Quote of the Day: “I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.” –Abraham Lincoln
TB was scheduled to pitch the next day; morning really, ten a.m. But it was Friday night and on Friday night you went out no matter how important it was to you to be well rested and so pitch effectively the next morning. Still, I had a shred of wisdom in spite of being eighteen. So I took my own car to the party in Gautier, following my asshole runnin buddies who were not pitching at ten a.m. Saturday and who thus would not be well rested again until well after my stint on the mound was history. And reluctantly, but dutifully, I left the party at midnight so I could go get some sleep.
Graveline Road is a dark, winding two lane road that runs alongside the Pascagoula River mouth on the Gautier side and leads to Highway 90, the way home. The only other ways to get to the highway from the party were Ladnier Road and Dolphin Road, but both of them spill you out further west, and further from Pascagoula. And to get to either of them once you are committed to Graveline requires you to double back a good ten minutes or more. These mundane facts you must understand because when at midnight on Graveline Road at eighteen years of age and already a quarter hour behind my self imposed curfew, I had to decide what to do when I encountered a detour sign midway up Graveline. Being that it would put me home an extra half hour later than I was already on pace for, and considering my intimate knowledge of the prevalence of idiot teenage behavior in and around Gautier, I naturally concluded that some kids probably stuck the sign in the roadway as a gag. On the other hand, the pinpoint in my brain matter that held the wisdom cautioned, there could be a legitimate reason for the detour, so I should proceed cautiously.
I slowed the car, knocking probably 25 miles per hour off my speed, down to the posted speed limit and crept along the road looking for danger. After a mile or so, I’d seen nothing and began to feel safe that no work was going on that would stop me. And even if there was a work area, I was confident that I could negotiate around it. THUMP! (pause one heartbeat) THUMP! (stillness).
Ohhhhhh, NOW I know why there’s a detour sign. Railroad crossing construction. The kind where they dig out the road that allows cars to cross over the tracks. Only my car’s front wheels made it over the first rails and over the second rails. But my rear wheels did not follow suit and I was perched on those tracks and immobilized like a gigged flounder.
What to do? I got out of the car and surveyed the scene. My car was undamaged, but I had no traction on the rear. All I needed was a single ARB to push or a single anyone to steer and hit the gas while I pushed and I’d be free of my little predicament. There was no traffic, coincidentally, so I couldn’t stop a passerby. There was no business or house in view, though I knew there were several houses a couple hundred yards back up the road. As I stood there contemplating why cell phones were not invented yet, it suddenly occurred to me that a train might come and if that happened my car would be crushed. Worse still, I imagined, the train might wreck and someone might get killed and TB wasn’t cut out for jail time. So I lit out for the nearest house determined to call the railroad and have them radio their engineers to stop until I could get my hunk off their thoroughfare.
The first house I reached was dark and no one came to the door, so I sprinted across the street. The second house lit up like a Christmas tree but as I tried to explain what happened and what I needed the frightened old lady just begged through the door for me to leave or she would call the police. “Yes, yes!” I responded and for the first and so far only time in my life I said “Please call the police.” I was getting nowhere with her though so I finally turned and ran for house number three. There I was confronted by a man and his wife who were able to settle down long enough from being disturbed by a midnight assault on their front door to agree that yes, they would call the police. And I headed back the quarter mile my car.
As luck would have it, some punk kids I knew had run the detour sign and were proceeding up Graveline much as I had. They stopped to see what in the hell I was up to, but when I told them the cops were coming they declined my request for a push and reversed course immediately. It seems they were all drunk and had no great desire to see the men in blue. They were, however appreciative that I’d created a diversion.
I finally got back to the tracks and leaned against my car and waited. Then I looked up and way in the distance, straight down the tracks to the west was a single tiny light. Ohhhhhhh, noooooooo. (Except I didn’t say oh no, I used the queen mother of all curse words.) For an instant I imagined the collision and the explosion and the death and my arraignment, but then I decided I would not simply stand by and watch as my world was destroyed. I took off down the tracks to stop that train.
I knew I must warn the locomotive as far away from the car as possible to give the train time to stop. I ran. Within the first five steps, out of nowhere came one of those instant, heavy, soaking Gulf Coast rains that sent my jeans sagging and my hair dripping. Worse, I found that running between the rails was too risky for my ankles so I stepped over the rail to my right and continued to run on the inclined ground. If you’ve ever looked down a railroad track, you will have noticed that the tracks are raised and the ground to the left and right slopes down and is often held in place with rocks or in the case of the Gulf Coast, oyster shells. Visualize if you will an eighteen year old boy wearing soppin wet jeans running along such a slope with the right leg on the downhill side slipping with every other step on the loose shells. In this way I sped along the tracks until I’d made it as far as I could go. The train was within 50 yards and with a full head of steam. I dropped down the slope a few steps, took off my shirt and waved it over my head as the train zipped by.
“Well that didn’t help a bit,” I told myself. Hamstrings cramping and ankles torn, I fell back on the shells to watch the crash unfold. Then I heard the brakes engage. He’d seen the obstruction! Maybe someone had radioed him! I wonder if he can stop in time.
I began to retrace my steps, running back to the car the same way I’d come but now with my left leg slipping at every other step and now with my left ankle shedding blood. I heard the brakes again and again and now I could see the train was visibly slowing but it was still gonna be a close call. At no more than twenty yards from the crossing, the big beast finally came to a halt. I still had a ways to go but I was invigorated by the miracle of the crisis averted and so I continued to run/slip my way back. I could see the blue lights flashing now and knew I still had a bit of reckoning in store, but I was out of the woods on the manslaughter charge. A dozen cops or more were surrounding my vehicle with blank stares on their mugs. I reached the locomotive first and the engineer was hanging on the steps looking back at me in wide-eyed amazement.
“I’m sorry, Mister,” I began. “Are you ok?”
The old coot had a glint in his eye and a mischievous grin and he spoke slowly and with a gravelly drawl. “Twenty-five years with the railroad,” he deadpanned, “that’s the damndest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Did the cops call you or did you get a warning on your radio?”, I asked.
“No son, I saw you waving that shirt out of the corner of my eye and I heard you shout to stop”, he said.
I’d have liked to have finished that conversation but by this time the cops decided they needed to put some fear in me. They asked me what the hell I thought I was doing and didn’t I know I could’ve gotten somebody hurt and was I the one scaring the old ladies in the neighborhood. I answered satisfactorily I suppose, but it probably helped more that as I looked back over at the engineer he was gesticulating grandly and laughing to the cop taking his statement. They wrote me a ticket for running a detour sign and towed me off the rails and I made it home by two a.m.
A few weeks later the municipal judge was at a loss for how to fine me for such an offense, having never encountered the charge before. I suggested 50 bucks and he thought that sounded acceptable. He asked how the game went that next morning. “Struck out ten and picked up the W”, I said.
A Thursday Pickin Playlist (I can’t conjure up a bit of interest in the Final Four so I’ll leave that to you).
- Crazy Train–Ozzy
- Peace Train–Cat Stevens
- Wabash Cannonball–Roy Acuff
- Son of an Engineer–Cowboy Mouth
- Folsom Prison Blues–Johnny Cash
- Train Trek–Robert Earl Keen
- Night Train–GNR
- Play a Train Song–Todd Snider (video below features Will Kimbrough, who got started with the Bushmen and used to play in Oxford a lot)