Hanging On The Rails

I watch the moon in the lake as it follows the train I’m on.

The big window slides open without a screen so I can stick my head out of it if I want. It’s by no means a bullet train, just a steely diesel beast, and there’s something about putting my face out alongside it that scares me to death. Amtrak would never let me do that back home so I take advantage of the lawlessness and let the wind belt me as if I were a Labrador riding out the window on an American highway.

Every curve lets me see the entire train snake along the rails

It’s noisy and old, a dull green with six cars book ended by monstrous engines that sound like the ocean if the waves were breaking right on your face while someone bangs a hammer onto sheet metal. It’s a constant roar of machinery, hissing, pistons, wheels shaking and clanking, metal against metal. Loudest thing I’ve ever been on.

The older gentlemen who are staffed on the train all come around one by one and want to talk to me and find out who I am. I look like a Westerner but my language pronunciation sounds native so they’re all fascinated. It’s fun. They all have on nice blue shirts and policemen hats, smoking cigarettes and drinking black iced coffee in little plastic cups.

The smoking section is a tiny, shoulder-width compartment between the cars where one small ashtray sits on the wall. It’s adjacent to the exit door that has a drop hatch for the stairs when disembarking, but the hatch apparently stays open during the trip. It’s easily big enough to drop a body through and I watch the ties and gravel zoom by in the open darkness just a few steps away. There is a small handle near the ashtray that’s polished clean from where smokers have stood and puffed while watching that hole for dear life.

The cabin lights are off so looking out is clear, where silhouettes of mountains reflect on the numerous lakes and thinly lit highways with palm trees carved from the sky in front of a brimming round moon somehow makes me homesick.

Houses not 10 feet from the tracks have patios and stoops behind shabby fences where people are sitting, I can look right into their homes and they can see my face and big eyes peeping from the train. A little boy shoots a toy gun as we rumble by.

8 hours of a dark train ride beats 4 hours on a bus any day.

Da Nang or bust. Should get there by 3 in the morn.

4 responses to “Hanging On The Rails

  1. Thanks for taking the time to so clearly & vividly capture in your mind what you see so that we can live vicariously through you.

  2. “The cabin lights are off so looking out is clear, where silhouettes of mountains reflect on the numerous lakes and thinly lit highways with palm trees carved from the sky in front of a brimming round moon somehow makes me feel…” For me all of it, but especially ‘thinly lit highways,’ absolutely captures the feeling of mystery, charm, and loneliness sometimes felt in remote Asia far from home.

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