by Matt Kramer
The light rail rolls by my porch, a yellow Victorian flat in downtown Sacramento, and the walls shake in the clacking rush at semi-regular intervals day and night. I like to hop aboard at the stop five blocks down. I don’t have anywhere to go in particular. I work in the morning, the 10 a.m. retail shift. I’d prefer to get drunk and sleep ’til noon.
I like looking for stories on the train. Midweek mornings are the best for this; there’s a lot going on. You have your schizophrenic smelly crazies, your frightened old grandmothers clinging to their purses with nervous eyes, you’ve got Greenpeace workers riding without a ticket hoping not to get nabbed by the city rail guards, a college commuter with dreams that will be buried in debt causing her to settle for an eight to five that she hates with a passion and keeps her drunk most of the time, twenty or so odd hipsters commuting to coffee shops and craft bars where they’ll stroke their beards and flash brilliant tattoos while catering to pseudo-intellectuals and lunch break wanderers, tunnel-eyed Millennial techies and office workers who lost their souls in their pockets, and a hundred other dull-faced, thousand-masked, wild, moving, characters with varying backgrounds, lives and destinations.
The most peaceful time to ride the rail is at night. There’s hardly anyone still on the train other than a few bleary-eyed late night travelers, just trying to get home. I like night rides best when I have a car to myself. You can usually catch this kind of luck after 8 p.m. or so. One night, I ride the rail to a stop a few miles out of Midtown. I walk about two miles out in the night and find my way to the old train yard. In the pre-light rail days, this would have been a scene where hundreds of lives moved. Now this part’s a tourist trap by day. If you listen closely you’ll hear the voices of the dead and the nearly living. Walk further on the tracks. Stars out, covered partly with clouds that won’t be yielding any rain. Here, these old rails go by a schoolyard, now fenced about for safety. Red brick and chain-link in once-damp air, now baked and faded in the long California drought.
I imagine the scene tomorrow around late afternoon. The school bell rings, a buzzer, sending screaming prisoners free. From time to time a shipment will move along the rails still. No passengers anymore—today every family moves about by car or plane for the really important trips when they’re serious about getting far away.
But sometimes the shipments come. The freight trains, screaming off to their destinations on barely maintained wheels as fast as they can go, as if they know they haven’t much time before their dying mode of transport is snuffed out. Other trains recall the glory days as they sit rusting in rail houses.
I bet the trains dream of going to Europe or Asia where the romance of the rail is still alive, revitalized by millennia of connectivity, donkey wagons and cobblestone alleys. If trains could dream, I bet they’d want to go rolling through the Black Forest past those wooden cuckoo clock makers who dwell in those still-magic places where witches ride on Walpurgis Nacht and keep Grimm fairy fires burning in the unconscious minds of a people scared with Holocaust shadow nightmares and economic turmoil. Refugees and nationalists sharing the rails in uncomfortable silence, each wondering if the other might give them the jump.
Out on the other side of the world, a high speed bullet train shoots out of a gun in far-flung Japan with the rising sun where technology and sea side villages collide with high-powered digital thoughts. The asexual youth, choosing a Schopenhaueresque fate, refuse sex, preferring business. The rare fucking is done in pixels and out of vending machines.
I think there’s some mountain boy in Nepal watching a short-track train roll around the Himalayas, delivering goods and white relief workers. Some young refugee from Tibet sees that small red mountain train that goes from eyesight to eyesight, another city just in view, and he thinks of the powerful high speed rail lines of Beijing, of Shanghai and all those Chinese billions who are off to jobs, off to war, off to economic growth and crash and ecological ruin. Christian missionaries come into his village and tell him about the loving god who must save him from the eternal torture that awaits if he doesn’t surrender his soul from those devil Buddhas. An old Lama sighs as the cross goes up in place of the wheel of Dharma erecting another ideological roadblock to peace. I wonder if they think about me as I think about them?
The sun’s coming up soon, 3 a.m. was too long ago. I’ve got to get home. I’ve got a light rail train ride to catch to work in the morning. Tomorrow’s Friday. I think Saturday I’ll get drunk and sleep in late and ride the rails all afternoon.
Matt Kramer is a native to Sacramento, and spent time in the San Francisco North Bay Area and the Napa Valley where he attended college. After earning his B.S. in Communication, he returned to Sacramento where he worked a variety of jobs including serving at a ramen house, assisting at a physical therapists’ office, volunteering with Greenpeace, and a year as an employee at an independent record store before taking a full-time position as a journalist for the Folsom Telegraph. He is a regular contributor to the Folsom Lake Entertainer and City Scout Magazine in Sacramento, and continues to write as a freelancer.
Matt is an enthusiast of fantasy, science fiction, Beat and counter-culture literature, and post-modern to contemporary art and philosophy. He has managed to amass a small collection of typewriters and vinyl records, enjoys the outdoors, cooking vegan cuisine, supporting live music, and cultivates an unhealthy interest in the occult.