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It’s getting colder. I’m aboard the Coastal Starlight that is taking me from Emeryville to Portland, and I’ve climbed down the stairs to the lower level of the public Lounge car to find solitude. I especially need the space because I’ve picked the dreariest companion – Eliot’s Middlemarch – to entertain my lonesome self when I’ve had my fill of idyllic forest scenes of cedar or pine, and snow-capped mountains. One can only pretend to be affected by a “breath taking” scene for so long.

I’m not completely alone, however. There are a few men down here, sitting, reading, busying themselves quietly. There is one man, however, that unnerves us. He’s not bothering anybody, but he’s a mangey, disheveled, long-haired white man bundled with layers of jackets, with a grimey pack next to him. His gaunt face and patchy skin pulls taut at his boney skull, augmenting the protruding bulbs that are his eyes. Everything about this man – the grime of his pack, the offensive stubble on his cheeks and chin, and the untamed, grey, oily strands sliding down from his balding crown to his cheek – alluded to something more akin to a corpse than human – all except his eyes. A glassy, milky white lake encircled a sharp, sky blue island. I did not see him, but felt him.

The conductor, marched slowly down the steps. Full of his official weightiness, perhaps he “waddled” down the steps would describe his gait better. He’s come, ostensibly, to check our tickets. He draws out a square scanner from his belt holster to scan our tickets , and we instinctively (or, were we trained?) reach for our pockets and packs for our papers.

When the conductor finished scanning all of our tickets, he finally reaches the disheveled man, who twitches and mumbles when the conductor asks him for his ticket. His twitchey hands paw through his pockets, and hands his crumpled paper to the conductor:

“This ticket is from Oakland to Sacramento, sir”.

The man, visibly upset, says nothing

Sir, do you have another ticket? We’re already across’d the Oregon border,  you’ve outrun your ticket, sir.

“I don’t need no ticket! Check your files! CHECK THE FBI files!”

“Just give me your first and last name, sir.


The passing green blur has transformed into a passing white. The cedars and pine are now capped with a snowy crust. The ground showed no signs of  the warm, brown earth. It too, has been overwhelmed by the inexorable fall of falling flakes.

I’m sitting now on the upper floor of that same Lounge car. The conductor sent all the passengers out of the lower chamber, called security, and forced the homeless man off at the nearest crossing. The street that criss-crossed our tracks did not seem a very promising place that saw traffic. Some of the passengers were visibly upset at the homeless man’s expulsion, but no one could do anything. Rules are rules. Tickets are tickets. Someone has to enforce the rules. Someone has to suffer the penalty of breaking them.

And now that crazed, gaunt man must face the snow, the cold, the unforgiving Northwestern winter, or worse, the icy indifference of man.



  1. hmmm, I know you took this train but just noticed this is filed under ‘fiction’. not sure whether I am disappointed it is fictional, or whether I like it more b/c it’s fictional.

  2. wrote a comment on your page. I continue to enjoy your writings.

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