We were in Memphis Tennessee and headed for the Mardi Gras. On this particular occasion, the conductor of the freight train saw us and approached us. We thought we were in going to be in trouble, but it turned out to be just the opposite. He was very intrigued by us and invited us to ride in the third engine. He said as long as we ducked down when going through towns, we'd be just fine.
It would be a 400 mile train ride from Memphis to New Orleans. It was early afternoon before the train finally took off, which meant it would probably be midnight or later when we arrived in New Orleans. As we were riding along in the third engine, I couldn’t help but think of the lyrics of the song sung “City of New Orleans” by Arlo Guthrie, written by Steve Goodman. We were living the song.
We were having a great time sipping wine and munching on sandwiches with our new friends, Bill and Joe, whom we'd met the night before at the mission. As the train continued to rumble down the tracks towards New Orleans. It was getting dark and the wine was beginning to take its toll on us. We were all a little drunk and getting sleepy. We decided the next time the train stopped we were going to make a mad dash for the boxcar where we had stashed our packs and stuff. Trains actually stop quite a few times to allow the trains coming from the other direction to pass. Sometimes a train would have to wait for quite a while for the other train to come as the passing areas were only at certain locations.
The train finally came to a screeching halt and we made it in plenty of time before the train took off again. Once we were all settled, in we began to get really thirsty from drinking the wine and realized we had left our water in the engine. It was decided that Bill and I would go and retrieve our water the next time the train stopped. Once the train finally stopped again we made it to the engine just in time. We had no sooner gotten into the engine when the train took off again, which meant we would have to wait until it stopped again before we could go back to the boxcar.
I could tell Bill wasn’t really feeling that great. I don’t think he was used to drinking. He wanted to stay in the engine, but I really wanted to go back to the car, so I left him there and took off for the boxcar when the train stopped and Bill stayed.
Once I got back to the car with everyone else, they all wanted to know what had happened to Bill. I told them he wasn’t feeling good and wanted to stay in the warm engine. None of us were happy with his decision, but there wasn’t much we could do about it now. We were all very tired and sleepy from drinking the wine, so we crashed very hard.
We woke up the next morning in a freight yard somewhere in the middle of Louisiana. Our train had pulled into this particular freight yard in the middle of the night and we were all sleeping so hard we didn’t realize that the train had stopped. The problem was our engines were gone. They had unhooked from the train sometime during the night and had been taken somewhere else, which meant Bill was gone and we had no idea where he was. Unfortunately, we never saw him again and we still had his pack and his stuff.
We were now less than 100 miles from New Orleans, so we had decided to hitchhike the remainder of the way. We got a couple of rides that only took us about 25 miles or so and then we were dropped off in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. It was raining very hard and we were getting very wet.
We had been in this spot for about a half an hour suffering through the rain when we decided maybe we should retreat to the wooded area right behind us and build a shelter to protect us from the rain. Hobo and I each had army issue ponchos which worked well for building a shelter if need be. Joe had remained by the side of the road with hopes of getting us a ride while we were busily getting shelter ready. Just as we were about finished with the shelter we heard Joe yelling at us that he had gotten a ride. We then quickly tore the shelter down and hustled back to where Joe was waiting with the ride.
The adventure with Joe and Bill started out so well the previous day, but seemed to be going awry. This was the thing about our lifestyle. It wasn’t a perfect science. You really have to take the good with the bad—all in stride; otherwise you’d get really disillusioned with it all. You just had to look at each day as being an adventure in itself with the next day as a new day full of new opportunities.
We arrived in New Orleans around mid-afternoon without Bill. We were still lugging all of his stuff around with us, which were really becoming a burden to us. We really wanted to score some LSD or mescaline, so that we could really enjoy the Mardi Gras celebration from a psychedelic perspective.As we began to ask around, it didn’t take us long to find someone who was selling mescaline. All we had to do was talk him into trading us some mescaline for our friend’s pack, which he was willing to do. None of us had any money, because Bill was the one who had the money, so we were hoping to simply trade Bill’s stuff for some drugs.
As we were walking around the French Quarter taking it all in—and as we were starting to get off on the mescaline—we spotted some friends Hobo and I had met when we were in Key West. We had a great time reminiscing with them and found out they had been pretty much doing the same thing we were doing, only just hitchhiking—no freight trains. They were road heads who were simply traveling the circuit like we were doing.
We spent the next three days just watching the daily parades, wandering around, taking everything in, and getting high when we could. Having been there a few months back, we went back to the same park and would return each evening to sleep.
Both Hobo and I had come to the conclusion that we had enjoyed New Orleans much more when we were there before. There were just too many people. Also, there were many others who were hustling in the same way we were. It was almost too much. After three days, we had enough and decided to head back to Houston.
We split up from Joe, with him going his way while we went our way. I felt really bad for Joe as he was now without his partner and had to travel alone. If Hobo and I hadn’t tried to get them to come with us, they’d probably still be together and having a great time.