Night Train to San Francisco
When I went to San Francisco, I put my leather-bound suitcase under the backseat of where I sat on the train, and looked out the side window. I couldn’t afford a berth; it was three times the amount of the economy coach ticket. And back in 1968, when I was but twenty-years old, it didn’t make a difference: I kicked my shoes off, and as night come quickly, I couldn’t see much anyway. I tossed my black suede jacket over my lap, took a newspaper I found laying on the open seat next to me, turned on the overhead light and read the headlines, and scanned the front page.
“Turn off the light,” said the porter, “Everyone’s trying to get some sleep.”
“No,” I said, “I don’t want to. I’m not sleepy, Mister.”
“Well, I guess so,” he said, adding “we’ll be stopping in a few hours if you want to get off the train and stretch your feet for ten-minutes…go ahead” then he looked down at my feet, “you should put your shoes back on,” he grumbled.
“No,” I said, “I’ll not put them out in the aisle, if that’s what you’re worried about.” He simply turned his head and walked away.
I got up and went to the washroom, washed my hands and face. I wasn’t tired; I walked about the train some, bored,—although it dimly lit in all the compartments. (It was my second train ride I had ever taken; I had taken one back from Seattle to St. Paul, Minnesota a year earlier where I had visited for a short while)— A few of the windows were left slightly open and the night summer’s air came in cool. The moon was like a big white button in the sky. There were lights in the distance that blurred as the iron horse raced by. We crossed into Chicago now, but soon were outside of it. I looked out the window to see the Windy City but all I could see were railroad yards and freight cars lined up to kingdomcome. Then suddenly we stopped—a dead stop, the porter came by again, “If you need cigarettes or anything, there’s a stand outside on the platform, be quick about it,” he said and I jumped up, crawled out from behind the two seats and onto the aisle, and then onto the landing place of the train station.
“Where are we?” I asked the owner of a stand, that was selling newspapers, magazines, cigarettes and warm quart beer, on the pier.
“Outside of Chicago, why?” he said and asked.
“No reason, give me a quart of beer.” I said.
“Will Hamm’s do?” he questioned.
“Yaw, how much?”
“$1.25 plus tax,” he quoted.
I paid the fellow, then the train started to move, and I found myself running to just make the train, jumping onto its metal step with one hand on the beer and the other on the railing. And there I stood in-between the two cars, and drank the quart of beer down whole within a matter of minutes. Found a trash can, throw the empty bottle in it and went back to my original seat. An old lady was sitting in the seat next to mine, and I moved on over and around her, to the window side and fell to sleep. When I woke up the train had stopped again, we were someplace high up, it was cold and when I moved my jacket, the old lady pulled her arm back, as if it was searching for something, where it didn’t belong. I gave her a nasty look, one that perhaps said, it wasn’t safe for her anymore here, and when I’d come back she’d be gone.
“We’re going through cold country,” said the porter. We were in the mountains now, the Rockies I do believe. I put on my jacket, my shoes and reached under my seat to check if my suitcase was still there, it was, and it was, thus, I moved out to find another quart of beer, rushing from one vender to another, then finding a little store on the pier, that was connected to the inside station and halfway out onto the platform. And I could feel the cool air in my lungs, “I’d like a pack of those Luck Strike’s,” I said, walking into the store casual, knowing I was only twenty, still not old enough to drink, or buy alcohol, but I usually didn’t have a problem with that. Hence, I walked inside the small store to the counter, two Negros were sitting about on wooden stools, their shoeshine box in front of them “Youall wants a shoeshine boy?” asked the Negro with the black teeth, and open mouth—as if he was talking and yawning at the same time.
“No, just those smokes and a quart of beer,” I rambled.
The storekeeper was asleep behind the counter in the corner, his head against a cushioned pillow.
“Hay, Ollie, wake on up, youall git a customer here,” said the middle-aged Negro with the black teeth. When he smiled he opened up his mouth wider showing off his damaged gums, and spit into a spittoon next to him, wet and slimy tobacco that he was chewing, his eyes were as red as Marilyn Monroe’s lips; his head was the shape of a football, towards the backend, he was wearing a brown fitted knitted cap, and his ears looked to be the cauliflower type, as if he was at one time a boxer, perhaps forty-five, the other fellow was sleeping on his forearms and knees, back bent.
I went back to my seat on the train and she was gone altogether with her things, and so I drank the six-pack of beer without a fret. And I fell to sleep sometime between the forth and fifth beer, because when I woke up, there were two half cans of beer on the floor and one full one. I found my way back to the washroom carefully, as not to wake up the few folks still sleeping. The bathroom now smelled vulgar, pee and vomit were all over the seats, and no toilet paper.
Thereafter, I could smell the breakfast seep out of the kitchen and down through the cars, all the way down from the dinning car, three cars up. I looked out the window at the flat countryside. It was forty-shades of green, and lots and lots of telephone poles, and fine looking horses grazing, small hills way in the background, patches of forest here and three. Seeing all this appeared as if I had never left Minnesota, but there wasn’t one cornfield, not one, but it was nice looking country anyhow.
No: 640 (6-23-2010)
Night Train to San Francisco
L.C. E. Adams, had seen no one since he had gotten off and back onto the train, outside of Chicago, drank his beer and then fallen to sleep, and smelling now the breakfast seeping from the kitchen to his car, although riding along the tracks through the open countryside, he could feel the heat wave coming on, the sun was hitting the metal on the train baking it, seemingly that took his appetite away. Now the train went on through another town, surprised to find it didn’t stop, and then it rode alongside a river, leaving the town, the sun still baking the side of the train. The countryside was all lush and over-green, with tints of yellow, dotted here and there.
Adams didn’t notice Francisca, the old woman, the ogre, as his subconscious named her, he women he had seen previously who had sat by him, who had intentions of robbing him, she had been sleeping in the back car, she had come up to his, she was with some wino, stubble of beard and red-nosed, bloodshot eyes, and a pint of whisky in his picket stuck out. No one challenged him, he went and he came as if he was a maniac, and perhaps he was, and perchance she was, like to like, likened to, two peas in a pod.
“Who is he,” said the old timer, to Francisca. She was pointing him out, although they could only see the back of his head.
“How do you know him?” Old Sammy Joyce continued in curiosity.
She took hold of his hand, and put it on her thigh, “He tried to touch this!”
“He will not ever try again,” old Sammy said, trying to impress her.
“Give me your knife,” said Francisca, “I’m going to kill him.”
“Let’s dont be fools,” Sammy said cheerfully. As if it was a joke.
“Give me the knife.”
“It’s big but hasn’t any sharpness to it.”
“You know I didn’t think you were drunk until now, I guess I’m sobering up.”
“I’m not completely drunk.”
“I can’t tell, until you start talking,” said Sammy, and took out his whiskey, and they both took a big gulp out of it.
“I can’t do it,” Francisca admitted. “You do it for me, and it will make me very happy and he has money to buy more whisky, and I’m frightfully thirsty.”
“You don’t need it,” said Sammy.
“You’re much braver in such things than I am,” she said.
“No,” said Sammy. “Never have been, I just like the night trains, and I wanted to go to sleep in a seat for once, instead of riding the rods, if you know what I mean, and I only met you last night.”
“Let’s not talk about how we met,” Francisca said. “It’s a subject I know also, and we can travel together if you’d like, and you can do what you want with me.”
“We might as well stay here a while longer, and think about it,” Sammy said. He liked the idea of having company, and they took another gulp from the whisky bottle.
“I suppose there is no hurry, San Francisco won’t move.”
“How do you feel, really feel about that boy?” said, Sammy.
“I’m not okay with it, I’m perfectly angry at him for the way he was to me.”
Well, there they sat, thinking, and then Sammy implied, “He’s not simply going to just lie down and let me kill him.”
Adams lay on the seat, he was disappointed he felt a bit ill in his stomach, so obvious to the two watching him, and the heat of the morning was intensifying.
“Don’t try to get near him when he’s looking in the window, he’ll break your nose,” said Francisca, “We’ve only got an hour or so to do it.”
“Don’t you think someone will see us?”
“Walk in front of him, he’s never saw you, I’ll see if anyone is coming from behind you, you’ll see everything in front of you, I’ll gesture at you if someone is coming, and cut his bloody balls off him for me!”
“That’s right, that’s what I’ll do,” said Sammy, “and grab his money, and we can run to another car, and they’ll think he’s still sleeping, and I’ll throw the knife out the bathroom window, and no one will be the wiser.”
Now looking at his watch walking down the isle in front of Adams, with the humming tone of the train, Sammy fell on top of the boy, as if he tripped, as if he was drunk, and he was drunk, and cave-in, and the steel of the knife was cool, burned through his flesh, he pushed it up, and back and pushed it down.
No: 720 (1-29-2011)
“Next Stop, San Francisco!”
Horace mumbled, “Every man for himself,” his friend sitting on his left side, of him, remarked, “He looks without help,” the third man, the one on the right side of Horace, called Santiago, comments, as if he is quoting, but doesn’t know whom he is quoting, but acts like he does: “Every man has to eat, it’s the law of the land, survival of the fittest, you know what I mean, only the strong survive—something like that.”
Horace now says, “What can one man do against three, we got the advantage,” looking across the isle at Sammy. He and Francisca had just got through counting the money he took off of the lad in the car ahead of them, and moved back to where they were seated before. For the most part, Sammy is Francisca’s hero now. He had killed a man for her, and for $125.00 dollars; I suppose you could say he is involved with mankind more than Francisca—in a manner of speaking: his since of duty remains—or loyalty, although half cocked eyed drunk. The conductor has informed the travelers, the passengers on the train that the train will be stopping in five minutes he has said this several times,
“Next stop, San Francisca!...”
The three men can see the station from the window, and are getting ready to disembark. Horace realizing that there is little time left—that injustice is in the eye of the beholder, as is beauty, and God’s Ten-Commandments, and right and wrong. He sees no hope beyond the moment, and he now sees victory on his side and at hand, but he is surprised when Sammy gets up and approaches them, gives all three men $25.00-dollars, says “Have a good meal on me!” and sits back down.
This seems to satisfy two of the three men, but not Horace. Thus, Sammy is feeling he has perhaps escaped the angry solitude in their minds. He is looking down the isle, waiting for Francisca, she’s still in the bathroom primping, or smoking pot, or both. He still has a little left in his whiskey bottle, so she can’t be drinking.
As the three men get up to go, Horace stays behind. It serves for some kind of finality on his mind—should he leave with his friends, and if he does will he be sorry for not taking advantage of this moment, will it haunt him the rest of his days—so he has convinced himself, he must grab opportunity, when it knocks at his door, and to him, it is knocking loud and clear, and the brakes of the train are starting to screech loudly, he needs no more convincing, and this is the magical moment he must do whatever it takes to get that other one-hundred dollars from this stranger.
“What did you say?” asked Sammy, Horace was leaning over the seat, telling him something; no: asking, demanding something from him.
“I said, give me your money, or else!”
“Or else what?” said Sammy.
“Hold out and you’ll be sorry,” said Horace.
The train had stopped now, and everyone had disembarked, the conductor paced the isles, found the man called Sammy, lying flat on his face in his seat, the woman who had been with him was nowhere to be found; it looked as if he had been reaching for something, and in the process when the train stopped, he jerked forward somehow, and broke his neck in the process: that’s how it was viewed anyways, in lack of any other information. There was no one around to identify him, nor did he have any identification on him, or for that matter, there was no one to tell a different story; but the railroad nonetheless, gave him a first class funeral, even though there was some suspicion to the whole matter.
No: 722 (1-31-2011)