i am jumping some stories. mostly i just need to get this one out of my head.
trying to find the way i wanted to travel west with my bike for the least amount of money as soon as possible was my mission. after pouring over options that just were not going to work, finally one popped up.
it would take me early wednesday morning to mid-day sunday, but i could load my bike up without the need to box it up. seemed good. i packed some foods and beverages and prepared to be able to just kick back, write, read, look out the window and day dream. what more could a kid ask for?
philly to chicago was fairly uneventful, in fact, was delightful thanks to the woman i was sitting next to. her youngest child had finished high school, so now it is her time to do whatever, so instead of the kids leaving the nest, she left.
she had seen me run around the station with my bike and that is what started our conversations and connection, leading many more. she got rid of as much of her life as she could and is moving to montana where her eldest child lives. she loves to bike, run, swim, and basically just be out of doors. she “hates the city”. we would go to the lounge car for our own happy hour moments, a night cap, or morning coffee. our conversations always shifting and changing, or involving whomever decided to chime in. upon arrival in chicago we both had a four hour layover, so we went out in search of salads for lunch, and wine for her to take to her sleeper car for her next train ride. we helped each other find our next trains, exchange contacts and say so long. a very delightful 30 hours.
while waiting for the next train, the califonia zepher, i ran into another person loading their bike. we didn’t really chat until we were waiting to take our bikes to the baggage car to hand up to the loaders. i should have known this leg was going to be an interesting one. we didn’t get to hand hand our bikes up to the baggage people. we had to lay them down in a different baggage car, and the guy that was showing us which car to load on to, made it clear that he did not appreachiate bikes on trains. did he know that we most likely would not be using the train if it weren’t for the ability to bring our bikes? later, when i was trying to claim my bike, i kept getting sent back and forth until they finally listened to me about where i had put my bike a couple days before.
the conductors on this first section of this train were just rude. they treated us all like we were misbehaving children before we even left the station. later i would wish that they would actually address the parents of the children running over people all day and night. i spent a good deal of the time either in the observation car or the cafe beneath it. here i met so many people studying or practicing so many different kinds of physics. our conversations were amusing. to me it was about who was so certain of their knowledge vs. who acted curious and inquisitive. i also met a cycling guy from england who had also over heated and decided to go west. we both felt validated by our decisions based on our conversations. we both asked and listened, gaining insight from one anothers’ experience. so nice.
infact that was something that followed throughout this train ride. certainity vs curiosity. traveling through lands that i knew very well and over hearing people sharing information with their traveling companions about what things were or did, and being so very incorrect. one person actually tried to argue with me about sunflowers. insisting that they were mustard seed plants. i didn’t aruge. why would i? didn’t seem worth it, but it did lead me to this whole different internal dialogue about who knows what and how do we know what we believe we know and why do we cling to that knowledge so tightly?
is this how we end up so certain in our believes? in our own dogma? what makes some so certain and others open to different or alternate possibilities? is it possible to move from firm dogma to open possibilities? i was thinking all these thoughts as we were moving through various canyons of the colorado river. there was a bear, a fox (again arguments about fox or coyote), and some mooning from river rafters.
then we were back to the desert. we had entered navada and those getting off in reno were very excited. we were running a few hours late due to the need for amtrak to yield to rail/cargo trains. however, about an hour from reno things would change.
the engineer, or lead conductor was on the intercome giving us updates on times and various pieces of information about the gorgous forested lands we would once again be traveling through when all of a sudden the trains emergency breaking system kicked in and gasps came over the speakers.
soon we were told that there was some kind of mechanical issue and that they were going to do an inspection of the train and then get back to us. having the same kind of thing happen just outside of philly, i doubted that this was the truth. i should also mention that a rail train was stopped on the tracks next to us, heading east, and also at a stop.
the train outside philly stopped for a long time because there was a fear that we hit some trespassers on the tracks. i couldn’t help but think that something of the sort had happend here. we were pretty close to a major highway (and i had just seen a person on a bicycle peddling by wishing i could get to my bike and peddle away).
eventually they told us that we did indeed hit a “trespasser” and that we needed to stay and make sure that the “trespasser” was ok (they never mentioned if it was a human or non-human animal, it was always the trespasser). eventually, naturally, we noticed the various vehicals showing up and since we were the last car of the train and all the action was directly behind us, we knew some kind of shit happened.
couple of hours later we are told that we did hit a “trespasser” and that we “were waiting for the coroner before we could leave.” then we had to wait for the crew to give statements to the sharriff, then waiting to be cleared by the sharriff’s office or police crew. don’t really remember. i just figured we would go when we could go and no amount of questioning was going to change our situation. the crew in our train just kept trying to reassure that amtrak would make sure that everyone eventually would get where they wanted to go.
we would sit there outside of reno for 4 to 5 hours. the train was running out of food and beverages…and patience. they ended up having to make an emergency meal for all the passengers on the train. the complementary meal would be a beef stew and mashed potatoes. i went down to the snack car to see if mike still had some vegan burgers. nope. we was out of almost everything, but encouraged those of us that do not eat meat to go to participate anyway to put it in their minds that they need a different plan for emergency meals. the diner crew was not happy and was down right pissy to anyone asking if there were other options. i get it. they were way late to get off duty, were tired, frustrated, and probably a little traumatized as well.
mike, the guy who worked the snack car, told me a little about what had happened. the “traspasser” was actually a crew member of another train (the rail car stopped already) who was walking along a live track with earbuds in, knew our train was on its way in. the whole crew broke all the safety guidlines. we were going full speed when “he” was struck. he most likely died instantly and didn’t feel it, or at least not for long. the question remaining on many minds: suicide or accident.
i thanked mike for all the work he did, and the service he provided all of us, and i wished him and the rest of the crew well. i can’t imagine how the crew must feel under these conditions: a person dying, being so late getting into the end of the line before they had to turn around and go back the other directioin, having to answer all the questions from everyone about where to and how they were going to get some place.
my 10 hour layover in sacromento became a 3 hour layover. it was late enough that i didn’t even bother trying to load my bags on the bike and look for food. some of the screaming kids from the last train were in this waiting room, so i just went outside then up to the platform to wait for my train. it was a nice summer evening and i wanted to enjoy as much as i could. in reflection this could have been a good or bad thing.
our train was only 20 to 30 minutes late coming out of l.a. i was told that i would load my bike up in the front baggage car, then would board in the last coach car. i’ll tell you that is a long haul with full bike bags.
i got in line to board, and this would be the first time on this trip that i would have to wait for an assigned seat. the guy handing out seat tickets would become known as the “beanie guy” as he was the only crew member wearing a beanie. this guy actually sent me up one car, so i was in the next to last car now. we boarded a little after midnight so i had all my sleep stuff on the outside of my backpack making it easier for me to set up my sleep station, put on headphones, cover my eyes and pass out.
in the morning i woke before 6 (when the cafe opens). a few people around me were already up and were talking about there being a second mass shooting. i knew about one, but not the other. this was not how i wanted to wake up. i wanted to at least acknowledge my internal noise before the external chaos of the world permeated my being. so i went to the observation car. we were approaching mt. shasta and the sunrise views were outstanding. i struck up a conversation with the woman next to me who was returning to eugene after a weekend at the national storytelling confrence in california. we had a wonderful conversation before she went to the dining car for breakfast. i eventually went to my seat to read some more after a really long wait for a rail train to pass while we were next to kalamath lake.
the people around me where interesting. all kinds of conversations where going on, but mostly people were sleeping or reading or listing to something with earbuds in. i had just told my friends when i would be coming into town just before we went up the pass and out of cell range. at odell lake we came to a slow stop and told we were waiting for a rail train to pass.
funny how time passes when stuck on a train with no where to go. an hour passed and nothing. no train. no info. the conductors where kind of pacing around. going down the stairs, up the stairs, leaning against a wall behind the seats just in front of me (i was sitting in an aisle seat at the top of the stairs, so it was easy for me to watch them. the one conductor would talk into his radio thing from time to time. at one point, as we could hear the radio crackle with information, he said there should be something soon, that it appeared that the train we were waiting for to pass was having engine trouble.
our car was getting a little antsy, as i’m sure most people were. a few of us stood up and stretched and chatted. i told the people behind me that i didn’t think the conductor was telling us the truth and explained to them my experiences thus far. i was pretty sure we didn’t hit someone up here, but that something was going on.
i had smelled cigarette smoke several times that morning, and it appeared that a few people kept going downstairs by the bathrooms where carry on luggage can be stored, with empty cups, but coming back up with full ones. i knew they had thrown people off the train for such things, but why stopped here for so long for that. none of it was making sense.
the guy that had been sitting across the aisle and behind me came up the stairs and tapped me on the shoulder and said that everyone was suppose to move to the back of the train. that the conductor was going to have us all move back. this didn’t make sense. i stayed in my seat.
meanwhile some guy that i couldn’t see kept yelling about wanting the “fucking dog off the train”. a young guy in our car had a service dog.
the beanie guy kept coming up and down the stairs with wide eyes, yet unable to make eye contact. something was happening, but what the hell was it. not having cell service was not easing anyone’s situation and internal dialogue was quickly becoming external, making its way to whomever was nearby to listen.
by this time, i was already suppose to have arrived. my friends have traveled by train often and know things happen and how to get info. i found out later that where they were waiting for me, the happy dive bar across the street from the train station, was close enough for them to hear the amtrak announcements letting them know that we were late, but not how late or why.
so here i am chatting with the people behind me, telling them that i didn’t think any of this was making sense when i looked up and on the other side of the door, in the next car is what looks like a gaggle of riot cops or swat team trying to open the door to our car and charge down the aisle. shotguns up and pointing red laser beams at us as they moved our way.
at first i was laughing, as i reached for my phone to record anything that may happen. there were lots of brown and black folks on this train. i was laughing because the lead swat like guy couldn’t get the door open. it took 3 or 4 tries before they all came charging down at us, fully armed and pointing shotguns at us all. and i was laughing because this is what would happen now here.
and where did they go, but to the back of the train, pointing their guns at all those who did move back there (so happy i did not move). eventually the guy who told me to move, told the cops not us, that guy over there.
the cops backed up, pointed all weapons on the guy who had been yelling about the dog on the train. the cops asked him his name, i didn’t hear his answer, then asked if he was armed, “yes, i have a 45”. then shouts “i got it! i got it!” after we had heard him drop it on the floor.then they hauled the guy off the train as he kept asking what he was charged with and that he had been sleeping for the last 3 hours. and off goes another angry white guy that’s been carrying a gun ready to fire away at any moment.
what the fuck
5 fully armed officers from various departments had boarded the train. then they started taking people off one by one to interview them. seems this guy was threatening people since the sacrmento station, starting with a woman’s pre-teen daughter. people had been alerting amtrak employees about this guy from the go.
on the train he had a coutdown going for when he was going to start taking hostages, had been smoking on the train several times, and it seems everyone in our car had some story about this guy, except me. i had managed to miss almost everything.
eventually they let us all off the train for a “smoke break”. i did suspect some of the people came forward with a story once they saw people getting to smoke while talking to a cop.
eventually we got back on the train and we got to start moving again. all of us sitting near one another shared stories and asking what were we suppose to do now. those who had the guns pointed directly at them started to breakdown into tears and sobbed on shoulders.
the woman who had been sitting/sleeping next to the guy overnight had been in the observation car during the time we were stopped and came back once we started moving again. i had seen her in the morning. she thought he was just another crazy white guy and she was a strong black woman tired of crazy white guys. i ran into her later when i went down to the cafe car for a beer and a snack. the cafe was closed but i saw her in the back by the bathrooms alone, looking shaken up.
i asked if she needed anything. we talked. well she talked. i listened. she had no idea he had a gun. she had yelled at him. they had faught pretty much all night until she got up and left. she had bad feelings about him from the go. “he could have shot me at any time!?”
we didn’t see or hear from a conductor until we were abut 30 minutes from the eugene station (our next stop). someone came over the speakers as the guy sitting next to me and i went in search of some kind of information anouncing the approximate new times. some of us did our own math and believed that they purposly went slower than needed to talk about what and how they were going to respond to what had happened.
when a conductor finally did come back to check in on those of us getting off the train in eugene, he had no response. no one was going to come make sure that we were “ok” or that those personally traumatized had access to support via amtrak or some other means. i found out, by talking to others while in line for bathrooms or drinks, that unless one was in our car, no one knew anything about what happened. even those in the observation car that the armed cops came through to get to him, were told nothing.
to be a little fair. once the incident was over and we were moving again we saw beanie guy head to the front of the train with his bags packed looking none to happy. we never saw him again. we assumed he got off at the unscheduled stop before we got into eugene proper. he was the one conductor people had voiced their concerns about the guy since before boarding in sacramento. this could have all been handled quickly in a station with support.
the conductor who did talk to us had only been on the job for 6 months, and he was the one we saw back in our area. the lead conductor i only saw once early in the trip. she was recalculating arrival times in the cafe car after the stop we had in klamath. i did see her in the baggage car when i went to claim my bike. she apologized for any inconviencies. i wished her well. i just wanted to load up my bike and point it to my pals who by now had gone home and were cooking up a nice curry for us as the beer was chilling. have i mentioned how much i love my friends?! all of them! everywhere!
it took awhile for some of us to take in everything that had just happened. i still am i reckon. many of us that follow just how much gun violence there is in this country. how many mass shootings there are. how much fear people live in and with every flipping day; sometimes it takes a minute to realize what was experienced.
as for myself. i’m ok. i’m good, as pools well up in my eyes right now. i don’t know how i felt as i was instructed to stay in my seat and keep my head down as i could see it all go down. it was so instinctual. the arsonal of the police/military weapons at eye level, the brown man i was sitting next to me waking up as everything was happening, me putting my hand on his back telling him to stay down. i trusted no one in this situation but my own privlage keeping me more safe than those around me…and as a queer low-income gender queer person in this country being white and educated was what i had going for me…as usual. i say this with no ego or good for me moment, my concern was for those around me. i never believed i was in physical danger, but that others would be. i don’t know why. as others processed what could have happened if….i listened. i never felt the danger. as i’ve taken some time to process and talked it out with my people i still don’t feel like i was in physical danger. maybe part of my laughter of the military police having problems opening the door, was the idea that “of course this is what is happening” with no sense of suprise.
but i am certainly feeling something
i feel for those who did feel threatened
those who were sittting near this white man spouting violent threatening language
those who feel this threat each and every day due to how they look or move through their lives
where their families moved here from as refugees seeking asylum
no matter who we are
no matter how we vote(d)
where we live
for so long now
this is our reality.
the people behind me? they were suppose to be at that garlic festivile that was a scene of a recent mass shooting.
everyone had some kind of close call with a mass shooting in this country, or white supremest hate filled violence to share.
so i have a question(s) for all those who voted for this administration, for this way of governing for this hate sponsored politics. those of you who don’t believe that this is what you voted for…that you voted for the economics or whatever you thought was going to provide you with a sense of safety and future you wanted to see, who think this is not the america you wanted to make great again.
for all those who believe that there is a grave threat from people who seek refuge along the southern border, or are muslim, black, brown, queer, trans
how do you “know” that this is the source of violence or some kind of risk to your safety, financial or physical. how do you “know” this to be true?
i also have questions for all those who have asked me if i feel safe traveling alone? camping by myself, biking by myself. i have never felt a threat until i entered the places more populated by people.
because of all these and so many more questions i have, i don’t know how to end this post.
thank fucking much that i had some of the best people in the world waiting for me with food and beverages and hugs and listening skills when i got off this train to help me deal with a fairly benign situation comparitively.
i shouldn’t have to deal with this, no one should.
the things i should have to deal with have nothing to do with fragile egos with guns, fists, white houses fed by congress and mega corporatioins.
i’m tired too
i’m tired of being angry
i’m tired of deciphering if that sound was fireworks or gunfire
i’m tired of filtering
of self censoring
and if i am this tired, how do others who have done this for generations, centuries feel?!
a final note. i looked this incident up on line just to see what if any news would be reported, because we never saw a news crew. there was very little reported. mostly that we were delayed for 5 hours costing amtrak lots of money in lost revenue due to missed connections and such. that there were 272 passangers and 15 crew members. that there was no injuries reported and no weapons. really? no weapons??!! we saw the weapon. i heard the man say he had a 45. i heard the cop drop it then pick it up and repeat several times “i got it! i got it!”
know who to trust with what you know is true
One thought on “life and threats on trains”
Kim, sorry for your experience, but if you don’t feel fear you can’t really feel comfort in situations of safety. Ann and I went to the memorial in el Paso last week, left candel and prayers. It was a sobering moment. I understand your position on feeling safe when in the country versus areas of many people. Love you Dad and Ann.
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