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The International Writers Magazine
21st Century Hobo

Can't Wait
Charles Mulberry

Anyone’s life can be burdensome to whatever degree they choose. Men wake up in the mornings obligated to carry out tasks they put on themselves. The women do the same. College students in the midst of agonizing finals week do it, as well as old farmers needing to go out and plow. It’s a part of training to become whatever image of success one has in their minds. And with rent to pay to stay warm and mouths to feed to stay alive, apparently, it is all for the sake of happiness and prosperity in life.

It’s not bad at all, don’t take it like that. Just monotonous.
It’ll make you wonder, do people ever want to change for a while?

One morning in mid-April when a heinous cold front from the northern United States finally finished a week long refrigeration campaign on the South, the sun shone brighter and hotter than anyone in Murfreesboro, Tn could have ever hoped. Wilting poplar leaves perked up with a zeal still not scientifically explainable and the residents of this small southern city scuttered to their porches to have a look see. My friend, T. Dean, and I were no different. The school semester was finally over there was no reason not to be on the porch.
Being Murfreesboro, of course it was windy that day. The gusts in this town rival Chicago. There rolled tumbleweed down the street that someone couldn’t keep because of the wind. It looked like the shavings of a trimmed bush from the neighbor’s yard.

Suddenly through the cracked screen door, we heard "Feeling Good" by the gorgeous Nina Simone coming out of the record player just inside the house. If you haven’t listened to it, I suggest it with utmost insistence. Some songs can make the lowliest men feel bad ass, and this is one of them.
Dean just turned and looked at me.
"The M775 comes through town today." It was a Wednesday. "Do you know what time?" he asked me.
"I usually see some people caught up at the track crossings on Church and Middle Tennessee around sunset." I replied proud of how pizza delivery drivers know everything.
We walked in, grabbed a guitar and a case of harmonicas, locked up the house and left on foot like nomadic miscreants with a wild hair.

A few supplies were needed for the journey though and, fortunately, the corner market was just a couple of blocks away. The few items absolutely, undoubtedly, physiologically needed for a trip like this is, well, a pack of Marlboro cigarettes, a notepad with a pencil, and a lighter. Water was everywhere and food would come around somehow, we hoped. If not, we had a legitimate plan to find a few dollars.
When we left the store, Dean reached into his back pockets.
"Here, man, you forgot to say this when you were rambling about the items needed for a trip like this on the way down here." He tossed a twenty four-ounce can at me.

The walk to the tracks wasn’t all that bad. The luggage, just some instruments and almost empty cans by then, weren’t heavy enough to cause fatigue, thankfully. The time was seven twenty five. By then, we could see the intersection of Church street and Middle Tennessee boulevard and the train could be heard down the track for miles.

If you’ve ever been caught up at a railroad crossing, you probably know how much track the procession of cargo carriers covers. It can go for miles. Personally, I’ve counted over a hundred train cars following one another down that iron line. Some stacked two high. So, we couldn’t exactly thumb him down to stop for us. He wouldn’t have even if he could because the conductors hate freeloading hobo types and do everything in their power to keep the stowaways off the trains. But, this particular intersection is within a short distance of Murfreesboro’s industrial park and we knew he had to stop for some freight at a factory. We’d use the big iron beast’s length to our advantage and hop a caboose cab when the time was right.

That wretched screech to a halt happened just then and old Deaner smacked me on the chest and took off running for the train. It wasn’t hard to get on. The beast was still and silent and with just a hop up a grated ladder to a little grated standing platform behind one of the last railroad cars; our humble quarters for the journey.

Amazingly, we didn’t catch any guff. There weren’t any old mono-toothed men named Tracks McOswald or Blind Boy Grunt hell bent on scaring the devil out of us. There was no one else besides us two. The conductor didn’t notice us get on, so there weren’t any quick searches before the train got to moving again.
"Do you know where you’re going?" I asked my friend.
"Naw, bud." He replied.
Once we picked up speed and got out of the city, the ride seemed to last comfortably forever. Not much was seen on the ground besides the usual fence post or ancient mail carrying hooks you see in the movies. It all moved very fast, but, oh, the stars.

Backwoods stars and city stars are different because you can actually see backwoods stars with great detail. Some places the entire Milky Way is visible as a big fog of stars running across the middle of the sky. Being out with those backwoods stars is kind of like having dinner with someone. You just don’t talk because you have to nourish yourself and that’s understood. We just watched and were glad the wind was warm, eventually dozing off.

Both of us awoke to the blaring of the train horn. It strangely made me dream a little dream about Johnny Cash singing right before I came to, too. But, nevertheless, we had no idea where we were. The train was still. It was early Thursday morning.

After hopping off the train and trudging down the gravel for a while instruments, cigarettes and all, we came across a main road wielding a sing welcoming us to Guthrie, Kentucky: Home of Robert Penn Warren.
Guthrie, Kentucky is an old railroad town from way back when that has since kind of died until recent. Shells of buildings that could be from any small town lay around in Guthrie. Its not depressing at all. Its worth a trip to see it if you haven’t, but only if you’re bored.

We walked forever down this road it seemed. Sweating from the morning sun made us fear the afternoon one. Then we walked some more and some more until finally, we saw a little tavern on the side of the road without a proper sign to name itself. We just called it Tavern.

Knowing we didn’t have any money and seeing during the time it took to get from down the road to Tavern a few people were walking in and out, the legitimate plan for money didn’t seem so harmful now. I mean, I was hungry. Shop had to be set up.
"You want to set up shop?" I asked Deano.
"I dunno. Do you want to set up shop?"

So we set up shop. Right there beside the old wooden door of Tavern. Dean pulled out a few of his harmonicas he tugged around I broke out the little acoustic guitar I brought with me and layed it out open in front of us. It just seemed appropriate in a town like Guthrie, KY. We played and played for a while never stopping. Depending on what harp Dean was using determined what style I plucked, but mainly we dallied in the blues and country western. Singing and sweating, we didn’t make a dime even though they were still entering and exiting. So we played longer. Its nice to see what you’ll do when you’re traveling poor. It shows what kind of character one has.

Eventually, the shop keep came out and gave us a sympathy sandwich. I think that denim clad man was watching us through the window.
"Hell, you boys don’t sound bad at all." He complimented. "What d’ya call yourselves?"
To this day, I regret not saying the best band name I could think of like Charles Mulberry and the Meat or The Big Moosey or something like that. But I said nothing.
"Ah, we’re just a couple of kids."

The denim man nodded his head with what seemed like approval and closed the door behind him. We still never found out if that place was actually a tavern or a supermarket or not. But Dean abruptly punched me in the chest and took off with his belongings. I gathered mine and chased him, noticing the train’s whistle in the distance.

We spent all day in Guthrie walking around and playing music in front of a store, and that was enough to get a sandwich. Thank you, Guthrie.

Catching the train this time was no different from the last. Warm wind carried us off back into the backwoods and the wait carried us into the night’s sky. The hum of the train on the tracks made me drowsy and quiet and as Dean played a slow jailhouse blues on an A harp, I drifted into sleep.
Before I awoke this time, I had a little dream about the train’s cargo being nothing but sand. I said in the dream, "Man, can small that damn sand? It smells soaked." And then I woke.

I could smell the ocean. We were in a coastal state and that sure as hell means not Kentucky.
This scent I’ve noticed and longed for even before my first trip to the beach made, makes my mouth water and my feet go fast.
"Where are we?" I asked Dean who was just coming to.
"I don’t know, but I can smell the ocean." Dean grew up in the water. He was a red headed beach boy back in the day when he lived in Virginia before college.
We hopped off and walked the gravel again. All of a sudden Dean stopped and let his mouth gape open like a hot dog’s mouth and let it hang.
"What’s wrong with your face?"
"Dude, I can smell the ocean and I have the most at ease feeling right now." He kept staring at the side of the train.
"And our train says NYSE:NSC."
He lost my attention by then and I glared off into the sky until he punched me in the chest again and started dancing off in glee.
"We’re in Norfolk! Ah hahahah! We were on a Norfolk Southern Corp. train!"
The guy was happy to be home.
"We gotta go to the beach." He kept running.

Now, Dean, in Tennessee was one of those people that could walk into a room and take it over. I know these things because we’ve planned to do so have some how executed it in hysterical fashions. But those are other stories. What’s really impressive to me is the guy walked into a state and did that.
He outran me up the gravel and eventually stopped when he saw a building hidden behind the trackside tree line. I lost sight of him.
Eventually, I ran up behind the rail house to find him. They obliged to his phone requests already, so there wasn’t much I could do but sit back and watch. It was good to be off the bumpy tracks. Dean joined me post phone call.

Within an hour, Dean had arranged for one of his old frends to pick us up. He showed up driving a deep brown car holding out the window gifts of potato chips and bottles of water, so my content surfaced immediately. After finishing those in the car and a little conversation had passed, I found myself somehow running while trying to pull my socks off through warm, warm sand towards the biggest body of water on earth thinking to myself how pleasant of a change this is. Even if only for a little bit.
I’ll find another job when I get back.

© Charles Mulberry May 2007

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