Now, where was I? On August twelfth, 2014, my life began to change (FOREVER, DUN DUN DUN) for real this time. Having cleared everything up with the landlord – and having vouched for a good room mate who could watch the house while I was gone – all there was left to do was wait for my girlfriend to get into town. Of course, there were still things to be done around the house – plumbing, electric, rodent extermination, and mattress burning – but that could all wait a couple of days.
She arrived that day, with a troupe of dirty, dog-toting, fiendishly smelly and good looking kids who did not hesitate to inhabit the house. Ten fucking lovely travelers and nine dogs later, we still hadn’t seen the end of the adventure. For a week, our house TRULY transformed into a punk house, despite several layers of paint saying otherwise. Every dirty kid and his mom showed up at least briefly to drink warm beer, smoke cheap cigarettes, experiment with psychedelics, and have a safe place to crash.
The smell in the house transformed from ‘fresh paint’ to ‘dirty underoos’ in about a day and a half, but no one was complaining. These dirty kids sure knew how to drink and they were a wonder to be seen pass-out drunk over a plate of burrito fixings in the kitchen at three in the morning. On top of the competitive drinking, they were actually helpful in fixing up the remainder of the house. With gasoline, hatchets, and matches as equipment, many of us gathered in the back yard to burn chairs, a dirty old mattress, and a couch. The neighbors borrowed us their hose to keep it under control. Flames reached shocking heights. The evidence was disposed of.
Next was the beehive(s). Up on the roof, bees had infiltrated the ventilation system and needed to be dealt with. The tools for this job were
– One can of Ant Raid
– One large wrench
– Five gallons of water
– A video-camera
Climbing out onto the roof in a sports bra and a pair of dirty shorts, I was the second person to approach the bee situation. Lots of pointless wrench-banging, a few beers, and, surprisingly, NO bee-stings later, I had successfully outlawed the bees.
All while my drunk girlfriend laughed from the yard below. It was a good time in that final week of the house. Video games were played, work was done, songs were sung, signs were flown, tits were shown…it was all fine and well and dandy right up until the part where we were packing and leaving, which was more sad than anything else.
Diablo and I both got our bags fully packed on August 17th. The dirty kids that had assembled had begun dispersing, and we were down to the core group of friends and travelers. The ones we had to say goodbye to as we said hello to a new lifestyle with a bunch of tramps (oh, tramp is someone who travels all homeless-like without picking up work along the way. That’s the separation between tramp and hobo).
We had our final beers, did our final house painting, and left the house for good on the morning of August eighteenth. With my dog at my side, a backpack chilling on my shoulders, and four road dogs to kick it with, I was feeling pretty okay. It was, however, a long trip to the hop out, with way too many stops along the way, and by the time we got to where we were trying to go, we had one more road dog (and his puppy), no cigarettes, and not much beer.
There started my life of traveling. Migrating under a train bridge, we waited. We learned about trains and what rides were, well, ride able. We learned the names of the train units, the train companies, and rail safety. We learned what a ‘fire drill’ was and to ALWAYS keep your shit on hand when waiting for a train. It was train-riding 101, and we were drunkenly learning the ropes.
On August nineteenth, a train going our direction stopped, and my girlfriend and I ran alongside it for a few minutes before finding a ride. We had gotten my dog and both of our packs on the train when it started airing up (the brakes of a train work on a tension system where air is what pushes the brakes UP so that the train can start moving). We knew we didn’t have much time. Tiddly (the girlfriend at the time) hurried to lift her eighty plus pound dog on the train but to no avail. The harness slipped off of her body and she dropped to the ground as the train started moving too fast to hop off. We watched Girl (the dog) run alongside the train as it sped up and then we lost sight of her.
Cue horror movie sad music, lots of crying and puking, and two VERY sad people. We wondered what the hell was going to happen to Girl and what the hell would happen to us when our other road dogs found out. There is a code for hopping trains: Dog, Pack, You. That’s the order in which you get on the train. In the rush and excitement of taking her girlfriend on her first train, Tiddly had forgotten.
Luckily, the train slowed and came to a stop in Northeast Minneapolis. As we were rolling to a stop, my phone started ringing. It was one of the people we were planning on hopping out with and he was screaming that he found Girl and that she was torn up as fuck and that we needed to get our asses off of the train.
Thinking the worst, Tiddly panicked. I started making phone calls. Twenty minutes later, my dear friend Morgan was picking us up and driving us to where all of the other kids were. Talk about friends having your back in an emergency. We approached a seemingly dire situation. Girl was laid out on the ground and everyone was sitting around her. Approaching, we found that she had been clipped by a part of the train – probably a ladder – and she had a huge gash on her side.
We did all we could. Poured hydrogen peroxide on it and then bandaged it up – it was too late at night to head to a vet. We could only hope she would be fine.
We moved to a different hop-out spot that night, went to sleep, and woke up early in the morning. After refilling our water, making sure Girl was okay, and collecting our wits, we started waiting on trains again. The day was August Twentieth, and it was about two pm when our train finally rolled in.
A big, hulking, mass of steel and energy, the Inter-modal Train that rolled to a stop right in front of us was a beauty. Carted by Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), this massive cargo hold was our land-ship, and we did not hesitate to take our chances with her.
We found a ride where all of us fit and could stay hidden and then the train took off, only to slow down and roll to a stop directly in the middle of the train yard. For two hours, we waited. Voices hushed, fingers quietly rolling cigarettes that we couldn’t smoke, we all sat in tension, hoping that we wouldn’t get pulled off of our ride. Voices approached and footsteps sounded against ballast rocks, but no one came, and finally – FINALLY – we were on our way.
We were heading west, into a metaphorical sunset. Embarking on a journey that could result in our doom. In train riding culture, ‘catching the westbound’ is a term for dying, and I do not deny the fact that there, on my first freight train, parts of me were heading west for good.