Hindsight Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
There comes a time in every young man’s life when his thoughts turn to love. There comes a time in every old man’s life that his thoughts turn to those times. I will share with you some of my reflections on affections, having learned much about myself through long ago loves and losts. This isn’t just useless boasting. All of us are students in each of our relationships, however brief or intense, wholehearted, selfish, or just possibly, transcendent. And with that we become enlightened to learning what we already knew about who we already were when it came to love. Later on I will try to explain what that actually means. Stay with me here.
Today’s lesson comes wrapped in a song I once wrote about ‘love or something like it’. A major goal of this life story is to talk about myself honestly and humbly. I know what a turn-off both bragging and self-righteousness can be. You will therefore find me dancing around details and attempting to be clever and self-deprecating. Along with that, the last thing I would want to do is ridicule or put down any of the performers in my life’s play for my own benefit. So if you are one of them, and find I have misrepresented or slandered you in the least, please do write your own damn book and set me straight. : )
Jennie, Get Off The Train
“Jennie, get off the train with me. I know that we just met. But I’ve fallen hard and can’t bring myself to say goodbye just yet. Come with me, our destiny is waiting up ‘round the bend. Jennie, get off the train; let’s see how this story ends.”
The Amtrak Coast Starlight departs Seattle every morning at 10 a.m. as it has for decades. The route takes you south through western Washington, across Portland, through Eugene, Klamath Falls and over into California in the middle of the night. In 24 hours, you’re rolling slowly through the graffiti jungle of Oakland, then San Jose, Salinas, Gilroy, Paso Robles, and Santa Barbara at dusk. By 9:05 PM, a mere 36 hours, barring a delay, which are almost daily, you stumble onto the streets of Los Angeles.
I have taken all or part of this journey a number of times over the years, beginning at the age of 11 when I begged my parents to send me to visit my grandmother who lived on the then-respectable edge of downtown Los Angeles not far from L.A. High. I can still smell the exotic scent of smog wafting in the palms and feel the good vibrations of the Promised Land in mid-century. The Union Pacific had started this inquisitive young boy on a life of allaboarding and chasing whatever’s out there.
I was single and free in the spring of 1978 and in the midst of the 20 year long mating season. On a break from work, I grabbed a backpack of clothes, my journal, and a passenger rail ticket to San Jose, intent on joining up there with a few friends also on spring break. They drove, and I chose to do the rails for a change of pace. My solo adventures were ripe with imagination but never expectations. It was enough to feel the tracks snap beneath me while musing out the train window at the clearing skies as we descended from the Pacific Northwest toward the Golden State.
The train stopped on a siding near Roseburg to address a malfunctioning steam heat system that turned all the coaches into 94 degree saunas. The solution was to have a couple obviously stoned crew members jack open some windows. I walked to the lounge car. It wasn’t any cooler, but no one was complaining. Some poor young fellow who had been playing guitar earlier had now passed out somehow wedged between the high-back seat and curved observation window. One eye was half open and his right cheek was pressed against the glass just enough to pucker his lips — as if whistling the final refrain of his last song.
Inviting myself to his guitar and plucking all four chords I knew, I proceeded to take the stage just as Jennie (not her real name) breezed over with a cold beer for me and a here-I-come-hither look. The reason I’m not using her real name is not necessarily out of respect. As happens now and again, I either forgot it or never knew it to remember.
“Bare feet, tie-dyed, bell-bottom jeans; an embroidered peasant blouse. Said you lived in the woods outside Eugene in a teepee not a house. I was trippin’ on your hippie thing as you bought another drink or two. As that train rocked on into the night, I wrote this song for you…”
With a sudden lurch the train leapt forward, but I was already head-over-heels. In my mind, this quaint little romance from then on was like an old black and white movie. The train sweltered as it pitched and swayed up the Siskiyou Mountains. The wind was rushing in the open windows blowing Jennie’s (not her real name) waist-long chestnut hair back like a surrender flag. I turned to look at her and tears filled my eyes — as some dust from a passing northbound coal train struck my face. After a time, someone opened the car door, and we stood with our toes out in the cool breeze watching the moon rise over Mount Shasta. We embraced. We kissed. The wind suddenly swirled and wrapped her long hair around her head. It took both of us pulling and clawing to find her face. At which time we kissed once more.
“By the time they closed the bar car down I knew we were meant to be. By an open door racing over the track I kissed you tenderly. Hand in hand we passed a joint and drank wine with the crew. As that train rolled on into the night, I sang this song to you… “
Love At First Light
My courtships were generally in keeping with the liberal times, but usually in a gentlemanly way. I was not the aggressive type. I fished from the shore. Pretending to be sleeping with my back against an old tree and my straw hat tipped forward over my eyes. I trusted my bait and fishing gear. I was too lazy to get my feet wet in the pursuit. I let the stream do the moving. Could be I was naive, clueless, insecure, and perhaps terrified. Could be.
I wasn’t indiscriminate, mind you. I had a copy of the fishing regulations rolled up in my back pocket. I followed the accepted rules regarding size, sex, length, and species. And ‘catch and release’ was always an option. What would I prefer to see at the end of my line? Shall I dare say it? This would be barbiedoll, surfergirl, sassy, enigmatic, smart-but-not-too-smart kinda gal. Back then I strolled the zoo but stayed away from the lion cage. I was looking for Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail. I had a lot to learn about girls. A lot. So I went to school. More on this later.
“Jennie, get off the train with me, my ticket’s to San Jose. My buddies will be there to pick me up, we’re headed down to Monterey. Please come with me, our destiny is waiting when the day is new. Jennie, get off this train, I think I’m in love with you…”
When we last saw our hero, he was crossing the California border as the movie reached that moment where you just don’t know how it’s going to turn out. All I can tell you is I wrote the final verse to the song years later with a virtuous sentiment. And with only a mild curiosity of what the heck might ever have happened to her.
“Jennie, get off the train with me I whispered when daylight came. Snoring in your chair with your messed up hair, somehow you don’t look the same. And I don’t feel so well — my head hurts like hell. Good luck, girl, wherever you’re goin’.
I smiled and looked at Jennie—and got off that train alone…”
The End 😉