The railroad

We live about two blocks from the railroad track. It runs behind the houses on the other side of the street but, due to certain factors, it’s actually almost two blocks away from our house.

The track went unnoticed when we bought the property ten years ago.  But I’ve come to love the train and its proximity.  It passes in the middle of the night now and then, but the sound is no big deal.  We sleep through it.

The locomotives often read Kansas City Southern de Mexico. It’s an expatriate train.

* * * *

Neal Cassady


If you follow our track northeast in the direction of San Miguel de Allende, I imagine you’ll get to the spot where Neal Cassady stupidly ended his life in a cold coma alongside the rails in 1968.

Neal, as you may know, was a friend of Jack Kerouac and the model for the character of Dean Moriarty in On the Road. When I was far younger, I admired these people of the Beat Generation.

Now they simply seem cases of arrested development. Kerouac, for instance, who died at 47, ended up a blubbering drunk living with his mommy.

* * * *

Runaway train


Movies about trains are great. One of the best you’re likely to find is Runaway Train from 1986.  It stars Jon Voight, an excellent tough guy; Eric Roberts, Julia’s often-forgotten but talented brother; and the normally sexy Rebecca de Mornay looking here like a tomboy.

I have the DVD on the bookshelf behind me. If you want to come over and watch it sometime, let me know. You bring the popcorn.

* * * *

Mexico City to El Paso

In the mid-70s, I was working on a newspaper in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The union, run by a pack of clueless communists, went out on strike in spite of already being paid more than almost everybody on the island.

It looked to be a drawn-out affair, so I packed my bags and headed to Haiti.

After a few days in Port-au-Prince, I flew to Mexico City. It was just a jaunt with no destination firmly in mind.

I paid for a sleeper cabin on a train to El Paso with two bottles of tequila which I polished off during the two-day trip and which also explains why I remember so little of the passage.

One memory: standing on the landing between two cars at sunset and looking at rose mountains in the desert of northern Mexico. Plenty of metal clanging and fresh air.

From El Paso I flew to New Orleans where I learned the strike had ended in San Juan. Pretty sweet timing, so I wasn’t a vagabond after all. I returned to Puerto Rico, tracked down my Argentine girlfriend and went back to work.

* * * *


I like living near the track, and I hear a whistle right now. It’s the 7:30 freight south to Uruapan or maybe to the beach at Ixtapa. I’d love to hop on.

21 thoughts on “The railroad

  1. Hop on the train, we’ll pick you up in Ixtapa, we’re meeting some NOB buddies at the beach for a few days.


  2. I have a few trains around here.They’re freight trains so I can’t hop on, but I could hear the cool whistle. The only time it could bother me is when I’m driving and get stuck waiting for a very long, slow train to pass. It’s always when I need to be somewhere at a certain time. Then the whistle doesn’t sound that cool anymore.

    I believe in karma or whatever anyone wants to call it. It’s there, you can feel and see it everyday — positive brings more positive in my book, attitude, people you hang with, frame of mind, the list goes on.


    1. Andean: Just because it’s a freight doesn’t mean you can’t hop on. I’ve never done that, but many have. Be kind of fun, I think, if you don’t die in the doing of it.

      Except for some tourist routes, there are no more passenger trains in this country, sadly.

      I like the idea of karma. Of course, we are referring to some comments on another post, but no matter.


  3. I have a memory of those same rose hued mountains of Northern Mexico. It was sunrise and I was looking at my boat shining in the morning sun with the desert in the backqround. It seemed absurd but beautiful at the same time.


  4. I wasn’t referring to comments on another post. The line above where I comment here mentions positive karma. I presume you put it there.

    If I ever see one of those trains stating their route to Patzcuaro I will hop on. It’s a good time to go and I like the mountains.


    1. Andean: I did put the line at the top of the comment box. I also was going round and round a bit this morning with a fellow named Ray below another post about the karma concept and its similarity, I thought, to some Christian concepts. Incorrectly, I have learned. Though I remain confused.


  5. We twice took trains (“Divisíon Del Norte”) from Cd. Júarez. The first was a relatively short jaunt, to Chihuahua. The second, lasting over 24 hours, was to Zacatecas. There was not much at all to see out the window, and the often long halts in the middle of nowhere were truly unexciting.
    (I’ll always remember Cañitas de Felipe Pescador, as there was nothing to see during the 2- hour stop in the middle of nowhere.)
    So, it was doubly thrilling to disembark in Zacatecas, get a cab, and ride down a cobbled street where the faroles de dragones (dragon lampposts) were just adding their warm glow to the scene.

    In my memories, our Mexico train trips highlights were boarding and getting off.

    Don Cuevas


    1. Don Cuevas: You should have packed on a couple bottles of tequila. They would have taken the edge off the monotony.

      Zacatecas is my wife’s favorite Mexican city.


      1. Tequila would have been a plus. But what I remember is a tepid orange drink, which I dubbed, “Naranjanada”. That, however, may have been on the Copper Canyon train. We had a Pullman sleeper with meals (time has blessedly erased the memories.) on the Júarez-Zacatecas run.

        Zacatecas is wonderful. Your wife is a very perceptive woman.

        Don Cuevas


  6. Hey what a coincidence, we also live by the tracks (about 3-4 blocks away) The train noise is kind of soothing once you get used to it.
    I like the mental picture you paint of the desert and the train. The Sonoran Desert is my favorite part of the country.
    BTW, another great train movie you have to see is Switchback with Danny Glover. Excellent film!
    Happy Saturday Señor.


    1. Mike: Yes, the train sound is nice, and we can see the trains passing from the upstairs terraza.

      I think you’ve mentioned the Switchback movie to me before. Sounds familiar.


  7. Trains and trucks, I like trains better for hauling goods from here to there; those trucks scare the begezzers out of me on the highway. The idea that a road train (three trailers) is good policy is nuts — trains belong on rails. The thing that gets my knickers in a bind is the way the trucks beat up the roads, the 4-wheelers pay the cost of the roads through the gas tax, but the trucks are the ones who chew up the pavement.

    The trains pay their own way-I like that. Bike paths out of old rail beds are pretty nice as well.


    1. Norm: Three trailers?! I have never seen that. Two is quite enough. As for bike paths, it’s not an idea that has really caught on down here where I am. I wish.


      1. The first time I came to Mexico, they were still running the trains over in the Yucatan, narrow gauge track that cut through the countryside but it was one of those do it before its gone things. I passed on that adventure at the time and it went the way of the buggy whip.
        And yes, I had an adventure the other night with a mad man who was driving a triple trailer rig and was road raging with a 4-wheeler. It was like dodging a two hundred foot long rattlesnake at 75 miles an hour. One small bite and I would have been a goner. I pulled off and let that parade go on by.


        1. Norm: We had normal passenger train service down here at least into the 1980s. I don’t know when it vanished.

          Still cannot imagine a three-trailer truck. The two-trailer versions give my wife conniptions. I cannot imagine what a third would do to her. Or perhaps I can.


  8. I’ve always felt a pull to trains (no pun intended). Maybe it’s the mystery of what’s on down the line if I hopped on. Too bad they aren’t what they once were here.

    Thanks for the prompt. I’d head down to the depot, but they are all closed.


  9. But you gotta admit Kerouac was a gifted wordsmith. Although probably not his best work, “On The Road” remains one of my favorite reads. “Big Sur” chronicled his journey into the self-admitted blubbering drunk you describe.

    As an enamored teenager I spent a great deal of time in the North Beach beat scene. Having rubbed shoulders with Kerouac, Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg and many others of their ilk, I’m not sure I would agree with your assessment of “arrested development.” They were, for the most part, “bohemian” artists and/or spiritual seekers in search of some kind of truth. I would certainly agree that they were disillusioned and did not dance to the beat (pun intended) of the mainstream.

    Maybe Dean Moriarty/Neal Cassidy took two bottles of tequila along with him for a train ride and, during one of those monotonous desert stops, got off the train to take a leak, whereupon the train took off abandoning him in the desert. With only his remaining bottle of tequila to drink he headed down the tracks, ultimately passing out from alcohol and dehydration. By the time they found him, he was comatose… it’s possible.


    1. Larry: I have read most of Kerouac’s stuff (way back when), and I would imagine that I’d find it quite dated now. Maybe not. My favorite was his first, The Town and the City. It was his longest book. He was trying to be another Thomas Wolfe.


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