Chapter1 - Chapter 2 - Chapter 3 - Chapter 4 - Chapter 5

Not only is this a story about finding yourself. This is a story about letting people live their lives the way they want. Not everyone wants to live life the same way, and that’s what makes people so interesting. My belief is that people should do what makes them happy. In Will’s case his passion was discovering the world and getting into trouble. At one point my mother asked me to go talk sense into Will. I refused. In my mind he was already making more sense than anything I had ever done. He was out living life the way he wanted and not the way other people wanted him to. I think this is a valuable lesson that everyone should take with them. Please, keep this in mind as you go through this story.


Time approximated: December 2008

Many times I have woken up with a terrible pain in my head with no idea how I got there. This time was different, a lot different. For one, there was a terrible smell. Which, wasn’t surprising considering I hadn’t taken a shower in God knows how long. Another thing was the feeling of dried blood. My face was caked in blood, but I wasn’t quite sure if it was mine or someone else’s. Finally, and perhaps most troubling, I was in a bed.

“Why is that so terrible?” you may ask. Remember, I was living on the streets and by this point I was out of favors from people. The only way I could end up in a bed was if I broke the law. I could have either broken into someone’s home in a drunken stupor or I could have been thrown in the slammer, also in a drunken stupor. Aside from those two reasons there should have been no reason for me to be in a bed. Worst of all, the bed was comfortable leading me to think it was the former.

Jumping out of bed I almost fell over. I looked around to room to see if there was any broken glass. The police already had my prints on file so I couldn’t leave any trace that I was here. No trace here. I better check the other rooms to be sure. Wandering aimlessly around this strange house I had to wonder where the owners were. Maybe they have a beach home they go to in the winter.

My hopes were dashed almost instantly when the door down the hallway opened. It happened in that slow, uncontrollable, methodical way. My adrenaline was already flowing. Fight or flight. Take them out and run or just bolt before they see my face? The puppet master controlling the door turned out to be an elderly woman. Fuck, now I can’t do either.

“William!” She said surprised.

How does she know my name? How drunk was I last night? FUCK FUCK FUCK! Please, please, please oh dear god no! Please someone tell me I didn’t sleep with that old… thing! My gag reflex went off and I vomited all over her floor. How do I address her? If I call her honey and we didn’t sleep together she might be offended. If we did get freaky and I just say morning she’s going to think I got caught trying to get out of a one night stand. What the hell? I might as well go for broke.


“You’re awake?”

“Yeah, but I don’t feel too good.”

“I would think so.”

Damn this woman! I’m trying to get her to say something that will remind me what happened. Why is she speaking in such general terms?

“This is going to sound pretty bad, but where am I?”



“It’s a city in Maryland.”

“Yeah, yeah. I got that. I’m trying to remember how I got here.” I could feel the neuron that controls memory firing rapidly, straining desperately to catch onto something that would help me remember.

“Actually, I was hoping you could tell me. I found you unconscious by the train tracks. The doctor said you had a broken nose and a concussion. He didn’t say anything about amnesia.”

The house shook from what I can only assume was a passing train. The sound jogged my memory. “That’s because I don’t have amnesia.”


The message on the wall had been in the back of my mind for days. It was all I could think about, and the colder it got the more it was in my actions. There must be some sort of natural instinct in all animals that cause them to migrate south for the winter. It was this Freudian folly that gave me the idea of going to New Orleans. Before I left I had to call back home and make sure my family knew I was okay. I hadn’t talked to them over a phone since I was modeling. Once a week I’d steal a postcard from one of the street vendors and write back to let them know I was still alive but I had sold my cell phone weeks ago.

There’s a fountain outside of city hall that is on until September. Obviously the fountain was already cleaned out by both homeless people such as me, and the fountain’s cleaning crew. As I walked by it one morning something caught my eye. There was a slight discoloration on part of fountain. The fountain was made of bronze giving it a golden color. There was one circular spot that wasn’t natural. With reckless abandon I jumped into the empty well and bolted over to the golden dollar. I grabbed it just as security ran to collect me.

“Get out of here you filthy hobo.”

“Actually officer a hobo is willing to work for cash. I, on the other hand am more of a bum as I am stationary. There isn’t an ounce of work ethic in me, even if you wrung out my bones.”

Thoroughly disgusted by my joke they threw me on the street. “Just get out of here.”

More than happy to get away from any authoritative figure I did just that, I left. With Sacagawea, the Lady of Liberty, weighing down my pocket with her golden coating I was in a fine mood. It was the most money I held onto for more than an hour. Believe me I was trying desperately to spend it after trading it for four quarters. Unfortunately it’s extremely hard to find a working payphone in present day Philadelphia.

Finally after searching for most of the day I found one on 4th street. I threw away the only money I had into the bowels of that infernal machine. The phone rang. It rang again. I hung up and tried again. It rang. I was about to hang up again when I heard the soft click on the other end of the line.

“Hello?” said a frail and weak voice on the other end.

“Hey mom.”

“Will! Honey come quick it’s Will.”

“Mom I only have a few minutes. I’m calling on a payphone. Where are you sweetie?”

“I’m still in Philadelphia.”

“Oh please come home Will. We miss you so much.”

“Mom, I’m calling to tell you that I’m getting ready to leave. I’m going down to New Orleans. I just wanted to let you know I’m okay before I go.”

“Will please—”

“I love you mom. I’ll talk to you later.” I said cutting her off and hanging up.

I do care about her but some things you just have to do on your own. I need this now. No longer will I be a bum. From now on I will be a tramp. Now, just need to find a way to get down to Louisiana. How does one go about this sort of thing? I’m moneyless and lack any method of transportation.

It was on that train of thought that I arrived at my conclusion. Yes, pun intended. I thought to myself as I looked out over a train yard. There were every shape, size, and color of train you could imagine. I threw my shirt on top of the barbed wire fencing in order to protect myself. After making it to the other side I collected my shirt and put its tattered remains back onto my torso.

My earlier years in Boy Scouts had taught me a few survival skills. More importantly, it taught me how to find the direction based on the sun’s location. Based on this alone I was able to figure out which trains were headed south. There was a big old engine that looked like Thomas the train. I swear to god the engineer must have been five because it was a huge baby blue mammoth. Slap a smiley face on the front and you’ve got the childhood god of our times. Innocuous. I like it.

When no one was looking I sprinted out to the central car and climbed the ladder. The car [2]was made of rusted steel and had an open top which, was covered by a canvas. I opened the tarp and climbed into the darkness. It’s hard to justify theft of any kind. But when you’re as hungry, cold, and desperate as I was let me see you resort to less drastic measures. So, I won’t try to explain why I was right in sneaking onto that train.

Time passes differently in complete darkness. It goes fast and slow simultaneously. All sense of perception is lost. If you sit still too long you can literally feel your body losing control. It’s as if someone is pulling your soul from your very body. I don’t know exactly how long I sat there before the train started moving but I’m guessing it was around an hour because the sun was still up when I peeled back the tarp to let the wind rush inside the stagnant car. For the first time I could see around me. It took a while for my eyes to readjust to the sun’s light but I was surrounded by nothing. The car was completely empty.

They must have dropped off their load, and are probably making their return trip now.

The sun was setting so I had to reset my bearings. The train was definitely going in the right direction, due south. The sky was wide open, not a cloud in sight. It was beautiful. The sun was setting behind the city limits, giving the area a red aura. I climbed out of the car and sat on the edge letting the wind brush by me. For some time I simply sat, and watched as the scenery passed by me. It was breath taking.

That night I lay down in the car and let the tarp dangle in the wind. It was refreshing. Something woke me up. Some noise in the distance. What was that? I heard it again. Thunder. Suddenly the rain was coming down in sheets and it was pouring through the hole I had left in the tarp. I ran over and buckled it up as quickly as I could but there was already a layer of water on the bottom of the car.

Gondolas aren’t water tight to begin with, but this specific car was so old and worn that it was riddled with holes. Water continued to spill in through these holes and the gaps between the tarp and the top of the car. Slowly the car was beginning to fill with water. It wasn’t going to raise enough to kill me but it was certainly going to make sleeping uncomfortable, maybe even dangerous. I sat down in the puddle of dirty and rusty water. It was simply disgusting. The water permeated ever pore of my body. It made me so wet that I was dry.

The rain stopped by the water didn’t drain. I wasn’t going to sleep that night so I opened the tarp again to let some air in. Never have I been claustrophobic but sitting in a train car for hours in the wet stifling heat gets to you. I needed fresh air or I was going to lose my mind. It was hard to breathe and my lungs were closing up. I pulled out my dime bag and lit up.

Suddenly there were sounds everywhere. People were walking over the train. I tossed my roach into the water. They’re coming from the back of the train; they must have smelled the smoke. Shit. I gotta hide. But where? A moment too late I remembered the tarp was flailing in the wind.

“Hey, what’s that tarp doing? It’s unbuckled. I’ll go tie it down.”

“See if there’s anything in that car. We don’t want anything damaged.”

Someone stuck their head down through the whole and shone a flashlight. He was wearing a badge. He looked at me and smiled. “Alright buddy you’re coming with us.”

“Like hell I am, who are you?”

“We’re the freight police, and you’re under arrest for train hopping.”

Bloody-fucking hell. It would be the freight police. I hope this doesn’t hurt in the morning. I thought as I opened the tarp and climbed on top of the train. There’s his butt-buddy on the other car.

“Stop! Don’t move.”

Like that ever stopped anyone. I leapt to the next car and started booking it to the front of the train. As I jumped across to the next car the wind pushed me backwards and caused me to land back on the car I had jumped from. Unable to regain my footing I fell, and I fell hard. Luckily I know how to take a fall and avoid injury. Landing with bent knees I managed to divert most of the force. The remaining force of impact was dispersed by rolling. But, remember this story is about me and trouble always manages to find its way straight to me. As I rolled I smacked my face onto a stone, and that’s the last thing I remembered.


After cleaning up my vomit we had sat down at the breakfast table where she was making me an omelet, southern style. I could only assume that meant she was going to throw in essence of incest and a dash of redneck. Or, if I was lucky she would use gun powder from her shotgun shells to cook my eggs.

Her name was Rita Schafer. She was an eighty year old widow. Her husband had worked on the rail line for 50 years before he passed away. One of his favorite hobbies was train hopping. I guess that’s why Rita took such a liking to me, I reminded her of him. She said it was my youthful way of thinking and my strong personality.

Apparently Mr. Shafer would take long trips across the country in search of something. He started train hopping when he was a teenager

“I never did discover what he was looking for. One day he went out on one of his adventures and didn’t come back. At his age it was a wonder he was still able to keep up with all the other ‘tramps’ out there. I like to think that whatever it was that he was searching for all those year he found. That’s why he didn’t come back. Once he discovered his holy grail he had no reason to keep going. The found his body in the back of an abandoned box car clinging to his locket. I believe he died a happy man.”

“What was in the locket?”

“I had given it to him earlier that year. It was a picture of me so that we would be together even when he went on his adventures. Train hopping is a dying art. People used to do it all the time but in this new generation everyone seems to have stopped. Most people think it’s because of all the laws banning it. No, the laws were created so that hoppers could get an even bigger thrill out of the whole experience. Now, it’s not only dangerous,” she said motioning towards my battered body, “but it’s forbidden fruit. You tell a man not to do something and that’s exactly what he does. Nothing else in the world will matter to that man. I think people stopped because they lost interest in the train. It’s such a magical machine. There is so much romance still left in the railroad. People have just become desensitized. They’ve lost the old ways.”

Yeah they have. It’s not necessarily a bad thing though. People move on and society progresses. Trains have faded from our lives because they have become obsolete. Why take a train when you can take the car. I do agree that there’s a lot of romance still to be had. What’s great about lost passions like train hopping is that they can be rediscovered by a few. With only a few people it becomes more special for the minority, and is therefore more romantic. I hope the world stays blissful in its ignorance of my secret world. Not just of train hopping but of truly living life. No one can say they will see as much as me, I’ll be sure that’s true.

Rita made one of the best omelets I’ve ever had. To this day I’m not sure what she meant by ‘southern style’ but I wasn’t about to turn away a free omelet. I stayed there for a few days while I was recovering from my concussion. My nose healed quickly, and soon it was impossible to tell it had been broken at all.

Rita’s house was located about fifteen minutes outside of central Baltimore. She wasn’t in the nicest of areas but compared to what I’d heard the rest of Baltimore it looked like she was pretty off. The railroad was paying her compensation for her husband’s death. That coupled with the health insurance paid the mortgage, utilities, and other living expenses.

I was left alone most of the time. Rita never knocked on my door or asked me to do any chores but most of the time I wished she would so I would have an excuse to leave. She let me read her books and watch her television. She fed me, and never asked anything of me. She seemed content simply with having someone to talk with. It was the perfect set up yet I wasn’t content. Sitting still for so long was driving me insane. Even though I had stayed in Philly for about a month I never stayed in the same part of town for too long. I was always moving around.

After about a week I found myself sitting in my room thinking to myself, This has been a nice reprieve from the streets but there’s just something that doesn’t feel right. Part of the reason I didn’t go home after I quit my job was because I wanted to set out on my own. Yet, here I am being cared for by an elderly woman who should be devoting all of her energy to taking care of herself. I should go, I just got to keep moving on. The air has become stagnant here. There’s nothing left for me. I’ll tell her I’m leaving in the morning. No, I can’t stand to break her heart like that. I should leave tonight. She doesn’t need to know. It will just give me more reasons to stick around if I say goodbye. If I really am like her husband she will know I mean thank you.

I crept out of my door and looked down the hallway toward her room. It was silent and still. There was peacefulness about the air. That’s how it was always was with Rita. I took a deep breath. I need to go through with this. Now, or I’ll never do it. Closing my eyes I was able to break the trance. When I got to the front door I had trouble opening it: both emotionally and physically. It was dark but there was something blocking the door. Sitting in front of the door was a dark green rucksack with a letter addressed, “Good Luck.” That alone almost made me turn back but I had already committed to leaving. If I went back she’d know that I had tried to move and had been too weak to go on. It would break her heart that I hadn’t possessed the same drive as her husband. In order to preserve her dying memory of her loved on I left, with disregard to how much it hurt me.

Since I left I haven’t talked to Rita. I don’t think, even today, that I could face her and say thank you. The words would sound too weak in the presence of how much she helped me. Not only did she save my life, she changed my life. Now I too am searching for something. I am searching for a way to properly thank her for all that she did.


So, there I sat. It was a sunny afternoon in Baltimore, and I was leaning against a thrift shop’s front window. If you asked why I was sitting there I would have said, “I’m basking in the morning sun. Isn’t it beautiful? It’s exactly days like these that I live for.”

And, if you continued to pester me and were audacious enough to ask how long I’d stay sitting there I would have said, “Fuck off.” But I would have thought I could sit here all day and simply enjoy this weather. I wish other people could see the beauty in relaxing and watching the world go by. It’s an often overlooked sport. If a sport is something that exercises your body this is the type of sport that exercises your soul. Never have I felt so emotionally healthy. I am truly free. No man can call me his, and no woman can control nor tame my heart.

In-between myself and the wall was my new rucksack, acting as a pillow. Inside was a spare set of clothes, matches, snacks, hotel sized shampoo and conditioner, a tarp with directions on how to use it to make a tent, and an empty locket. The letter had said:

Dear William,

I expect that you will be leaving tonight. There’s something in your eyes that reminds me of my husbands. He had that same look before he left for his trips. I regret to say that he had the same exact look when he left on his final trip. Take care not to let harm befall you. You are a very special young man and I’m sure you have someone who cares about you dearly. It is obvious that you have the right idea about life, as you are out living it. Often I wish I had the same will as my husband. My life was spent sitting around doing what society told me. Now in what could easily be the last years of my life I see what life is about. Find someone you care deeply about and never let them go. Hold on to them and protect them, emotionally and physically. “Love and protect,” is something that is very true.

Enclosed in this backpack is some things I thought might help you on your journey. I hope the clothes are the right size. The most important item is the golden 24-carrat locket. It is the same one I gave my husband, may it bring you better luck. Someday I hope you will find someone to give that locket to.

Safe travels forever,

Rita Schafer

I tucked the locket into my pocket and looked up from the letter. The clouds were moving at a brisk pace, drifting through the sky. A flock of birds flew through the sea of blue and disappeared behind the clouds. It’s time to leave here.


Never one to avoid trouble I laid in a field laying adjacent to train tracks. Not far away was the train yard. My plan was to jump on a train while it was gaining speed as it exited the train depot. The first train came out moving fast. I managed to get a hand on the railing of a box car but ended up getting dragged for a few yards before I managed to pull myself off the ground. Already, the new pants Rita had given me were worn down. The box car was already occupied but its inhabitants didn’t mind sharing the ride.

“We don’t get company very often. It’s nice to have someone to share our humble abode with. What parts are you coming from?”

“Outside of Philadelphia. How about yourselves?”

“Oh, a local. We’re originally from California but currently the road is our home. Well, I guess it’s really the tracks that are our home. How long have you been railroad tramp?”

“About a week. It’s been more of a means to an end up to this point. Now I don’t have a destination, and I can truly see the beauty of being free.”

“This is my husband’s and my own fifth year on the tracks. We started when our money ran out and we haven’t stopped since. It was the best thing that’s ever happened to us. Now we travel the States for free and hopefully we can see the world at some point. We’re trying to cross every major rail line here before we try to jump countries.”

“Nice,” I said sarcastically. She didn’t pick up on my undertones.

“Yes, thank you. So what’s your name?”

They turned out to be a very nice couple, if a bit too friendly. They taught me some tips for sneaking onto trains and not getting caught. Their knowledge of living off of other people was vast. I learned different ways to come by food and small amounts of cash, in addition to the ones I had already learned firsthand on the streets.

Most importantly, they showed me how to gamble without risk. They stressed that it was not cheating, and was never to be referred to as such. Poker is a game of skill and using a slight of hand was simply part of the game. I was never able to figure out why they helped me instead of exploited me. My guess is that it was because I so blatantly had no money. The couple shared everything with me: their pot, their food, and their company. They had a guitar with them so I offered them about all I could, a song. It wasn’t the best I’ve ever played but they seemed to enjoy it.

We traveled together for about a week, going along the coast. Eventually the day came where we were going to part our separate ways. They were going north, to Maine, to cross the border into Canada. I was going south, where it was warmer and I had originally planned to go. There was no farewell, only a mutual understanding. I stayed on my train, they got off and stowed away in a northbound car.




Fear could not penetrate me but solitude wore me to the bone. I sat desolate; isolated. The world was falling away around me and I was slowly slipping into darkness. Breathing I noticed how small the car had gotten. Deliberately the walls began closing in on me. The train was conspiring against me and it wanted me to leave. It was obvious I wasn’t going to make it to Louisiana without losing what little sanity I had left.

Due to my lack of funds I was suffering from withdrawal. You’re probably wondering exactly what I was suffering withdrawal from. The answer is just about everything. My poison of choice was quickly becoming cocaine. Marijuana wasn’t getting me the same fix it once had. Buying pot was taking away funds from my “crack savings” which consisted of a nickel and some pocket lint. The more cocaine I used the more I needed it. Rather than quenching my thirst my addiction was causing my desire to rise. I was essentially drinking salt water in a desert. The more I drank the more I needed to maintain sustenance. This Catch-22 was becoming a danger to my health and I knew it.

I had two choices. Feed my addiction and drink the salt water which would eventually kill me. Or, I could sit back, through the pain of dehydration, and wait slowly for my needs to kill me. Always the fighter, I drank as much as I could clinging to the hope that my body could process the salt and deliver me from this hell. Hit after hit I pressed on, wading through the sea of my addiction.

Suddenly I awoke from my feverish dream. I was curled up in a ball on a cold hard floor. This isn’t my box car. Where am I? My lips were parched. Holding me in the room were steel bars. Slowly I rose from my comatose state and stumbled to the doorway. My legs were so weak that I needed the bars to support my body. Slowly I looked around. It was obvious that I was in some sort of prison cell. The room was unusually hot, it was unbearable. My clothes were drenched with sweat.

“Hello?” I asked softly, my voice cracking with each syllable.

“You’re up,” said a gruff voice. The officer came around the corner to stand in front of my cell.

“What’s going on?”

“You’re in jail you bum. We found you passed out in a box car.”

“How long are you going to keep me here?”

“For train hopping? Maybe a day. For the drugs in your system? You’ll have to ask the judge tomorrow.”

Shit. That was the stupidest way to get caught.

“Didn’t you guys think taking me to a hospital would be a good idea?”

“We did. They said you’d be fine and turned you back here.”

“Can I get some water?”

“You’ll have to drink out of the sink or wait for meal time.”

“I think I’m going to be sick.”

“You’ll be fine,” the officer stated. To which I replied with a symphony of vomit on his pants and shoes. “Fuck! You little asshole.” He pulled out his nightstick and opened the door. I crawled to the corner of the room where I remained, curled in the fetal position, as he beat me. My body was already in such pain I didn’t feel it as he hit me. Because of that I didn’t scream out which, infuriated him further. His pudgy face got red and he began to kick me.

“What the hell are you doing!” someone shouted. I was fading out of consciousness so the sound was muffled.


“So it’s settled. The defendant agrees not to press charges on the Atlanta Police Department or any of its members in exchange for a warning about his drug habits. I hereby end this hearing,” the judge said banging her gavel.

“It sure was lucky that officer lost it on you,” my appointed lawyer said.

I tried to frown but ended up grimacing because of the bruises on my face.

“Right, sorry. Best of luck Mr. Dancer,” he bade farewell by extending his hand.

If my case wasn’t so easy we would have lost. This guy knows nothing about law. It’s amazing he passed his BAR exam. This shows you how the system really works. “If you cannot afford and attorney, one will be appointed for you.” Hell, they’ll give you a lawyer; he or she just won’t be very good at their job.

I gave him a short handshake and turned away without another word. As I walked out of the court house I took a deep breath of fresh air and thought to myself, now what? It’s probably not a good idea for me to get back on a train any time soon. Do I know anyone who lives down here? I wish I remembered where everyone went after high school. Straining I did manage to think of one person who I knew was down here. But how do I contact him? That’s right; he’s working for a landscaping business. If I can find some yellow pages I can probably find a way to contact him.

I searched the city for a payphone or somewhere that would lend me their yellow pages. Eventually I found a phone booth but the yellow pages were taken or just missing. Finally, a hotel let me borrow theirs and their lobby phone. I’m sure if the secretary’s manager found out about it she would have gotten in a lot of trouble so I tried to keep it short. What was the companies name… it was something to do with CDs. That’s right, it’s Callier-Durgin Landscaping.

The line rang. “C.D. Landscaping how can I help you?”

“Um hello. I’m looking for Mr. Alan Durgin. Could you please tell him that William Dancer from his high school English class called.”

“Will? How’s it going man? This is Alan.”

“Hey, it’s going… well… listen, I’m in town for a while and I was looking for a place to stay. I was wondering if I could room with you for a few days.

“Sure man, let me give you my address.”

[1] Trainspotting: Describes the act of shooting up on heroin. The injection leaves a dark line which, is known as a track. It is also rumored that the feeling of a hit is similar to the shock of being hit by a train which is where the term gets its name; watching trains and logging their numbers which, is a British hobby.

[2] Gondola: A type of railroad car. These cars are very versatile and can be used to carry a multitude of items.