I rode a freight train today. To catch it, Girlfriend drove me to the Amtrak station in Gastonia. It was deserted. It happens to be open only between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m., which are precisely the hours you do not want to be at the Amtrak station in Gastonia. The platform is a five foot wide swath of crumbling asphalt. It sits between an abandoned factory and a garage with all the windows blown out. In Gastonia, that could be anywhere.
The 212 puffed its way up to the station. A man in a fluorescent vest popped out of a door in its nose. He handed me safety glasses, ear plugs, safety glasses and a vest of my own. I waved Girlfriend goodbye and climbed inside.
I'm holding on to what happened next for another story. But I can say this: riding on a freight train turned me back into a 10-year-old boy. I did a lot of pointing and asked "what's that?" People waved as we sped past crossings. I waved back.
At the end, I found myself in a green field at the edge of the tracks more than 70 miles away from where I started in Gastonia. I stood in the sun, watching car after car clank by until the train disappeared over a hill.
Next time, I'll blow the horn.