Thursday, July 13, 2006

Trespassing, UP style

So last night, our barback was late to work. He used that fancy cell phone to call in and tell me he wasn't too far away, then said hurriedly, something about getting "kind of" arrested. Now, he's an upstanding kind of guy-- yep, he's a bit punck rock, but in the older more mature sense. And he is as quiet and gentle and good as seemingly someone can be. Yet for someone who fits this characterization, he seems to have some run-ins with the law-- all for basically nothing. (My favorite was when he told me he was arrested for littering downtown. Yet, apparently, there is no law against said offense, so officially he was charged with "failure to keep clean" or some such nonsense).

We were talking later and he told me he had cut through the Union Pacific railroad tracks and someone had called the police. In fairness, I guess he'd been stopped other times and warned. So when he hit Morganford, as he walked beneath on the tracks, above him on the road, there were cops waiting. Mind you, this was in the afternoon. He was dressed in a white shirt and shorts, and clearly walking.

What a different age we live in than when we were all younger. I don't know if it's the Privacy-and-Property reigns supreme bug that everyone seems to have caught in the last few years, or if it's the contemporary fear of terrorism. Everything and everyone is a threat. All the time. No exceptions. Zero tolerance. What a shame that our landscape has become so closed off.

I have walked many a train track in my days. (And in my extreme youth, my father and I weekly picked raspberries on the old trolley lines throughout the Pittsburgh suburbs.) I have flattened my pennies. I have sat and waited for the strict dependency of frrights wailing through at certain times (it used to be 3 and 5 am in Normal, IL). I have eaten ice cream and drank beer beside railroad tracks. None of this was in the spirit of criminal behavior or vandalism. I just like trains.

I like everything about them. I like how they connect things. I like how they sound in the middle of the night when all other noises fade and you think you are totally alone. I like that in the city, you can hear them from miles off late at night, when during the day all you hear is sirens and dogs barking. I like the romance of trains. North by Northwest. Hoboes riding the rails. The buddy idea in Stand by Me. There is a beauty to walking the tracks.

Now, my barback just wanted to take the shortest route to work, and who can blame him? And again, I guess I can understand the issue a bit from UP's perspective. But, for me, it signals the end of something. The city, no longer a place where things are connected. Now, a place where everyone is out for himself, a kill or be killed (metaphorically, of course) kind of thing. Maybe the romance of the city, that idea of fluid movement, of trains passing in the night, maybe it is changing. If we can no longer see the trains, maybe we will stop being able to see other things.

I wonder what's next-- kids not being allowed to play on the sidewalk because it's " in front" of someone else's property? Oh, if only everyone else wouldn't spoil it for the rest of us.

Rest in peace, age of desparate wanderlust.

1 comment:

ZombieKiller said...

"I wonder what's next-- kids not being allowed to play on the sidewalk because it's " in front" of someone else's property?"

When was the last time you saw kids in the neighborhood playing football in the street? I suggested that some cousins of mine and their friends get a game going one day, and their response stunned me.

"We can't do that. People come out and yell at us for being too close to their cars."

Sidewalks seem like the next logical step.