THE INCORPORATED’S 15 CENTS: TAMMING THE RUSTED BEAST
Evan Gabriel is a member of our team here at The Incorporated, and also a great writer. Check out this piece and others on his blog: Waxed Out.
Remember your first time hitting up the railroad tracks?
What is it about those long, winding slats of metal and wood that stretch throughout the country, laying foundation in desolate and bustling corners of society? From growing up in the ‘90s, the roaring train embodies coming of age, episodes of curiosity and establishing an identity centered on the roving spirit of an adventurer. Although it starts around eight or nine years old, there’s always a battle to find our way back to those trains, to the fear and rawness.
Maybe it was the scene of River Phoenix as young “Indiana Jones” jumping on the desert train before he falls through the roof and into that snake pit. Perhaps it was the robber in “Dennis the Menace” coming to town on a train with the sole purpose of scaring the shit out of the neighborhood. It’s Gordy, Chris, Vern, Teddy, the motley crew from “Stand by Me,” traveling by the roads of the rail to find the body of a kid their age.
While gazing at the tracks below a bluff-top basketball court with Zach last week, I realized that despite this natural fascination with trains, I had never had the balls to actually jump one. So when a shot was interrupted by the cunning rumble of passing rails at the bottom of the bluff, we froze.
“Do we race down there and catch it?” I asked.
“We either do it now or—alright let’s go,” Zach said.
We raced down the hill, hitting switchbacks and tearing our legs through brush As we reached the bottom of the trail we could see the caboose pushing passed us, so we heated our stride and tried not to fall down speed. Suddenly, I became Will Smith in the beginning of “Men In Black” when he presses the little red button and races through NYC traffic. There I was, defying the laws of nature, finally facing the wild beast that wakes the neighborhood at night, the beast of my earliest childhood memories.
By now Zach was parallel with the caboose and I was only a few feet behind. I could see his ankles almost teetering on destruction, picking up speed and kicking sand and rocks as he worked to balance each stride in time with the machine. And slowly he latched an arm and pulled himself onto the flatbed. My heart kicked into gear and I could hear a pounding in my head. Still reincarnated as Will Smith, I confidently geared my legs into double time, and leapt onto the corroded wood before pulling up my flailing legs.
“Made It!” I screamed hoarsely to Zach as I stood up. We both laughed.
I don’t know if it matters that we only actually stayed on for a minute or two before hopping off and making the trek along the rail yard back, filled with ecstatic reenactments. With sunlight hitting our back, we stammered forward and chucked big rocks that hit the steel and resonated in twanged moans like the faint tuning of a guitar.
At a bend in the river, we hit a small clearing in the trees where we naturally began throwing more rocks. With each ripple we sent shooting, we felt more triumphant. Moss on trees smelt especially good, and grabbing scraps of driftwood felt like I was doing it for the first time. Here, we were trailing the gang from “Stand By Me,” we were hitching a ride with Indy and Dean Moriarty and Dylan.
Happy to have dirty hands and nettle scratches, Zach and I bounced up the trail to salute the sun goodnight. We praised the story, our story. Most of all, we felt like kids. For those brief moments atop the evening rooster, we crossed paths with our earliest fantasies of being cowboys in a fierce world.
It’s the first time you stole, the time you skated by a NO SKATEBOARDING sign, the first tag you caught. Freeing. That’s the word. It’s freeing to never lose sight of the adventure that is born from exploration. Embrace the unknown—that chugging engine always delivers.