Yesterday afternoon found me caught at a set of railroad tracks. I watched as a bright orange engine barrelled through the crossing, followed by coal cars, cars holding tractor-trailer boxes, tank cars holding who-knows-what and cars I had no idea of what they could be. As I waited, I counted the cars. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,........After a minute or so, the train slowed down and the reason why is that another train was coming from the other direction on the tracks beside it. I lost count.
Instead, I began looking at the graffiti that had been painted on the sides of the cars. Nothing is exempt from being defaced by a can of spray paint. You could tell when someone was a novice. Their artwork was simple in line and usually hurried, with paint trailing off into nothing. You could also tell when someone had time, lots of time, to render their masterpiece and leave their mark on the world. Letters with deep shadowing, flourishes, swirls and dots all combined in one small space done with great determination and, oddly, beauty.
I would occasionally glance into my rear view mirror to see the cars behind me pull out and take a side street to avoid having to wait in line. Everyone is always in such a hurry and no one wants to wait for trains. The two cars in front of me finally turned as well, leaving me at the top of the line with a clear view of the two trains in front of me. I moved up closer, put the truck in park and watched and waited. Twenty minutes. That is how long I was able to sit and watch a piece of Americana slip by me.
I love trains. I like the fact that I have to stop for a bit to allow one to pass, giving me the chance to unwind, take a breath and soak in the world around me. If not for those trains, I would have missed the Canadian geese flying overhead, swirls of grackles leaving the treetops, the morning glories blooming in the ditch, the man behind me picking his nose because he thought no one could see him (well, I would have liked to have missed that!), the dust from the dump trucks rolling up a dirt road sparkling in the sunlight, laughing children on a school bus, the engineer waving out the window, the graffiti, guessing what was in the cars, letting my mind wander.
If you ever come upon a railroad crossing and see a red pickup truck parked a little away from the safety gates, the driver watching intently as the train passes, it's probably me.