On A Train From New Orleans To Memphis

There’s this endless horizon filled with greenery – sometimes swampland, sometimes agricultural, sometimes lawns in front of cottages or overgrown gardens in front of shacks or a sparse blade here and there near a garage or a gas station. I’ve never felt further from home or more glad to live there.

The train is ambling but rocks with that rickety, roller coaster from the fifties kind of gait. It passes towns that look like time forgot them. It passes towns that look like people forgot them. It passes towns that look like people wish they could forget them.

There’s this ominous stickiness to the air, not quite humidity, not quite a spectre, but more a thick, pervasive despair. Signs of local industry: a quarry, a crop, a car yard. Signs of local poverty: roads overrun with leaking pipes, barren streets and empty shops, broken windows with ‘Keep Out’ graffitied on the accompanying doors.

The train stops and the conductor lets people know they can have a cigarette break: nearly everyone aborts the train to fill their lungs with smoke. Watching from the window, the cigarettes look longer here. The trashy magazine I bought to pass the time has a cigarette advertisement on its inside back cover. It’s the first contemporary nicotine ad I’ve ever seen.

I’ve been keeping an eye out through the dizzy making scenery that scoots quickly past my window for an alligator. Just in case: I think it would be cool to see one. I saw a deer that looked too old to be a baby deer but too little to be fully grown. It made me really happy.

Sometimes you feel like you belong in a place; sometimes you really don’t.

On this train, from a to b, with a luxurious amount of leg room and lots of time to think, I take a breather. This trip with its undefined purpose except to see lots of music – it’s halfway through. It’s a compass recalibrating, a watch being set to the correct time.

I could recline this seat to almost 180 degrees and lie completely on my back, a position so filled with vulnerability on a train filled with strangers that I dare not risk it. It’s a new world where people treat you differently. Their assumptions are different. To them, you’re not wearing shorts because it’s hot and that’s what you always wear. To them, you’re not walking by yourself because you’re a solo traveller and you’re not really scared of anything. Usually.

Past the window walks a guy in a black skull cap, with zebra print all over his oversized top and baggy pants, with black socks and white slides. He smokes one of those long cigarettes and carries a white towel. He crosses the train track, walking slowly until I can’t see him anymore, as the train picks up its gait again. The man across the aisle whom I’m scared of hasn’t regained his seat yet and I wonder if he’s been left behind.

I listen to pop punk in headphones that enclose my ears and block out the background noise. I type on my MacBook Air in a tshirt emblazoned with the logo of a band I saw last night, whom I partly travelled across the world to see, for the third time. I carry cash and credit cards and a passport in my carry on luggage on this trip that I’m taking on a whim. Through other people’s lives and landscapes. And I miss my own.

The man across the aisle has sat down again and he didn’t get left behind. Except that if he lives around these parts, he kind of did.

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