Strange Cargo

Lessons from the Jack London Finishing School

Friday, July 21, 2006

7196 – “You don’t exist”

Osborne Village

Went down to Osborne Village here in Winnipeg to find other freight riders. The Fort Rouge Yard is just southeast of the village and it’s a popular spot to catch a westbound or the BNSF connection train to Grand Forks in the states. It’s not long before I spot some travelling kids sitting outside a BK. Two girls and a dog. I walk up to them and say hi. They’re friendly enough and invite me to sit. Introductions are made, they are Rachel & Sarah, the dog’s name is Ashley. She is a Mastiff/Terrier mutt of some undetermined mixture but looks a bit like a miniature pitbull. She’s an affectionate dog and takes a liking to me right away. Sarah is from Vancouver and Rachel is from Halifax, which is where they are going. They’re going on their third week in Winnipeg and are somewhat anxious to leave here. Their plan is to catch out eastbound from downtown and I tell them that I’m planning to go out to Transcona (a suburb of Winnipeg) to get an eastbound to Toronto because the odds of ending up back in Symington Yard or on a freight headed for the states is too great when catching from downtown. I get up to leave after a while and get an invitation to come back down later and share a drink over by the bell tower in the village. I promise that I’ll be back later to join them.

Five hours later….

Back in the village at around 7PM and there is no one at the bell tower. Loitering around there a little while I notice a really well done stencil on the sidewalk. It’s the grinning head of Donald Rumsfeld wearing a big striped tie and the words “Murder Capital” underneath. Wandering around I see the girls a few blocks up ahead. I swing by the “Cold Beer Store” before going to sit down with them.

All liquor sales in Manitoba are controlled by the government and there are two types of outlets: “The Liquor Mart”, which is a full service store, and the “Cold Beer Store”, which has cold beer only. I find this somewhat weird and controlling, but that’s just the way it is here. I’m picking up some local vernacular as well, The “Loonie” and the “Toonie” are what the $1 and $2 coins are called here. “Six-up” is roughly the same as “Five-O” in the states, meaning that coppers are lurking about.

Sitting down I ask where everyone else is and no one really knows. In between spangin’ (panhandling) the passersby they want to know what the states are like as far as riding. I have similar questions for them about Canada and soon enough we are having conversation like old friends reunited. More people start to show up, there is a guy that works at the beer store who apparently has a crush on Rachel. No one knows his name but he has earned the nickname of ”Emo Waldo” due to his haircut and a knit hat of comical proportions that he likes to wear.

There is “New York”, another American. He’s in his 40’s and bears a striking resemblance to Rob Zombie. Dressed all in black he’s wearing a photographers vest and carrying a multitude of bags and a big pack. Dave is a local punk. Tall & skinny, he is quick to laugh. Some time later Randy & Brian show up. They are the homeguards of the village and refer to themselves respectively as the Mayor & the Pope of Osborne Village. They’re both in their 60’s I’m guessing and quite frankly have the demeanour and the appearance of the two grumpy old guys that sit in the balcony on the muppet show. When Randy laughs it’s like watching a bobble head doll. The two of them confer amongst themselves and announce that my nickname is to be “Colorado”. This endures for a while until somebody starts calling me “Chicago” and soon it’s all over because no one can keep straight which it is. All throughout this there are a good many complete strangers that stop and sit with us. Most are friendly, some are indifferent, but they all share whatever they have whether it is food, drink or otherwise.

There is one guy though that keeps coming back every hour or so and he has it in for us because of our appearance. He stops and stares, spits some verbal rot and then puts money in the hat. There is no rational explanation for his behaviour other than he’s probably getting some kind of satisfaction from the snide remarks and insults he slings at us. The third time he comes around it really gets to Sarah, who demands a reason for his hate. He refuses to speak to her and instead turns to me with the words “You don’t exist because you don’t have a life.” While he’s saying this he’s pressing a toonie into my hand.

I can’t help but challenge him on that one because he is obviously jumping to conclusions about me and I find it rather annoying. In truth the man is dressed like an adult version of Spanky McFarland from “The Little Rascals”, the haircut is even the same soup bowl variety. I give him his money back and question his right to judge me by informing him of my opinion of his dress. He’s rather put out. I guess the comparison to a five year old is a bit much for him to tolerate. I know it’s inane of me to throw the same poison back at this guy but it’s hard to gather your creative thoughts when infuriated. Sometimes I really wonder how people justify their ignorant behaviour.

The group of people that I am with are either travelling or homeless to one degree or another. In the US the alternative names for this demographic could be Flintstone Kids, Travellin’ Kids, Crusties, or just outright bums. I feel comfortable with these people, the dirt and forthright demeanour of these street kids is preferable to the haughtiness of those that supposedly know better. It’s getting late and everyone is going off to sleep, under the Osborne Bridge or elsewhere. Sarah turns to me and asks in a funny comical voice if I will come lay on her plush cardboard mattress with her. I say “Maybe”, and she replies with an offer to share her sleeping bag so I say “OK” and off we go.

We end up in the back breezeway of a closed down church right in the village. There are already three or four people here sleeping, New York amongst others. Sarah finds some cardboard and spreads it out, then gets her bag out and we lay down to go to sleep. We talk a bit but she dozes off pretty soon. The thoughts going through my head are mostly concerned with catching out to Toronto and the complexities of the East. On the other hand I’m thinking about how easily I’ve been accepted into this group and the trust that they have shown me. The fact is that I still feel completely alone even though I am lying down with a girl in my arms who obviously trusts me. The feeling of emptiness does not go away and I fall asleep wondering where it is that I will find some peace of mind on this seemingly endless search.

Waking up the next morning I see that "The Kid" is here. His name is Arthur and he's a native Cree indian. This kid has been following me and the girls around for a few days now trying to talk us into letting him ride with us. Arthur wears a camo boonie hat a size too big and a Detroit Pistons jersey that stops just below his knees. His pack and bedroll looks new and of the Walmart variety. He says he's 17 and just rode in from Edmonton last week. The part about Edmonton I can entertain but if this kid is a day over 12 years old I'll be very surprised.

He smokes and drinks as much or more than some of the others hanging about and I can tell he's trying really hard to fit in and be part of the group. When he talks to me in a one on one situation though, his demeanor changes and he is pleading with me in a thin voice to let him ride east with me. He's scared of staying in Winnipeg and seemingly even more afraid to ride alone. Nobody wants to take him on as a traveling partner and I genuinely feel sorry for him as he's bound to be picked up by the cops before long if he stays here.

This morning he's all smiles and pretty jolly when he sees us. "I'm catching out to Vancouver tomorrow!" he says and shows us a crew change he has procured somewhere. I have a look at it and see that it's actually a current one. I guess I'd be pretty nervous too without the basic knowledge the CC provides. Sarah gets up and gives him a hug and a kiss which turns his face beet red. We both laugh and wish him fast trains and safe rails to Vancouver. That was the last I saw of him.


  • At 9:12 AM, Blogger Juan Juanston said…

    Hans, thanks for sending me the link to your blog. I will be checking in to hear about your travels. I am starting to piece it all together. Be Safe, cant wait to hear more.

  • At 6:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    so there "norway" im glad to see you are doing alright and are alive . I was concerned, but now I know the path in which you are on in your journey . May the bulls be blind , the boxcars always open and comfortable , and the port be in hand . you are a true friend and i miss you


  • At 3:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great site lots of usefull infomation here.

  • At 10:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I love your website. It has a lot of great pictures and is very informative.


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