When I was in high school a big, brief story in the local newspaper was of a boy hopping a railroad car and ending up in Cleveland – 97 miles away. The story was he got in and fell asleep. I seem to remember talk of police, juvenile detention . . . Not exactly sure how he made it home.
I knew Dennis. Our parents bowled together when we were younger and he was always in trouble. My grandparents would have described him as ‘full of pee and vinegar.’ When I read he’d jumped a car and rode to Cleveland I wasn’t surprised, just thought what an idiot!
Now I’m not so sure he was. Back then all I could see was his disobedience, not his sense of adventure, curiosity or his excitement. Today those forces are behind my jumping on the Lynx Blue Line and riding into Charlotte every chance I get. But I buy a ticket. Well, except once and I got kicked off but that’s a really long story I won’t go in to.
My older friend Edith assumes I sit in my office all day spilling words onto the page. Most days that happens, but just as important (actually more so!) are the days I move around in the real world with real people, not just inhabiting the world I’m currently making up with people who don’t really exist.
Going into Charlotte on the train opens worlds to my writing. I love going to the museums that are just blocks from the last station. There are restaurants within walking distance of the last few stops with cuisine hubby won’t try but I want to taste. The parks and churches have stories I want to know. And the people. Everyone has a story they are eager to share if I take the time to listen.
The ride itself is a study in characters. I don’t read on the train but I’ll write sketches of observations. These guys are obviously from the culinary school, what did they cook today that still lingers on their white coats and smells so good? Where are these moms with toddlers in tow taking them? And that older couple wearing their hats and walking sticks that remind me of European hikers, where have they traveled? Sometimes I ask the questions, sometimes I make up my own answers.
So far Charlotte has only the Blue Line but for now those adventures are enough – I’ve not finished exploring. Each ride holds story ideas, and tastes, sights and smells to make my writing richer and more believable.
And Dennis, wherever you are, I hope you’re still hopping trains and seeking adventures too.