We all have at least one, a special moment in the crisis' of our lives that stands out, has a special meaning to only us... Our "Norman Rockwell" moment.
I also have a few of these, but the one that I always remember, that will always have that special place in my heart was this one.
I had been living in Spokane Washington, or Mars as I called it. Homeless, living on the streets and being a general nuisance to society at large, drinking and getting high, and doing all the things one might expect of a junkie. On this particular day, early December of 1988, I was in my little box-house. We had built a little city of cardboard boxes along an allyway that used to be the warehouse district, where the frieght trains would deliver goods to the backs of the stores. Long abandoned and unkempt. There were dozens of us out there, and in spite of it being a community setting, one really needed to know how to protect oneself. The snow was deep and the temperature frigid, and little campfires were scarce but welcome, and I had one going. It happened quite suddenly, as most sudden things do, that a raid came pouncing down upon us all. From both ends of the allyway they came, armed, suited, and unforgiving. The Spokane police department proceded to trample our little village into an even messier dumpsite than it had been before. Strewing our belongings all willy-nilly in every direction, stomping our make-shift homes flat with relative ease. And of all the criminals, dope-fiends, wanted, and outcasts that society had labeled as undesirable, I was the only one that had been taken into custody and carted off. And I will admit, that even with the threat of spending a life time in prison, I was grateful when the warm air of the squadcar hit me. I don't remember any of the conversation (interrogation) as we cruised to what I believed at the time would be the jail, as I was high and on my way to drunk at the time. I had just been in the County Jail a week before, and was released due to a missed arraignment, and when we passed the road that would take us to the jail, I started to get a little bit nervous, and after another 5 minutes of travel, I was near panic, the old scenes of the brutality and whims of police officers flooded my head and i was filling with dread. But alas, we did not pull into some deep dark out of the city warehouse where they could beat me to death without witnesses, instead we pulled into the local Frieght Yard, where they could also dispose of me. Instead, they led me, still in handcuffs, into the office, where there were 2 "Bulls". Basically Frieght Yard cops. I was directed to sit down and not move. The police told the Bulls that they wanted me on the very next trian and they didn't care about the destination, as long as it was out of Washington State.
After they took my information... for identification purposes, should I fall of the train under the wheels, the Bulls put me on a frieght train, and I had my choice of cars. So naturally, I chose a box-car, unladen and great protection from the elements except of course from the cold. I had decided that now would be a good time to head to my birthplace of California. I had an old room-mate from Arizona who moved to Long Beach, and told me to look him up if ever I were in the area, so I decided to be in his area, and a couple of hours later, the train lurched into motion, and I was on my way to sunny warm Ca.
I'm not really sure how long I was on that train, I slept as best I could on that rockity hard floorboard, and it didn't stop until we reached Bend Oregon. The conductor told me that I would need to switch lines if I were going to California, so off I hopped, into the midst of a genuine Hobo Camp. There were large 55Gal drums along the sidelines of the tracks, all of them lit with the sweet smell and welcoming warmth of fire. As I approached one, I was met with a knife and a scowl. The weilder of the blade then informed me that I needed permission to encroach upon any Hobo-camp, and if I took one more step I would be skewered. Hands up, eyes properly bugged, I then did ask in as polite a manner as I could to be allowed to warm myself by thier fire. I must have impressed them with my genuine concern for my wellbeing and manners, as they not only allowed me passage, but they all shook my hand and offered me food. I was accepted without hesitation save for the initial meet, and after that, I knew I would and could present myself into any Hobo Camp successfully, and be made welcome. Truely a community that is oriented on family values and community welfare. I had not felt so safe in such a place, in a very long time. There's a Norman Rockwell moment in itself, but not the one I'm working towards. I was informed that the train I needed to get on was the Southern Pacific (SP) line, and it wouldn't arrive for another 2 days, and not leave until the 3rd day. I spent a great deal of time getting to know the Hobo's of Bend, and about that little town. I went into town every day, to the food banks and clothing donation centers, pan-handling all the change I could, and doing my part to help with the community stores and labor. And on the 3rd day, as promised, my train pulled out, with me in a new box-car, laden with supplies for the slow long ride to Long Beach.
I awoke sometime in the morning as the train was slowing down. They only do this when going through a town/city where the tracks lead the trains through intersections and common traffic areas. I opened the door of my boxcar and sat on the edge, waiting for signs of life. I was not prepared. The snow must have fallen earlier that morning, for it was pristine. No marks, footprints, tire tracks, nothing that would have given clue that there was any sign of human life in the area, except for the snow covered roofs of the houses and stores. The sun was shining brightly on the snow and it was almost blinding. I then saw the sign that said "Welcome to Dunsmuir", and still I knew not where I was. What I did know at that moment was that if there were an epitomy of Americana, this was it. I fell in love with this place, and never set foot in it. And another side event that happened for me there was that I had for the first time in my life, acknowledged that I might have had a problem with my lifestyle choices. I often wonder if anyone looked out thier window and saw a long lost Hobo, legs dangling over the edge of the boxcar, watching the beauty as it rolled slowly through town.