A Railroad Yard
Will it continue to rain, or will it clear? Of course, it is quite simple: if it continues to rain, we will be able to go home early and be paid for a full day’s work. But if it clears, we will return to work. I’m writing this in a very strange place. It’s a rundown restaurant in what once was a unique railroad station off Clinton Street in Baltimore. This is by far one of the most unusual restaurants I have ever seen. It sits right in the middle of railroad tracks heading, seemingly, everywhere. Locomotives, flatcars, and boxcars are in constant motion as far as I can see, gently pulling industrial cargo along black tracks.
The busy highway to the east is an expressway for murderous eighteen wheelers. The restaurant’s a huge place with unswept wooden floors and dirty windows. It smells of gasoline, bacon, cigarettes, and burnt coffee. You can hardly see through the grey haze of the cigarette smoke. It is crowded with railroad personnel, truckers, and feasting longshoreman. We are the only land surveyors here, but we seem to belong. I am strangely excited, smoking an insane number of cigarettes and drinking endless cups of black coffee.
Time slips slowly past.
There are only men here: some big, others bigger, some small, fat, and others skinny. Real men being men. They appear to have one thing in common: dirt and grease. Everyone’s covered with it. A man sitting across from me is eating a huge Philly steak sandwich; his hands are black with dirt-dust and his face is smudged with streaks of grease.
No one cares, it’s just another rainy day in the yards.
I watch the sky for more dark clouds, and listen to a local rock station in the background. I am in the wrong place with the wrong people, but what can I do? Perhaps Harold Pinter was right when he said that life is a trap, that one is always trapped by something.
The longer I sit here the more the place stinks. The restaurant’s floor is so dirty that it’s actually muddy in places. But it’s mostly covered by a gritty, black dust, like coal dust. The tables and chairs are dirty, even the people coming in are dirty. The place serves extra-large coffees and extra-large fried egg sandwiches dripping with bacon grease and melting butter. The cook is Greek, and his hands are dirty, like his unshaven face. Stinking, dirty restaurant, serving early-early morning breakfast and lunch to blue-collar workers and stumble bums. I keep thinking that Kerouac is going to walk in any second.
Outside, along the long train rails, rats run up and down the rusted iron, searching for food. I’m sure it’s a banquet out there for them because the rats are huge, as big as cats, afraid of nothing.
How does anyone take this seriously? It is foolish to think anything worthwhile would ever come from something so ugly. But then, ugliness can be quite powerful. That’s why we, the land surveyors, are here. We’re surveying Canton along the outer harbor to east Baltimore’s Highlandtown; an almost limitless industrial wasteland. Our surveys might lead to a different city of sorts, an east/west freeway, perhaps?
But wait! It is clearing. A huge rainbow is running across the sky. It is the most magnificent scene, almost a vision. It appears to encompass the entire city, and yet the view from where I stand seems so hard. The tangled freight cars, the massive locomotives, the trucks, and truckers loading and unloading, the swish of big tires on the wet asphalt, the overall mechanical noise of gears being shifted. Across the street, the sad Silver Diner sits by the twisted tracks, dark from the rain. Beyond are the falling down warehouse platforms, the workmen, smoking cigars, and drinking coffee in their grey coveralls.
No one appears to be looking at the rainbow. No one in my sight is paying attention to the beauty being painted across the iron-clad sky! For an instant, I want to scream for everyone to stop, to look up. Am I in the wrong world, or what? I wonder, as I watch a plane ascend, what the pilot and passengers are thinking. Their silver plane gains altitude, flying directly into the rainbow. Do they even see it?
© Timothy Resau
Originally from Baltimore, Timothy Resau resides in coastal North Carolina. His work has appeared in The Poet; Anti-Heroin Chic; Eskimo Pie; Scarlet Leaf Review; Down in the Dirt; Covid-19 Anthology, and is forthcoming in Sylvia Literary Review.