable chariot, with one door closed and the other stuck open for a view.  I would have ventilation without vicious cross-winds chilling me to the bone. (This was October and there was frost on some cars.)

I tossed my Gerry Back Pack up and hoisted myself in.  The place was immaculate except for a few 2×4’s.   The back pack was a bit of a liability since it was brand new.  I had tried to age it considerably by rubbing mud onto the fabric before taking off on my expedition, but it was no hobo swag.   There was very little chance I would blend in with a hobo crowd. 

An acquaintance who had ridden the rails across Canada had warned me to avoid security personnel aka “Bulls”, yet the experience for him had been totally rewarding.  For the first leg of my global travels, this looked promising.  In Chicago I had stopped by the Burlington Northern headquarters and got a map of the railroad system just to get a sense of direction.  I was still uncertain where this trek was to take me but I knew I had to break from the “expected” course of a career that had been shaping my future.   Having spent those college break summers doing monkey research in the field (Puerto Rico, St Kitts, and Colombia), I was seen as having launched into a career path with gusto by others in the academic community.   I was digging myself a career track that seemed unlikely to be as creative as I had hoped – much as I enjoyed trekking through tropical forests.   I did not want to get stuck in a rut.

Reorienting my internal compass might take a real shake-up. Uprooting from all that was familiar and comfortable could land me in deep shit or shift my bearings enough to seek new purposes for my life.  The academic life, though successfully achieved by my father, was beginning to look a bit claustrophobic for me.  The Hobo life was probably not the choice preferred by my family.

I was as prepared as I thought necessary. Besides the sturdy pack, I had a Gerry mummy sleeping bag, a one-person tent, a mini-stove with cup and plate, flashlight, hunting knife (and fork plus spoon), jeans, socks, underwear, shirts, hiking boots, rain gear, down jacket, gloves, warm hat and sufficient food items to get me across the country (as long as it did not take more than three or four days.)  And toiletries to deal with ablutions on the road.   How to take a crap on a moving freight car was still a mystery to be solved.

THE DOOR WAS CLOSING. I now had to take some desperate action but what. 

About Whittoons

Cartoonist, and community organizer who has covered the globe as a doodlebugger, gandydancer, supernumerary steward, Able Bodied Seaman, Wireman, monkey man, Night Baker and dishwasher, Hobo, hitchhiker and husband.
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