Thanks to my Editors: BlackKnight, DuffieDawg, FuzzyWuzzy & Gandalf4217
The kid was green, so obviously new at being on the rails that everything was still exciting and an adventure to him. Poor sod, he'd get over that soon enough, but I still remembered the thrill of my first ride back in the 1960's, and so I let him enjoy his 'moment'. There would be damned few other ones worthy of remembering later.
"Kid, I don't know what the hell you're doing here, but this ain't the glory days of hobos riding the rails anymore, and there are dumber fucks than you out there now that will cut your pudgy throat in a LA second to take your wallet, VISA card, and if nothing else your sneakers. Kid, if you're looking for an escape, this ain't it. If you're looking for an adventure this definitely ain't it, unless you have a particular liking to be stabbed by four or five strangers in a railyard just on the chance you might have something in your pocket that'll buy them a few beers. Go Home!"
With that I shut my eyes and counted slowly to one hundred to myself and prayed when I opened my eyes again the poor blighter would have jumped off and 'gone back home', wherever the heck it was.
It didn't work, the kid was still there and the freight train was now starting to move out from the railyard, slowly picking up steam (or whatever modern diesel engines pick up instead ... probably torque or something). After about 30 miles per hour or so, jumping from a moving train gets to be scary business and not to be lightly undertaken.
Despite what people think, nothing in life is free, including riding the rails. You might not pay with coin, but if you're not careful you'll be paying with your body or your life instead. Only damned fools and Hollywood stuntmen jump from fully moving trains.
The kid had joined my boxcar while we were parked in the freight yard at Clovis, New Mexico and it had taken him about three tries to get himself into the car. He wasn't quite 'fat', but let's just say instead that he was a tad well-nourished. Unlike me, he hadn't missed a whole lot of meals lately and looked to be just a tad soft. Way too soft for whatever fun he had been planning.
He looked to be in his early 30's, but with a baby face like his, who knows. If he had been younger, I'd have chalked him up as a college dropout looking to explore the country before settling down with the wife, mortgage and the 2.6 children playing in the yard. That would have been me once, and thirty years later my ass was still riding freight cars heading God knows where.
I wasn't all that much older than him, probably, but he was definitely old enough to be my son, and "Kid" seemed to suit him perfectly. We were now stuck together for at least the next two hundred miles or so, and I might as well find out from him just what the hell he was doing on this man's railroad, when he obviously had a wife (and maybe kids) back home.
"Kid, you're a college boy aren't you?" It wasn't really a question, but he nodded his head anyway. "That means you've read books, studied things and sort of have at least a basic idea of the way the world works. Me, I made the mistake of reading Jack Kerouac back in the 1960's and got it into my fool head that the world was ripe for me to explore without any money in my pocket, and thirty years later here I am, still riding the rails and still without a penny in my pocket. I pay no taxes, but I have no one at home waiting for me either with open arms, let alone any open legs. When I die, stabbed in some railyard by some nutcase, or falling under these steel wheels, or breaking my back or neck jumping from a freight car, or even freezing my worthless ass off in some mountain pass in winter, there ain't one damned soul that's going to shed a tear for me."
"Kid, there ain't no 'Big Rock Candy Mountain', now why the fuck are you really here?"
The kid had a story all right, and it was a damned good one, and lasted us darn near until we reached Amarillo, Texas. I had to admit it was 'different', I've heard of at least a thousand tales of men running from the long arm of the law, and another hundred men or so that had run from jealous husbands wielding a knife or a gun, but never had I heard of a jealous boyfriend threatening and planning to kill the husband so he could marry the grieving widow before. And not for a fortune either.
That was low ... maybe I had lived for too long. There was a lot about the modern world that didn't sit too well with me.
In a nutshell, the poor sod had a fairly cute wife that was banging her boss. The fool had known about it, dithered over what to do about it and in the end had done nothing. He allowing himself to be cuckolded, until the day he overheard his wife's lover making plans to do him in, in a particularly nasty way.
It helped that his wife's boyfriend was not just rich, but damn near had more money than God, and could hire professional quality leg-breakers with just a phone call or two. In short, the kid was running for his life, and making his plans up on the spur of the moment. His name was 'Chris', but he was needing to get a new identity and trying to get (and stay) disappeared for a good long time, until a better plan came along.
I've always loved hopeless quests, so this one was right up my alley. As I hoped, this train turned on north up into the Midwest, good, because it was blueberry picking time up north in Minnesota, and by the time we got there we had a plan or two.
For a good part of that year I mentored the poor bastard and taught him how to read the old Hobo signs, not that many except us old-timers still used them. This would tell him at a glance where best to pick up a freight, how to avoid the yards with nastier than usual 'bulls' (railroad company security guards), and most importantly, how to keep moving and stay away from trouble.
As I told him at least a thousand times, riding the rails wasn't safe any more, and more of the younger hobo population seemed to be just batshit crazy - killers that would group together to rob, steal and even kill a penniless bum just for the fun of it. These were very dark days for us old train hobos, it seemed like every bad guy in the world was setting out deliberately to thin our numbers. Us 'old timers' would try and stick together the best we could, and watch out after each other, but more of us kept disappearing each year. Some quitting the road for good, others now probably dead and murdered and now lying in some shallow grave near some lonely railroad tracks. Some probably murdered by wandering serial killers or the ever increasing gangs full of skinhead fuckups like the FTRA (Freight Train Riders of America), with their all of their bandana code affiliations.
I warned Chris over and over, "If you see any wearing a bandana, especially a black, red or blue one, get your ass moving away from them and run - leave me if you have to. Those fuckers will stab you just for the fun of watching you bleed."
"No Sandy", I kept telling myself, it was long past time to get off of the road.
We picked berries up north for a few months, got some coins in our pockets and found a 'fixer' in Chicago that turned Chris Duncan into a new (and hopefully safer) Chris Turner. That new ID came in the nick of time because all of a sudden there were a lot of prying folks suddenly asking questions about a young hobo named Chris Duncan. Sharp-eyed men that flashed badges and big money around a bit too fast to be cops. We hopped the first train out of Chicago we could get heading anywhere.
Once we were fairly safe, I found out what had started this sudden interest in him. The idiot had actually used his ATM card, and worse at the bank just across the street from the fleabag joint we were staying! Within just a few hours, private dicks were hassling everyone in the area asking about him and only his new fake ID got him past one sharp witted fellah. They were expecting Chris to still be a pale skinned heavy-set man. Six months on the rails and doing fieldwork had changed his appearance considerably.
This time he got lucky, the next time they might be better prepared.
"There was a lot more money in the account than I had though." He muttered.
I resisted the urge to throw something heavy at him. It was his life and he could take any risks he wanted to. Besides, he knew we needed the money and was freely sharing what he had. He was a good kid ... but still needed to learn some self-preservation skills.
He hadn't been stupid enough to think that his credit and ATM cards weren't being watched, but he had (badly) underestimated how fast his wife's lover could react. Worse, now with just a little easy investigation they'll learn that the kid was hanging in hobo circles and riding the rails. This meant that there would be "Reward" posters for information about him just about everywhere now. The bigger camps and railyards wouldn't be safe anymore. The amount of money that they could offer would tempt virtually any hobo, especially the more thirsty ones.
Fortunately I never had much of a thirst and money, even big money, didn't have much hold on me either. I wished for the hundredth time that the fool kid had left my boxcar that first day back in Clovis. They would be looking for the kid everywhere now and soon would have a pretty good idea where and how.
Later, undoubtedly, my name would start appearing and they'd be looking for us both. Let them ... I knew a couple of good hiding holes a bit off of the beaten track and the sooner we got to one of them the better.
.... There is more of this story ...