To create more commerce and more community to the Continental Divide, America created railroads. All along the passage from East to West you find railroads. The East might house more subways and mass transit, but it is in the small towns of the West that you find the seemingly endless tracks.
My town in particular was a transit spot from Chicago to Seattle. Railroads made the town and my grandfather made the railroads. My father and mother both from the West of the Great Divide lived near a railroad and as small children could only fall asleep to the sound of distant train whistles. I too grew up near the tracks. My window faced a lake and the tracks were in the distance.
These tracks were always something that filled me with curiosity and fear. Late at night, when only the grasshoppers spoke, the whistle would blow and I would know that it was 3:35 a.m. If I was restless, I would always imagine what was in the cargo of the train. Could it be tons of chocolate milk cartons that would be on the lunch tables of my school? Could it be a hobo coming from Seattle to make a new life for him or herself in Chicago or was it a crazed serial killer –Angel Maturin was the famous ‘train killer’ of the 90s-- coming from the south ready to snatch and steal the kids living near the tracks?
When I moved from the tracks to go to college, I found that I couldn’t fall asleep as easily. I missed the sound of the iron pedals pumping to their location, the echo of a lone horn in the night, and the crickets among the grass. Mostly, I missed the thought that if things got really bad I couldn’t hop the train to a new place across the line that divided the relaxed from the uptight and separated Broadway from the Pacific. During my college years, I found other people fascinated with the tracks.
Some of my friends, all male, even decided to ride the rails down to California. They would clothe themselves in the perfect hobo masquerades, trading their well-educated speech for the peasantry slang in a Steinbeck novel. They would do this during Spring Break when I would flock to Florida or Las Vegas, any place that got me out of the Oregon rain. I would come back with a tan and they would come back with stories of how they were able to con train pirates and how the wind felt when you road on top ar’ train. The stories grew from jokes to legends and tactics for the future comrade who needed instructions on how to escape the FBI, while riding through the Red Woods.
In those two weeks, they had more adventure than I had growing up near the tracks. I was envious, not only that they had enough courage to go through with this, but that they would risk their lives to do something I had only dreamed about: entering a train cubby to ride to the next town, not really knowing where that next town was or who you might run into in one of the miscellaneous train cars.
Don’t worry mother, I’m not going to hop a train here in Korea, but I do think that life is worth taking risks.
The train tracks in the picture once tied South Korea to North Korea. They were blown up and all connection between the 38th parallel were lost. There are no free spirits that hitch a ride from Seoul to Pyongyang on a whim to visit a friend or just merely to see what stars look like on top of a train as it zooms through the night. Instead there is an empty passage way. There is a stop of a dream.
The tracks seemed to be like any I had seen and it reminded me of how connected we are in this world and how easy it is to end these connections. How we can get close, but sometimes cut all ties. We fear the tracks that are meant to make us united. In lieu of all the news going on between the South and North, I think these tracks will be mended again. I hope that one day a young Korean girl living on the boarder will be able to hear the train at night and dream about all the magical lands that she can travel to just over the 38th parallel... If she could just jump on the next train.