The Crossing (1998)
I was on the train, waiting to leave the Rensselaer station. I love trains and train rides, but I wished I'd brought my portfolio to write in instead of the pad I was using; the university logo is so obvious, plus it's flimsy, I thought. Sitting on a motionless train is not nearly as inspiring as riding one, it seemed. Ahead of me, I overheard a passenger tell another that he was headed for Oregon and San Francisco. I was going for a ride of just an hour, to Poughkeepsie.
On the way back to Albany, later that day, I notice. There is a phenomenon which has finally penetrated trains: cell phones, as obnoxious there as everywhere else. Fellow passengers read magazines (mostly business or computer) and newspapers -- the more literate read books. The businessman across from me was chatting on his cell phone while writing on a lined pad. Is he writing fiction or an essay, like I am, or some boring piece of work-related tedium?, I wonder. The cell phone gave him away. The train sped along the edge of the Hudson River, the color of the autumn leaves growing in intensity as we traveled north.
Soon we will breeze through Castleton, and I will think, as I always do, of the un-gated crossing by the paper factory, of the train filled with business people, impatient to reach their destinations, of the young man's body thrown 100 feet in the air as the train ripped through his blue 1995 pick-up truck, smashing it -- and him -- beyond recognition. Were the passengers delayed on their way to New York City? Did the impact dent the train? Did that man, who was -- according to his obituary, a long-time employee of the factory, and who owned a dog named Bailey, really think he could beat the southbound train, which was going about 110 miles per hour? Did he think so because he had done it before? Do the workers at the factory still play that ghastly game of racing the train, or do the blue ribbons, now faded and worn as they hang, limp, from the fence near the tracks at the entrance to the factory, remind them of the folly?
Yesterday, on the way to work, the road was partially blocked. Something had fallen on the tracks at that un-gated crossing and a dozen railroad employees scrambled to clear it away before the 9:05 thundered through. I wondered if the commotion was caused by another accident. Perhaps a tractor trailer had ripped in half, the way it was a few years ago, when massive rolls of paper flew through the air, smashing a car and
the corner of a nearby building, though everyone involved was unhurt. Certainly not another fatality involving a regular car, I hoped.
Later in the day, I forgot to look for the answer in the newspaper. Assuming there was a story in the newspaper, that is.