Of rains, hobos and the JM Berry unicycle
Though Sonoma County won't be getting its high-speed rail anytime soon, thanks to a recent piece on Sonomanews.com, I now know that we once again have freight trains rumbling through the Valley. Apparently, the "Northwestern Pacific Railroad moved a three-car train from Lombard Junction in Napa County" and "the train moved through the sloughs before crossing the Wingo Bridge."
First off, shouldn't that be "Wino Bridge?" and secondly, Wingo has a bridge? Didn't we just show them the secret of fire and the wheel? They're advancing rather quickly - it's only a matter of time before the Wingonads try to overthrow their Sonoma oppressors, you know, with sticks and stones and the indomitable spirit of the underdog.
Like in the movies. We're doomed. That is, unless they try to ride the train into town, in which case they'll just end up in Petaluma - where they belong.
Of course none of this can compete, at least in Napa's collective mind, with their so-called Wine Train. Rumor has it that back in the day, a band of rogue Sonomas attempted a "robbery" of the wine train astride horses in a manner reminiscent of "The Great Train Robbery" (which, scholars of cinema will remember, is the first film to depict locomotive larceny). Though I doubt Napa will reciprocate with a reprisal upon our three-car little-engine-that-could, I do anticipate a sudden spike in hobo traffic to Sonoma from Napa and beyond. Trains, and the hopping of them, has long been the hobo's preferred mode of travel. I'm surprised Amtrak never considered creating a Hobo Express to exploit the market. They could serve Night Train and Mulligan Stew on the dining car. Napa wouldn't know what hit them.
I've not hopped the rails myself, but my kid brother experienced some rail-borne adventures in his late teens with a drifter named "Squinty." It's no wonder he took to the road so well when he later became a rock star and lived much of the aughts aboard a tour bus. Like rock stars, hobos are just carnies with ADD, meaning they can't stay in one place too long for fear of boredom and paternity suits. This probably accounts for the number of train songs in rock 'n' roll (or at least the one, "Train Kept a Rollin'" that everyone covers). There's even a band called Train, which, incidentally, no one covers.
With Sonoma's new-found train awareness, perhaps we could start using that catchy Brit phrase "mind the gap," the recorded advisory that reminds tube passengers of the precarious space between the train and its platform. Of course, it will only take 15 minutes before some wine marketer starts using it as slogan for the so-called Petaluma Gap appellation (though the proposed designation sounds more like an outlet mall than it does a contender as an American Viticultural Area). Likewise, Depot Park Museum might see a spike in traffic, if not from hobos then from other travelers interested in our own reliquary of rail. With all this train on the brain, it come as no surprise that the Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley rolls into town Friday after next, boasting several winery stops and a lunch catered by the girl and the fig (no Night Train since the Fig only serves Rhone varietals).
Fair warning to those with a romantic yen to illegally ride the rails: it's a brilliant way to lose a limb. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, in 2010, there were 2,837 grade crossing and railroad trespassing accidents in the US, resulting in 712 fatalities and 1,192 serious injuries, which accounts for the trendy hobo name "Stumpy."
I'm not sure what fuels trains these days (besides nostalgia) but I do know there could be worse chugging across the Valley - a horde of velociraptors, for example, or James Marshall Berry on a unicycle. With a heave, and a ho, I just couldn't tell him so ... All aboard!
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Daedalus Howell gets railed at FMRL.com.