night time railyard jam

14 March 2013 § 2 Comments

In times of abundant solitude, when I find myself in the right place, I remember that I vibrate a very specific frequency. Like any musical note, I can play in a group, key, or song, and the result can be anything a jam session or album can be – a ludicrous cacophony lubricated by and written with intoxicants, or a sweet melodious story told by a child sitting on the lap of his grandfather, who adds context when necessary.

And I can also ring alone, in a hum or whistle, with rhythm or without, and associate my sound with a place, mood, or feeling. My frequency can be found amongst the raucous metal of a train yard in the pre-dawn hours.

The monolithic ministers of power, thousands of gallons of diesel swishing in their bellies, move slowly down one track and up another with rumbling fortitude. Assembling a train can take hours of slow laborious movement. Railroaders call it Tying Up. Great metal hooks smash and latch together like fingers grasping just before losing grip. An air hose connects the engine – the power – to the Fred, a portable traffic light of sorts, that replaced the caboose as indicator of a train’s derrier.

The process is slow and done by tired men – there are precious few female railroad workers – fatigued by long and odd hours, and assembling occurs without any grace at all.

Stop n’ go is not like your kind Amtrak conductor, or the gentle European rides through Southern France; cargo trains bang and slam and squeal for lack of oil.

When dozens of cars in a line and need to be attached, engines push down the line to quieter cars. I picture my back to a wall, a Mack truck coming at my face at 60 mph. The result is a sequence of small, controlled explosions, milliseconds apart. Watching the phenomenon – a daily occurrence , by railer’s standard – excites me. Two hundred thousand pounds of box car, cylindrical tank and lumber frame jilt six inches to crash into its neighbor, disquieting it from meditative stillness. Inside the clang, my note rings through the steel, part of the railyard song. Our jam sessions nightly under the highway bridge, the river running north. Our giant horizontal domino set decorated in graffiti and rust prepares to travel, like birds on a wire waiting for a southerly.

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