Category Archives: Trains

Hitch-hiking from Beatnik to Hippiedom

Hi readers.  Thanks for coming by for a read this morning.

When I got out of the Army, summer 1964, I had a lot of ideas about my bright future.  Shopped around the Portales area for a while and found a quarter-section cotton farm I thought briefly I’d buy and become a starving-to-death farmer, which fell through.  Worked meanwhile, for Abe Ribble at his cement operation, and applied for the Peace Corps, knowing I wouldn’t hear from them for several months.

I was hanging out with a number of other young guys who were at loose ends, drinking coffee and walking around town, sitting on benches around the courthouse trying to figure out the meaning of life.  Going out with a waitress out at the truckstop when she got off work at midnight.  A young woman with goals, and confidence that no matter what a man might want for himself, she could mold him into something more to her liking.  Once she got him nailed down on all the corners.

The World Fair was going on in New York that year.  I could feel the walls of Portales trying to close in on me, and the guys I’d been spending spare time with were mostly thinking of themselves as beatniks, to the extend a person could be a beatnik in Portales.  A slight beard and a beret went a long way in that direction.  Sketchpad and a piece of charcoal, or a lot of free-verse poems jotted on cafe napkins were the tools.

So another aspiring beatnik, Stan Sexton, and I, decided to hitch to beatnik heaven.  Check out the World Fair.  Visit a couple of New Yorker weekend beatniks who went to Eastern New Mexico University, but were home in Westchester that summer.

I’ve told elsewhere on this blog about that summer, about sleeping on the Brooklyn Bridge, about catching the freight-train out late-August, jail in Rochester, and eventually hitching, driving the school bus to California, etc.  About all those would-be beatnik women and the “Eh?  YOU don’t believe in free love?” pickup line that always worked.

When I was accepted for Peace Corps Training and headed out of New York I had no idea I was seeing the dying gasp of the Beatnik phase everywhere.  That a year later everyone who was anyone would be Hippy.  That Greenwich Village would be replaced by San Francisco as the center of ‘what’s happening in America’.  Kids would be burning their draft-cards and taking acid trips.  Doing ‘Love-ins’ in the park.

By the time I got back to Portales to spend my time waiting for the Peace Corps India X training to begin in Hawaii the world had begun a sea-change, though it didn’t know it. 

But at least some of the pressure was off in Portales.  The waitress had found someone else with better prospects for a bright future.  Cotton farmer, he turned out to be, if I remember correctly.

Old Jules

Keeping Out the Riff-Raff

Good morning readers.  Thanks for coming by for a read this morning.

It’s been a longish while since I was in jail.  If memory serves me right it would have been late 1965, early 1966.  I was working for Southern Pacific Railroad in Port Lavaca, Texas.   It was payday night and I had $400 smackers cash in my pocket.

Another SP employ, Leonard, and I were out at the better of the drinking establishments in town, scoping out the ladies and being cool in our sports jackets, ties and dance-me-to-the-moon shoes.  We were the only customers dressed so spiffy, but we didn’t care.

The time was close on midnight and the bartender lady called last call.  Leonard and I were leaning on the bar, talking to a couple of late-night ladies and he signaled the bartender.  “What’s in that weird bottle bottle there?”  Pointed to one in a row of bottles behind the bar.

What are you?  LCB? [Texas Liquer Control Board]” 

I thought she was joking and I’d had just enough to drink to think I was funny.  “I’m not, but HE is,” pointing to Leonard.  “Better look out.  He just shut down the Beachcomber, across the street.”

Red Sails in the Sunset was playing on the jukebox and I led the lady beside me to the dance floor.  But it was close to closing and midway through the dance she said she wanted to go to the ladies room.  I walked her down stairs and visited the Men facility. 

As I came back out, Leonard was on the stairs, grabbed my arm.  “They think we’re LCB!  They called the cops.  We need to get out of here!”

I’ve still got half a drink up there and we need to settle our tabs.”  So we headed back up, opened the door to a place full of Port Lavaca’s finest.  “That’s him!”  Bartender lady points at me.  “He said they were LCB!”

I just calmly smiled at the Chief of Police, explained what had happened.  He wasn’t amused.  Had Leonard and me empty our pockets, counted our cash, looked at our Southern Pacific IDs.  Turned to another cop, “I want to know who these guys are, where they come from, why they’re here!”

Turned back to us.  “Pay what you owe here.  We’re taking you in.  We get all kinds of riff-raff coming into town making trouble.  We don’t put up with it.  You got me out of bed.”

So, we suddenly owed $50 each on our bar tabs, because the bartender knew a good thing when she saw it.  And the cops hauled us off to the copshop, two different cars, three cops per car.  Before they locked us up for the night the Chief explained we’d be charged with impersonating police officers.  Said we’d be spending six months in prison.

But next morning he was benevolent.  Said if we’d plead guilty to Drunk and Disorderly and pay the fines, he’d turn us loose.

Which we both finally decided was the least of the potentially bad things to grow out of all this.  My guess is that if we hadn’t one of us might have been the male lead in Cool Hand Luke instead of Steve McQueen. 

I don’t care if it rains or freezes.

Old Jules


Sorry, Wrong Number.

I don’t get many phone calls here, so a few days ago when the phone rang and a male voice with an accent said something I didn’t understand about ‘technical support’ and ‘your computer’ I kept listening a moment.  But other than those two phrases I couldn’t cypher out a word he was saying.

Excuse me.  I can’t understand what you’re saying.  What do you want?”

Another long string of words including the two phrases, unintelligible.  My hearing isn’t all that it might be.  I can’t understand what store clerks or waiters are saying half the time when I’m in town, so I nod yes, or no, as the mood strikes me and take my chances.

But this guy had something to say that might be important, and he called to say it.  Seemed prudent to me to focus my iron will and patience on the job of knowing what it was.  I tried several possibilities.

After I’d interrupted him three or four times asking him to speak more clearly, more slowly, though, he said, “Never mind.”  Spang broke the connection.

I’m reasonably certain the man was in India.  I shot a couple of phrase of Gujarati at him I remembered from Peace Corps training and he shot some back at me I couldn’t understand any better than I understood his English.

Remembering it, I recalled a story I read a while back online:

A PACKED commuter train sped hundreds of kilometres across India in the wrong direction before passengers finally realised it was pulling into an unfamiliar station.

The train left the southern town of Tirupati on Wednesday for the eastern city of Bhubaneswar, where it was due to swing north to its eventual destination of Varanasi, a city in northeastern India, The Times of India reported today.

But bewildered passengers noticed something was amiss yesterday when it chugged into Warangal – a central Indian city on an entirely different route some 980km west of its intended stop at Bhubaneswar.

The express train had managed to cross three of India’s railway divisions and travel hundreds of miles without anyone noticing it had lost its way, The Times reported.

The mistake was believed to have arisen because it was given an incorrect destination code, compounded by the fact it was a special service and many of the staff were unfamiliar with the route.

By hindsight, I don’t know whether the guy thought he was talking to someone in the US, Australia, or the UK.  I can’t for the life of me form an opinion about whether he knew something about my computer it was important I know, or wanted to tell some train pilot in New Zealand he was going backwards and another one was coming at him 90 miles an hour the other way.

This brave new world’s getting a bit complex for a 20th Century man.

Old Jules


Today on Ask Old Jules:   Old Jules, what scripture do you use most in helping you fight your demons?

Rattus Rattus vs Foreigners – The Universal Soldier

This was written before I realized the rats are just a diversion and Chinese containerized cargo-boxes are the real invaders.

“Trouble!” says you.  “What trouble?”

“The Ruskies went home a decade ago,” You say.  “Berlin wall came down and no one even remembers it.  The Germans are all running around hugging one another worrying about mad cows and leaving everyone else alone.

“We kicked the holy bejesus out of Samdam Hoooosane and his royal guards,” you say, “And might do it again if he doesn’t behave,” you say, “And we’re all safe and sound here in the land of milk and honey…..Ain’t gonna war no more,” you say, “Except the occasional invasion of a minor third rate Middle Eastern or Balkan country,” you say…..”All safe and sound, swords into plowshares, all that.” 

And you really believe that, do you?

Well, if you believe that, you’d better prepare yourself for a shock down to your carefully manicured and polished toenails……’cause the real challenge is still out there, the real challenge is happening right there in your back yard even as we speak, in your attic, in the sewer under your squeaky clean porcelain commode;  in the trees behind your quiet complacent little hidey hole you’ve made for yourself to stick your soft American head into.

You kept your guard up all those years because one of the Marx brothers talked about lulling the West into a false sense of security, and of course he was right.  Of course he was.

Only the time-skid was slower than anticipated and all the Marx brothers died.

Yeah, Groucho and Harpo sleep with the fishes, but it’s still going on.

The fifth column is here, now, at work near you, near your home.

“Rats.” I say.

“Rats?” You say.

Yeah. Rattus Rattus, the good American rat, the roof rat, is the only real American who knows, and he ain’t saying much. 

Old Rattus Rattus suffers silently in his simple Christian American way; fighting quietly for his homeland with American know-how.  Sure, it sounds silly and pointy headed, Rattus Rattus, but that’s his damned name, same as yours is Homo Sexian or some such thing.

Rattus Rattus struggles without complaint for his tiny children, while slowly, the habitat and other lousy habits, recede every year.  You ought to know by the name; Rattus Norvegicus, the Norwegian rat, the dreaded wharf rat:  the foreign rat the communist pinko athiest moslem heathen yellowjapaneseinvader super rat of the future is bullying him back.

While you sleep there in your complacent soft pillowland, it’s going on outside and up in your attic, in the streets, the alleys, the sewerplants, the amber grainfields, the feedlots, the silos, Rattus Rattus battles for you against the silent invaders. Rattus Rattus draws his lines in the sand, digs his little burrows, fortifies, and retreats as the highly mechanized divisions of Norwegian rats advance, house by house, burrow by burrow……Every year the Rattus Rattus line moves inward a few miles, seven miles in along the whole perimeter.

Yeah.  There are bulges, enclaves of encirclement.  Enclaves of resistance, but Norvegicus takes no prisoners, spares no one.  And you sleep silently, peacefully while your own good American rats are diminished, you who gutsylike bomb the bejesus out of other commie pinko foreign middleastern terrorist muslim and Balkans, sleep while your own brother-rats in your own back yard die without your help.

And what do you think, you sleeping bastards, will happen when the final conquest is complete?  Do you think you will be left alone, when the last fighters have all fought on your behalf, when the silent armies of Rattus Rattus are all destroyed, all the food for ravens scattered on the battlefields of America?  Don’t bet on it.  The sound of scratching in the ceiling, inside the walls has barely begun.

Time to join the battle, fellow Americans, time to get out the cyanide, the 1080, the pellet guns and the mousetraps, time to stock up on cheese, and warfrin, and time to prepare for the big battle for America in the American way.  Time to begin the manufacture of tiny tanks, (maybe Tonka and some of those can help) and artillery pieces, and scatterguns and nervegas and miniaturized nuclear weapons…..time to join in the real battle for America here at home.

If you aren’t with us, you are against us, behind enemy lines, already under the areas controlled by the foreign devils, and you won’t be spared, unless you form an underground, a fifth column of your own…..

They’ve already got all the other countries, the other continents, and as has happened so often in history, America stands alone against them, a tiny host of good American rats, behind the scenes, fighting against all odds for you, to the end……

And that doesn’t even touch on the imported fire ants killing our domestic fireants, the imported Africanized bees killing our good American queen bees and selfishly taking over the hives, the Russian Thistles (tumbleweeds) cluttering up our prairies, the imported hares (jackrabbits), the English Sparrows (that battle’s already lost), the tamaracs (salt cedars stealing our precious water for their foreign interests),  and the imported fruitflies…….it’s all there, all in black and white, been written down, so it’s true …..a multi-pronged attack against all that’s good in America…..while you sleep…….

And now the foreign weathermen, the Canadians and Mexicans, are predicting our weather, keeping the good stuff for themselves……

Old Jules



Riding the Rap

One of the the ways youngsters in Portales, New Mexico, used to entertain themselves summer days was hopping a freight train for a ride to Clovis, twenty miles away.  We’d hang around a while doing nothing, then hop another back to Portales.

Bums hanging around the Clovis yard would tell us which trains not to catch.  A kid wouldn’t want to be on a mile-a-minute diesel locomotive as it went through Portales and end up in Roswell, 90 miles west, wondering how to get home without the war department discovering what he’d been doing.

It wasn’t quite a decade later, summer, 1964, I was in NYC hanging around Greenwich Village thinking I was a beatnik.  I decided to head back to the desert Southwest.  The easiest way of getting out of the city appeared to be to hop a freight.  Seemed logical that any train I caught ought to be going South, or West, or Southwest.

Sometime after dark the train stopped at Rochester and and two cops had their pistols pointed at me.  Handcuffs, fingerprints, paperwork, and off to the slammer.  Rochester, New York, awaiting an arraignment so’s they could decide whether to charge me with the NY felony of riding freight trains and send me off to the pen two-to-five years.

That Rochester jail was the first place I ever heard the phrase, ‘riding the rap’.  Prisoners used it to describe what happens when you’re caught (the rap) and sentenced (serving your time – riding it).

Considering how frequently we humans are wrong about almost everything, and how seldom we’re right, it’s a mystery.  We go to sooo much trouble convincing ourselves we’re right.  Once we adopt an opinion about how things are, we hang onto it with hair,  teeth, and toenails and ride it.

At the beginning of the 20th Century a consortium of top-scientists announced to that all the major discoveries science would ever make had already been made.  Human beings all over the world believed them.  They’ve continued patting themselves on the back from then until now.  The airplane, the atomic bombs, moon landings, plastic, computers, tubeless tires, television,  and quantum physics were just tying up loose ends.

In our personal lives this brave new century is a time to pick something safe, something that will stay on the rails.  Something that won’t provide us with any growth experiences.  Safety nets.  Insurance policies.  Spectator sports.  World news.

We might be bored to tears, but by damn we know who the Bulgarians ought to elect for their president, and by damn, we know who killed John Kennedy and what’s the best ball team.

The only rap we have to ride is knowing our lives are slipping away without our having done anything but a little flag-waving.  Whoopteedoo, watched the Super Bowl.  Whoopteedoo, went to a concert.  Whoopteedoo, got a car.  Whoopteedoo, died of cancer.

But by God, I was right.  Knew, by damn, who the Bulgarians should have elected for their prez.  Knew which ball club was best, win or lose.

Life flashing before the eyes during the last minute of life, I wonder if a person gets to thrill again to the 1999 Super Bowl.

Or whether he might wish he’d chosen some other rap to ride.  Chosen a life with more risk, more flair, so they wouldn’t write his epitaph, “He knew everything already and played it safe.  Sixty times around the sun and he never fixed a flat tire.”

Old Jules

Creedence Clearwater Revival- Midnight Special