I could see Ranger from his feet to his knees under the railcars, and I could see the rest of him like an old movie, flickering between the cars as they sped between us. He was on the North side of the tracks and I was on the South. I saw the hat fly off his head, and I saw him catch it. I crouched down and tried shouting under the railcars at him, but was drowned out by the noise. That was the fastest, yet longest, freight train either of us had ever seen. It felt like an hour to me. However, it felt more like “the end” to Ranger.
Let me tell you a bit about my old friend Ranger. The wife actually worked with him before I even knew he existed. Do you remember when I told you how I’ve kept a written record of my working days ? Well, there’s a reference to Ranger in those memoirs before we became friends, before I even knew his name. I remember the day when I realized the guy I’d written so highly of, 25 years earlier, was him. So it would appear even before I knew his name I liked, and trusted the guy. Seems we were destined to become friends.
Ranger has a “thing” about trains. I wouldn’t describe it as a love, but more like a certain fascination with them. The night he was born, his grandfather drove his mother to the hospital. Driving back Home alone, the unfortunate fellow met with a tragic end on the railroad tracks. Ranger often says he expects to meet his end, with a train somewhere in the equation. A romantic notion, or a macabre death wish, I’m not entirely sure which. Either way, you can be sure I’m real attentive crossing RR tracks with him in the passenger’s seat. I’m not suggesting he’s a jinx at all, I’m just sayin’ I’m extra special careful, and that’s always a good idea around trains actually.
OK, so what happened was, we’d climbed up the hill to get a look at the creek on the other side of the RR bridge. I nervously kept an eye up and down the tracks while we were up there. This was the same bridge Ranger and his sister had cycled to some years before. On that day, Ranger put his ear to the track to see if the old trick really worked.
Apparently, it doesn’t.
The train came bearing down on him from out of nowhere, and at sufficient speed to make them ditch their bikes and dive to the sides. In their defense, I have also witnessed the alarming speed at which trains can approach the unsuspecting. I’ve “been there, done that” a few times myself. At least Ranger was never foolish enough to actually chase a train and jump on it for a little joy ride (if my mom and dad ever knew some of the stupid things their son did).
So there we were, on the bridge when I see the headlamps rounding the curve in the tracks. I shouted “Train, go off the bridge” to Ranger as the Engineer blew the whistle. It was actually quite a ways off and there was plenty of time as I calmly crossed the tracks to the South side and discreetly descended the berm. As I write this, it occurs to me that I never even thought of looking the opposite direction, as I walked over the 2nd set of tracks. I guess that’s how people get themselves killed on train tracks (at least one of the many ways).
Once down off the tracks and on safe ground, I said, “What train do you mean officer?” I feigned being questioned by the authorities. “We didn’t see no steenkeeng train. We weren’t on the bridge. Honest officer, it musta been some stupid kids”. I smiled sheepishly as I turned to see Ranger’s reaction. No Ranger. “What the ?” I ran back up to look for him. The ground was shaking under my feet as I crested the hill. I caught a glimpse of Ranger trying to establish a foothold on the other side of the bridge just as the engine roared past and filled my entire range of vision. The problem being, there wasn’t much to gain a foothold on, on the other side of the bridge. I caught flickering glimpses of him between the cars, but looking under I sighted him clearly. Typical Ranger, he was calmly holding his hat while grimacing against the wind and racket with an annoyed, yet patient expression. Calmly waiting for the train to finish its bothersome interruption of our day.
After the damned thing finally passed, I stepped up onto the bridge and watched closely (in both directions) as Ranger climbed back up and sauntered across. He’d lost his sunglasses in the river from the wind off the train, but that didn’t bother him much. I sometimes wonder if anything bothers Ranger. He claimed to have been concerned at his proximity to the train, but to me he looked more bored than anything else. Ranger once told me of another adventure involving a train, and a very long, very high trestle. Oh yeah, and there was something about being halfway across it when …
I’ll need to describe my truck at this point. It’s a rather large feeling Toyota Tacoma with 17” wheels and (very needed, I assure you) stainless steel runner tubes. I got the tubes installed after about the 5th time I damn-near cracked my skull open jumping up into the cab (after a good running start). Neither Ranger nor I are tall guys, and we both need the tubes, and the hand grips, to climb up into that monster truck (I’ve considered the services of sherpas). However, climbing back down is a whole other adventure in itself. I couldn’t figure what Ranger’s problem was the first few times he tried it. Admittedly, I have a bit of a gruntfest climbing in or out of it, but Ranger grossly underestimates the distance to the ground under “parking lot” conditions. That truck is surprisingly high up, especially with the big wheels. So I guess once it stops and goes into park, Ranger can be forgiven for assuming we’re getting out. The problem is that Ranger is too nice a guy. Rather than say “Heay Dipsh!t ! You wanna pull over some, so I’m not stepping out over a 6 foot deep ditch here ?” No, the ever polite Ranger just slides off the seat onto the running bar and then, steps off into space to the revelation that gravity is indeed a bitch.
As for my part, all I hear is a faint grunt, followed by a sound vaguely indicative of a sh!t-faced walrus on a skateboard. Accompanied by the sounds of various species of plant life being crushed … and, not being crushed, followed by dead silence. I look over to see my passenger door waving in the breeze. “Ranger? Where ya at ? Ranger? Heay, close the door eh ?” I start to lean over to see out the door. “Yeah, umm, OK I’m right here” comes a voice from somewhere far below my lofty position. “The ditch is a bit steeper than I thought” as his hand takes a swipe at the door handle. He manages to haul himself back up to eye level with the truck seat, and he carefully navigates his way around to the front of the truck. I gave him Hell for not telling me to wait until he can get out, then I pretend I’m explaining to the cops, “Jeez ! I don’t know officer. He was right in the passenger’s seat when I saw him last. I dunno where he went from there, maybe something grabbed him”. So, out of respect and consideration, I’ve been pulling off on my side of the road or just nosing or backing into the bush. That’s what 4 wheel drives are for eh ?
We’d just finished lunch and were taking our usual après dejeuner cruise down to the waterfront. The parking area was quite full, so I had to pull up alongside a young couple (who really shoulda got a room if you know what I mean), to back around, do a two pointer, and return to the road. As we pulled alongside them, Ranger looks over and says “Get a room !” I started laughing ‘cause I was just thinking the same thing. Then I stopped laughing when I realized Ranger’s elbow was sticking out the open window. Ranger’s disarming charm usually warms, relaxes, and amuses anyone he subjects it to. However, in this particular instance I had my concerns.
It might’ve been funnier if the contributing male member of the “bodily fluid swap club” didn’t look like his name was likely Cooter, Buford, or Dewane. His wife-beater shirt could easily be adapted to “old guy beater” apparel I’m sure. Anyway, even from where I was sitting, I could see big ole Cooter weren’t amused. He untangled his tongue from cousin Lurlene’s, and looked over at us with a pained expression that shouted. “Heay ! I’m trying to get laid up against my truck door here. Now P*SS OFF afore I feeds ya to the gaitors” I’m guessing Lurlene was married to some other cousin of Cooter’s so they needed privacy for their clandestine tryst. The kind of privacy that could only be secured on a Wednesday afternoon in a public parking lot, just as an example.
So, with the good natured humour of our clever banter being wasted on them, Cooter and Lurlene turned their heads back to continue tonsil probing the oral depths. Innocently trying to keep up the friendly rapport we’d already established with them, Ranger quips “Nawww I’m kiddin’ ya. I’m just jealous”. Oh yeah ! That could only have worked better if he’d been wearing a tutu and waving a wand with a star on the end of it. I didn’t wait to see if Cooter was gonna eat the fender off my truck before he killed us, I just flung it into reverse, made my turn and took it down the road. I assumed Cooter wouldn’t pursue us ‘cause, well you know what ungulates are like in rutting season. The reproductive organs of a bull moose with the attention span of a parakeet, so I figured we’d be alright. We spotted a Shrike on the way out that day. Hmmm, nice.
There are further examples of Ranger’s acts of derring-do, but I won’t go on about ‘em. Just rest assured that I’ll watch out for my old buddy, and keep him away from RR tracks, deep ditches, and big horny fellas named Cooter. ‘Course, I’ll also have to watch out for weak floorboards above 10 foot drops into water filled holes under abandoned shacks, and makeshift tree bridges on 45° angles over rushing torrents. Not to mention the potential crokinole injuries I’ve subjected him to, but that’s his own damned fault and I won’t be held accountable.