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I love rail yards. Always have. I grew up near one and as a kid and I was fascinated by all the trains coming and going north, west, east and south-bringing, well, pretty much anything where it was needed. When my work offered me an opportunity to head to Omaha for a week I played it cool while my peers shook their heads ‘no’. “Yeah, I’ll go if no one else wants to”, I said as nonchalant as I could.
You see, the largest rail yard in the world is in North Platte, Nebraska and I had to go see it. Lotsa trains going about their business and maybe a few of the folks I like as well. Excellent hunting grounds.
I got into Omaha on Saturday morning, checked into my hotel, jumped into the rental and headed off to North Platte. I took my time because I wanted to look around as the sun was setting so I ate a club sandwich with a beer. I chose the long thin filet knife because I liked the feel of it my hand. It’s probably the smallest one I own but its definitely the sharpest.
It took some time and a little bit of hide and seek with some rail workers before I spotted a small fire in the far northwestern end of the yard. I could barely make out the figure of a man sitting up against a tree working away at something in his hands.
Turned out this guy was whittling a piece of wood with an old but big Bowie knife. “Nice knife.” “Yeah, it comes in handy sometimes.”
Sitting there in overalls and a sweat shirt, you could tell the fella was big. His hands seemed to be the size of a Grizzly bear’s paws and they didn’t have the usual shake I’ve come to recognize from his kind.
“You want somethin’?”
“Just taking a look around.”
“Well, I don’t much like people. Just cause trouble is all.”
He looked up at me and something like a penny dropped. You could see it in his expression. I was sizing him up, he realized. In a languid fashion he rose to his feet. He was at least 3 inches taller and forty pounds heavier than I was and most of that weight was in the form of muscle.
We must have looked each other in the eye for a minute, maybe more. I thought about my chances. I realized he wasn’t looking away. He held that old knife in his paw and was turning it round slowly in his palm.
“I’m sure you gotta get goin'”, he said evenly.
“It’s late”, I responded.
I took two or three steps back while looking at him and then walked back toward my rental. I could feel the sweat falling down the center of my back. My forearms were covered in goosebumps. I wasn’t scared. I don’t know what I was. Having gotten into the car I tried to pull disparate thoughts together…
I was 10 minutes outside Omaha and I pulled over to the shoulder and started slamming the steering wheel. That fucker! I didn’t know him at all but he knew me. What I was. Probably what I’ve done. He just knew. And he was ready. Never happened before and it’s never happened since. I guess there’s a first time for anything.
If Eli likes little horsies then I’m going to go ahead and like them too!
No need to stand at attention.