Mar 22, 2007

Walking The Right of Way

I'm told that's what you call it when you wander up and down railroad tracks. In my case, taking pictures of cars and graffiti on cars and, more importantly, a pair of diesels bearing down on me at roughly 40mph.

Too much hurry-up and too many sun dogs come out to play and me without any sort of sun-shade for my lens...and now only a pale reminder of a very powerful moment.

No, the thing I wanted to remember here for you was the smell. Not of this giant yellow and black engine snorting down on my cowering self, but the smell of the place. The smell of warm metal and paint. The cars had been standing in the sun all day, baking quietly, and as I wandered down their length and breadth, my feet slipping and sliding in the raised hill of loose cracked concrete, I could smell that rich paint tang. Long-chain polymers, Varsol and industrial-grade paints sprayed onto every metal surface to prevent rust and corrosion, and an odor that was almost but not quite that elusive new-car smell; a sharp, not unpleasant odor that seemed to permeate the air around all that quiescent steel.

It always struck me as odd that you find cars old and new strung along a train. As I walked the right of way I passed cars that had to have been thirty or forty years old hooked right in line with boxcars that had graffiti on them almost as fresh and new as the cars themselves. Those cars shone like newly-minted coins, and it was they who bore that smell. They wore it like a woman wears perfume, a rich, heady smell. The smell of newness hung close to the metal, as though it were inexplicably tied in with the warmth that radiated off each stanchion, each clip and buckle and plate and truck.

And then there were the old cars, the lumber cars whose paint was faded and chipped, rust showing through every surface. Their cables hung loosely, the step-plates and brake wheels and every surface shown not with that gleaming newness but with the soft orange-red patina of rusted metal. Metal that has been handled repeatedly, has had hands and feet gently and not so gently moved across it for years and years so that the rough edges between rust and paint are smoothed, the pits and lumps sanded over, and decay held in a sort of stasis, a tentative truce in the ongoing War of Entropy.

Of course those were the cars I am drawn to.

Anything can be new. All things were new once. Only with time and use and care can a thing acquire that ethereal quality, that certain indefinable Trait that makes it desirable, approachable, comfortable. And then you find that one tiny piece that sums it all up. And if you're lucky, you have your camera with you.

1 comment:

Nancy Dancehall said...

You don't have enough readers for what you write.