Friday, December 9, 2011
The sight of railroad tracks brings with it the possibility of change, escape, adventure.
When I was young, it was a place forbidden, where the kids who smoked and drank would party at night. Early in the morning, I would sneak out of my house and walk two blocks over to investigate the debris of teenage rebellion. There would be broken beer bottles, empty gin bottles and soda cans recklessly tossed aside. With a long stick, I would lift used condoms and send them flying into the woods. Once, I had a ten minute belly laugh when the rubber settled on a tree branch, draped like a deflated ornament.
I would walk the tracks for miles, then turn around and come home. I knew the train schedule, I knew I was safe. For most of my life, I have had a healthy respect for the massive engines of steel as they trundle through the countryside. LIke all the kids my age, I had heard tales of amputated legs, cars stuck at a railroad crossing causing derailings and untold deaths as well as horrific accounts of mortal damage. The train’s whistle cuts through my memories like a knife through cheese. My entire life, every house I have ever owned, has been within a whistle blow of railroad tracks. I have called New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New York home .. each of these states rely on trains for transportation of goods and passengers. The piercing train whistle carries great distances, both a reassurance and a comfort over my decades of listening for it. Oft times, when I hear the whistle, I pause for just a second to think about the train and wonder about its passengers and its destinations. I have heard the lonely whistle at one in the morning and I have heard the optimistic whistle at one in the afternoon. No matter when I hear it, I am reminded that I am not alone in the world. That there are places to go and people to meet and that they are connected to me by something as prosaic as railroad tracks.