The train rolled through town at a slow pace; brakes screeching, air whistling, an old black man in between cars waving his hat at the motorists who were stopped. The young boy waved back at him; placed two fingers in his mouth and whistled. He wondered where that train was heading. North, south, east, or west. Maybe it was going up to Canada, or, Alaska. His heart started to skip.
This freckled kid continued watching the train. He wanted to jump on it, look for adventure. It would have to stop before he could climb on. His hefty size wouldn’t allow him to make it otherwise.
And then, the black man looked down on him. Told him to make that leap of faith. He’d loved to, but, he just didn’t have the black man’s muscle.
C’mon boy, the train hopper said. C’mon now, he shouted as he climbed off the car. He extended his hands, Ol’ Johnny has gotcha.
Thousands of thoughts went through the boy’s mind in a split second. What about his parents? Surely they would miss him. Friends at school, though there were few, he’d miss them. He’d miss the way the cafeteria smelled, the guidance counselor saying hello to him, the school bus rides through town.
At the same time he was thinking all this , Johnny was lifting him up. Welcome aboard son, Johnny said. Welcome aboard.
Where’s this train going? the kid asked.
Oh, I guess out west.
I believe so.
Never been there before, kid wiped his forehead with his sleeve. They tell me it’s nice.
How much money you got on you?
Nothing, kid said. I got nothing.
Well, that makes two of us.
The two of them rode into the cold night. Johnny kept his big arms around the kid. Placed his jacket on him too; he was used to the cold.
You know kid, eventually you gonna be on your own. I got folks I gotta see in Denver. You understand? he nodded. You take good care now. Go back to sleep.
Next morning the kid awoke. A blue denim jacket covered him,but, there was no Johnny. He rode on. Passed Utah, Nevada, into California. He’d made it. Got off in Bakersfield. And, there were all these Mexicans lined up for work. White men would come in trucks and haul them off to farms, vineyards, factories, lumber yards.
The kid got in line with the rest of them. He wiped his nose on his sleeve and said, My adventure begins.