Street talk is an ongoing series of interviews with various homeless and transient, or just interesting individuals. Their stories are their own with as little editing as is possible. Studs Turkle (a noted union activist), set a historical precedent for these interviews with a series of his own, based on the principle that ‘everyone has a story to tell’. The Insurgent’s motto is that ‘truth must not just be the truth, it must be told’, as I see it, every individual holds their piece of the truth and the Insurgent is a forum for truth to be told. So enjoy ‘street talk’. With Dana, from Modesto California.
Part of it was nothing better to do. Freedom, I consider what I do to be the last American Dream, true freedom, the best you can do in this world. People say to travel you have to go to college, get a job, save money and when you retire, you can go see the world. I wanted to prove them wrong, to prove that you can see the world. I continue to do it, because I have never been happier or more satisfied with anything I have done in my life. I have been to, about three quarters of the country, everywhere but the North east and Alaska, been to Mexico and Canada too.
I travel almost all by freight train. Probably 95 percent of the time. Sometimes I might meet a group with a car and go with them or hitch hiking- but only if I have to. You only go on trains if you have to, like kids with face tattoos, not some hippie kid who can get a ride. I prefer trains, it gets rid of the factor of the unknown person picking you up. Some people just don’t want to pick me up, maybe I scare people. Which I find amusing because I am one of the nicest people you will ever meet.
Most of the time I travel with other people, but sometimes its good to get away and be by yourself. You can come across some interesting things wandering by yourself. Like the really random person you wouldn’t expect. Like in Elko NV, there were a bunch of rednecks and then a Mexican kid with an ARA patch on his jacket and a bunch of down anarchists and I had a great time. They were really cool.
Too many hippies is a good sign that you got to go, because those kids sell drugs to make a living. Cops are hassling you every five minutes, that’s when it’s time to move on. You get into town and try to make a few bucks, see what happens, a lot of time you meet local people, hang out and have a good time. If there are too many travelers, it’s time to move on, because that means the cops are going to start cracking down.
Dealing with the cops is a daily thing. Pretty much wherever you go they are watching. Looking to bust you for something. Like in savannah, Georgia, one cop comes up “How long you been in town”, we said “about a week”, cop “you been to jail yet?” Us “No” cop “It’s Coming”. But in some places there is a cop that really wants to do their job, mostly in small towns. like in Sharon Springs, KA, a Cop rolls up, he asked for Ids and told us about a church who would hook us up with food. Some cops are good people just trying to do a job, but most are just trying to get us and run us out of town as soon as possible. They are cops either way, whether they are nicer or not, they are still cops.
There are a lot of scarry times riding trains, luckily I have been able to avoid most of those. I have had some sketchy moments that I was able to maneuver myself out of. I was in Kansas City, and a guy walked up to a train without any gear, we recognized him as what we call a “streamliner’, someone who gets their gear from stealing other traveler kid’s gear. Luckily there was enough of us to run him off without any serious confrontation. We gave him a look like don’t fuck with us and he took off. But I have woken up with guys standing over me, that’s fuckin’ scarry, my friends Pitbull woke us up and we scared that guy off. I haven’t seen that kid for years. A lot of time you can go three or four months without seeing friends. There is a loose route following the seasons. I tend to avoid that. I was just in St.Louise in the snow, I can go months between seeing people, but sometimes I run into people all the time. Most kids settle down or house up for the winter. I have a hard time staying more than a few weeks in one place.
I definitely think about staying in one place, It gets rough, riding for many years non-stop it wears you out, mentally and physically. It would be nice to settle down for a while, but I haven’t found a place. I might think I have found a place, but I lay awake at night and hear the trains. I am called by it. It’s like there is that next train out there, like an addiction to see the next place, life it too short to settle down, too much to do, too much to see, just in that next town. I spent last winter in Portland and I was going stir crazy just stuck in one place, I should have gotten out nine months before I did, maybe six months before I did.
I have tried Weed, Alchol, Cigarettes, I have lost too many friends to heroine. I decided long ago, I have enough with my drugs of choice. I have tried other things, but what I use is detrimental enough for me. Drugs are just an accepted thing in the train community, it’s normal everyday thing. I want to do this for a long time, past thirty to forty years old. I want to be able to retire, somewhere on a farm in the South, but I still have ten or fifteen years on the road before I can think about that. Too many friends lost to heroine, or I would run into a friend who was messed with psychedelics, all looking for a dose. Just about everyone I know does drugs, in Portland it’s Heroine, ‘cuz that’s what you do in Portland, you go to Denver for cheap Crack, drugs are something you do, but I just choose not to. It’s counter productive to what I do.
About the community, a lot of people look at us, as if we are dirty. We look weird, drunk, being rowdy and fairly intimidating. Honestly, just come up and say high, come talk to us. You meet kids and you are camping with them makin money with them and spending 24 hrs a day together. After 2 or 3 days you’re best friends. Its not like normal people were it takes years to build a solid friendship. You have to trust these people with your life and everything you own so you get to know each other very fast. Train kids are very open, very accepting, it’s a gigantic family and we treat each other like that. For anybody that would be interested, in trying it, don’t. But if that’s not enough to stop you, meet some kids in your town and talk to them, they may even take you with them. But never, ever, try riding a train by yourself if you haven’t done it. It is dangerous and you’re hungry a lot of the time. It requires everything all the time, or it will chew you up and spit you out. Don’t’ let one experience of a traveling kids sour your experience of all of us, because there are some shitty ones, but the vast majority are good ones. But I recommend everyone travel and there ain’t not better way to travel than for free. I hear people say “man, I wish I could do what you do” well, do it. But don’t be stupid and try to do it by yourself.