Johnny Cash and Salvation Station

Johnny Cash and Salvation Station

It’s 1:15 in the morning, and here I am again. Parked near the tracks at my local train station, in a dark spot between the lights so I’m not easily spotted. I sip coffee and wait.

My doors are locked but my window is cracked, just enough to hear the Nathan K5LA train horn when it starts to wail. My engine’s idling, my breathing slow, my ears alert. I push the Johnny Cash CD into the dash, that unmistakable cadence begins, and my head starts to bop. 

Bum bum bum BOOM chug BOOM chug BOOM, bum bum bum BOOM chug BOOM chug BOOM … 

Enter The Man In Black, guitar high upon his chest:

“Early one mornin’ while makin’ the rounds / I took a shot-a cocaine and I shot my woman down / I went right home and I went to bed / I stuck that lovin’ .44 beneath my head.”

As Cash veers into the second verse, the ground starts to rumble, the gates go down, and I hear that 5-chime train horn blow. I smile.

The freighter is headed east to west, pulled by three Electro-Motive diesels, all bearing the yellow and red of the Union Pacific line. As always, I’m agog at her speed and the load she carries. How those double-stacked trailers don’t go flying off I have no idea, but I’m glad they don’t, as I’m parked only 10 feet from the tracks. My little Chevy would be no match for a couple of Maersk Line trailers on top of it, that’s for sure.

She’s a long one this time, and really barreling. I can feel the rumble deep in my chest. The cars are going by so quickly that I can neither count their number nor see their names.  I can, however, make out the blur of graffiti on most of the cars.

How do the taggers DO it?  How do they have the time and not get caught? Much of the graffiti is true artwork, albeit usually a nickname in memory of some distant deceased gang member.  I heard somewhere that the Latino gangs are the most talented taggers, especially the ones from L.A.  All I know is that it must cost the trailer and tanker owners a ton to clean off all that spray paint. I’m sure at some point they just give up.

Johnny continues:

“When I was arrested I was dressed in black / They put me on a train and they took me back / Had no friend for to go my bail / They slapped my dried-out carcass in the county jail.”

I’ve never ridden the rails, but I’ve had my share of problems and heartaches, which many a night drew me here to the tracks for solace. I really don’t know why; there’s just something about a huge, fast freighter that puts my ennui into perspective. 

The train still is speeding by, but nearing its end. Once again I hear the horn blow, this time far to the west. At the rate she’s going, she’ll hit the four-way cross in Rochelle in about 20 minutes, maybe less.

Mr. Cash goes on: 

“Into the courtroom my trial began/ Where I was handled by 12 honest men / Just before the jury started out / I saw that little judge commence to look about.”

I’ve always loved Johnny Cash. I mean, how can you NOT? The man should be on Mt. Rushmore. Fearless and real, a hard-livin’, plain-spoken poet. Sure, his own worst enemy back in the day, and we’re talking BAD. Self-destructive in extremis, yet trying wwwto communicate what was in his troubled soul. When he cleaned up, it was a beautiful thing. An artist at full throttle.  

Like a freight train.

The train is gone now, leaving just me and Johnny and my thoughts. Freight schedules are unpredictable, especially at this hour, but there’s sure to be an eastbounder coming sooner or later.  Not sure if I’ll wait tonight, as I don’t feel like getting rousted by one of our town’s finest. I have been before. They’re always nice about it, just looking out for me, wondering why I’m at the train station in the middle the night. After assuring them I’m only an insomniac and not suicidal, they usually suggest that I just be on my way.

Johnny brings it home:

“In about five minutes, in walked the man / Holding the verdict in his right hand / The verdict read murder in the first degree / I hollered Lawdy, Lawdy have mercy on me! / So come you’ve got to listen unto me / Lay off that whiskey and let that cocaine be!” *

* (“Cocaine Blues,” by Wm. A. Nichols & T.J. Arnall. Lyrics ©️Warner Chappell Music Inc.)

I don’t really spend a lot of station time anymore, but I buried my mom a few months ago, and I’m here tonight. Residual melancholy. Thinking about life and death and my new, unwanted road. You see, I’m the last of my blood family left. And it’s not sitting particularly well.

So Johnny and I headed once again to the tracks. Just trying to figure things out. Hoping that a freight train and a good song would help to ease my blues.

Salvation’s a funny thing. Some folks go down to the river in search of peace. I find mine alone at night at our train station, under the spell of a deep-voiced man from Dyess, Arkansas, as I hear a train a-comin’, rollin’ round the bend.

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