Catching Out

By L.E. Swenson

My sweetie and I are young at heart. When we met, two of the things we had in common were the wanderlust and a love of reading. Never did we imagine we would have a house in a very quiet bedroom community that is maintained by our day jobs while we dream artistic dreams.

So there I was, sitting in our car at the train crossing in our town. The train crossing can be a nuisance because the rail line is for freight and so the trains seem to be miles long as you wait for them to pass. As I watched the stream of tank cars and boxcars float by my front window, I noticed something.

The cars of this freight train that passes regularly through our town were covered in hobo marks. I don’t mean a bit of graffiti here and there. I mean covered in symbols and signs left for future weary wanderers. Sometimes it was just a road name painted in big bold letters or date of travel by the hobo riding that day.

hobosigns

I was caught up by the present desire to “catch out” (hobo vernacular for hopping a train). I know the train goes somewhere northwest in Pennsylvania, but it wasn’t the destination. In my mind, I abandoned the car at the railroad crossing and started running alongside the train with all my might. My mind then realized that I have been sitting for a living for the last 15 years, and my body has no business running anywhere, much less alongside a moving freight train. My mind let my body stumble and fall face-first into the dirt.

I came back to the car just as the signals started to fade and the zebra-striped bars of the railroad crossing started to rise. I then remembered the errand I was on when I first stopped at the crossing.

As I stepped on the gas to go about my business, I had a final realization. Boy, I need to get in shape and so does sweetie, so that one day we can catch out for real.

3 thoughts on “Catching Out

  1. Thanks to Erica Herd for the interesting site, and thanks to the author for an interesting story. I have indexed this site for future perusal.

    “Just saying” as the old, apologetic cliché goes. In spite of the critique I am offering below, I cannot ignore any story about trains. You caught my attention, and any hobo story will do that. We are kindred spirits in that regard, and I hope you will always be a hobo–at least at heart. Best of luck in “catching out” and in your story-telling. I hope you find my comments useful and not anger-provoking. Writing for me was not my day job, either. Myself, I love critiques of my writing, even if the somewhat negative ones (unless they are written to deliberately anger me). I earned a BA in Creative Writing while volunteering for night shifts working multiple freight yards in El Paso in the Border Patrol, and attending day college classes. I have met thousands of hobos and I spent more time than I should have talking to them. I am now retired and have more time to indulge in the things that enthuse me.

    I would like to follow your stories. I think you have a lot of talent and potential. You have the most important part licked–passion for your subject.

    Now for the Critique:

    I suppose this is a fictional article, even though it is told from the first person viewpoint. But even as fiction, it is somewhat lacking in verisimilitude, a necessary element to garner maximum reader enjoyment. For example, who in their right mind would leave their car at a crossing and try to hop a train on impulse? If you caught it, then what? I know something about trains myself, and they can accelerate very fast. If you had caught it, you might have traveled a hundred or more miles before it stopped, hanging onto a short, soot-stained ladder, inhaling diesel fumes and hoping it doesn’t go into, heaven forbid, a tunnel.

    I have seen a lot of graffiti on freight cars, but most of it was probably by vandals that lived near a place where freight cars stood for a while; freight cars isolated away from the switching yards–away from the stepped-up security of recent years. Most hobo symbols I have seen are concentrated in static locations: hobo jungles, for example, and on alley fences that tell of good places to panhandle, dumpster dive, get a free meal in a soup kitchen, a free night’s lodging in a rescue mission, etc. The messages are usually directed to other hobos that might be hanging out in that locale for a spell; who might find the information useful. It would not be helpful to most hobos to put it on a moving freight train; but the non-hobo taggers like to do it in order to display their “art.”

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      • Thanks for the note. I should have mentioned to the author of that story that the scene of abandoning a car and jumping on a moving train could be conceivable in some stories. It would just require a little foreshadowing in order to be credible. For example if the driver of the car had committed some crime and expected to be arrested, he might jump on a train, then quickly dismount on the opposite side, in order to make a get away. The pursuer has to be quick and do the same thing before the train picks up too much speed. Since many trains have as many as 100 cars, they can take several minutes to clear a crossing, A fugitive can buy a lot of time with that trick.

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