San Francisco, California, USA
I should’ve noted the number of the train, the Cal Tran 66, leaving from San Francisco at 2 pm. I really didn’t pay any attention to it though, for I had to get back to Mountain View before my cousin and her boyfriend went to dinner that evening. We had all made plans to go out, this being my next to last day in California.
By that time I had just finished my latest trip, which was about 3 months in sunny Australia, my third time around. It included New Years and Christmas in Fiji, along with heaps of partying in all the major cities on the continent. I guess my time spent in Mountain View was a well-deserved respite, for my cousin Gail and her man Albert were quite a low-key couple. The most exciting thing for them to do in their hometown was make a run to the burger joint for a quick bite to eat!
I boarded the train a little wiped out from my sightseeing of San Fran that afternoon. Having never been there before, I found San Franciscans to be quite talkative and friendly – and VERY much into their 49er’s. Everywhere I looked there was someone wearing a 49er’s jacket, or a 49er banner hanging up somewhere. I also found the city center of San Fran filled with huge hills that made me curse myself for not working out, and the trolleys were a whole lot of fun to ride on. Amazingly enough though, while I checked my email at an internet café on Market Street, I met several people from Ireland who I met in Fiji! It was quite a surprise, but then again maybe it wasn’t – things like that always happen to me when I travel. After catching up for a few moments we made plans to get together the following night at a sports bar not too far away. Something to look forward to!
On the 66 I grabbed a seat in the middle car, and relaxed as the mostly empty train slowly began to move. It jerked a couple of times heavily, then gradually picked up speed as it pulled away from the terminal. I sat and stared out the windows aimlessly as it began to make every local stop conceivable, the train taking its sweet time in getting to my destination. Looking at my watch, I realized that I had around an extra half hour to play with when I got to Mountain View as well, as the total trip up there would take only about two hours. Not bad I thought, for I didn’t want to keep my cousin and her man waiting for me if I were late. They had planned on taking me to an Indian restaurant for dinner that evening as a sendoff back to New York.
Though I was on a local train, it really flew in-between stations. The landscape went by in a blur. The tracks of the Cal Tran were unprotected in most areas, and perhaps every once in a while I would see fencing or a barrier blocking someone’s entrance to the route. One of the other things I had noticed was every time the train came near a crossing, the horn would blare, warning pedestrians and vehicles that it wouldn’t be able to stop for anyone foolish enough to cross the blinking barricades. I
would look out the window as the train zipped past the waiting people, their forms whirls of color and shapes while the train flew down the tracks around 60 miles an hour, from what I could estimate. I could only guess that the reason why the train went so fast in-between stations was to arrive at its destination on time. Either that or maybe the train operator just wanted to get the hell home early?
I could more or less tell when the stations would be coming up too, this being my fourth or fifth trip on the Cal Trans. The brakes would be applied about a minute away from the station, the first indication of the next stop approaching. There was usually a distance of about 10 minutes in-between each of the 15 stops I had to make in order to get to Mountain View, so feeling the car jerk a little bit just before arriving at a stop was normal.
But this wasn’t to be a normal train ride! While the train flew down the track at high speed, I heard the horn blare several times. I thought that was a little weird because I knew by that time where the crossings were on the route. But this one seemed way too early, as if it appeared out of thin air.
Then suddenly, the brakes were applied, full force! My body lurched forward and I used my hand to catch myself on the back of the seat in front of me while the train’s brakes screeched. Everyone inside the car held onto whatever they could as the train began to slow.
Looking out the window to see what was happening, I suddenly heard THUNK THUNK, underneath the wheels of the car I was in. The car bucked up and down a little bit just as the sound was heard, and I noticed the car in back of mine do exactly the same thing.
Within a few moments the train was stopped. While we all sat there in silence wondering just what the hell happened, the conductor came on the air in a deadpan voice. “Er – this is your conductor, I’d like to inform you that we just had a fatality… if you just stay in your seats we’ll have this cleared out in about a half hour and get moving again.”
“HOLY SHIT! A fatality?!” I yelled. Everyone else just sat there as if they didn’t hear me. I looked at the guy sitting down the isle from me, a young kid dressed like a street gang member. He didn’t look so excited – more like he was pissed that this happened, for he would be getting to his destination late. He saw me looking at him and said “Damn, Cal Trans! They always run over some poor muthafucka all the time at least once a week.”
I sat there not believing it. This was a common occurrence?
The conductor ran through the car going to the front of the train, not answering any questions. I settled in my seat, knowing that this probably was going to take longer than what was said. And it did. After a half hour the State Police arrived. Then after about two hours, the coroner decided to turn up and yank the body of the person out. Apparently it was wedged in-between the car behind mine and the next. I could only wonder what my cousin and her boyfriend were thinking. The must’ve thought I had gotten mugged, or lost!
It was while the body was being extricated when the conductor decided to fill us in on what happened, via the p.a. system. A vagrant, possibly drunk or high on dope, was walking down the middle of the tracks, oblivious to the oncoming 66. The train operator saw the man on the tracks and blared the horn, and the man didn’t pay any attention. The train being several thousand tons, there was no way it was going to stop in time and slammed into the man, dragging him underneath most of the cars. After the train came to a halt his body got wedged in-between two cars behind the one I was in. The conductor said there wasn’t much of him left where he was found.
I arrived at my cousins over two hours late. Gail gave me this look that said “Where the hell were you?” I told them both what happened.
After I explained myself, Gail’s boyfriend Albert wasn’t really that surprised. “What gets me is that you actually felt the guy run underneath the train,” he said. “I’ve been on a few of those run overs, and usually you don’t feel anything at all when it happens. I guess maybe it was a fat guy or something.”
I remarked that was morbidly funny somehow. But added, “God, I never knew those things were so damn common.”
“Yeah,” Gail added, “well the Cal Tran tracks aren’t that well protected, so you get a lot of people crossing them at various places just to shorten their trips. You also get a lot of bums that live along side the tracks too. Sometimes they’re high on drugs, or want to commit suicide. The easiest way to do that is just stand in the middle of the tracks and wait for the next train.”
“Well, I guess the Devil was in charge of that train, cause the number of it was the 66.” I said.
“Damn! ” Gail said. “All they needed was another 6 to make it official.”