Commuter Blues

“Get him up.” I couldn’t see the person speaking, what with my face in the angular gravel lining the tracks. The railroad had a name for the rocks but I couldn’t remember what it was. I wondered why I was even thinking about it. I had bigger problems. I hurt all over and was having a hard time getting my breath. Then I got kicked again, the blow raising me from the ground a few inches only to have gravity pull me back down. Hard.

“Why’re you doing this?” I asked. It sounded more like ‘whurrya deng iss.’

“Shut up hippe. No one told you to talk.” I still couldn’t make out who was talking. They’d come out of the darkness as I was making my way across the tracks. It was three in the morning and I’d just finished our weekend night gig; I played drums in a house band at a bar called the Shalimar. We played from nine pm until one am on Fridays and Saturdays. This was Saturday –actually, it was Sunday. I was doing the unthinkable: I worked at a rock and roll radio station and played in a rock and roll band, and sin of sins, I was doing it in Roseburg, Oregon. It was a logging town with most everyone’s income earned from Weyerhauser, that meant heavy boots, ankle high bib overalls, wire rope muscles, country music, too much alcohol, and shit for brains. From my fetal position all I could see were the scuffed boots and tattered and faded denim pant leg hems. A knee dropped onto me and I felt my shirt being pulled, the sound of fabric giving way filled my ears. Whoever it was was cutting my clothes off. First the shirt, then the pants, then my underwear. They left me wearing only my socks and low heeled Wellington boots. Next, I had my hands tied with a short piece of rope. They were tied behind me and then cinched to my ankles. I was left hog tied there on the railroad tracks. My assailants then strolled away, talking among themselves, laughing and congratulating themselves as they disappeared into the night.

I did my best to try to move off the tracks. I only succeeded in giving myself a collection of cuts and more bruises from the rock of the roadbed. Even though they’d tied a bandanna across my mouth, I was able to yell and I did so, hoping on of the Burlington rail dicks would find me and give me a hand. No such luck. Even though it was the middle of August, it was still chilly and the cold was making me shiver. I wondered if a guy could die of hypothermia at 62 degrees, the average wee hours temperature. I was giving this some thought when I was suddenly bathed in bright light. “What the hell …?” A gruff voice said. The light moved in front of me and aimed at my face. I couldn’t see who it was because the light was blinding. The light came closer and I could make out a burly silhouette, and the reflection of a badge. It was one of Roseburg’s finest.

Not too gently, he released the ropes that had me tied up. I sat on the ties and rubbed my wrists while he walked to his car. It was parked about 30 feet away on an bumpy dirt access road that paralleled the tracks. He came back shortly and threw a folded blanket at me. “Cover yourself up, for God’s sake.” he snarled. He took in my shoulder length hair and made a disapproving grunt. “What is this, some new game you and your pinko buddies are playing?”

I looked at him, not too pleased. “No, I got jumped on the way home from work.”

“Work, huh? Where you work at sonny.”

“I play music at the Shalimar.”

“That’s your idea of work, huh? You got any drugs on you?”

I looked at him and felt a bit astonished by the question. “Where would I put them? You see any pockets?” I answered.

“You keep a civil tongue, boy. Have some respect for the law.”

“How about you have a little respect for a victim here. I’m the one who got hurt.”

“You a mess alright. You didn’t take some of that LSD and feel all restricted by your clothes.”

“I know you’re too conditioned to believe it, but having long hair doesn’t mean drugs. I do some drinking but that’s about it, and like I said, I was working so there wasn’t a lot of that going on. Uh, look. Do you think you could drop me off at my house? It’s just two blocks that way.” I pointed towards my home.

“I’ll give you a ride, but you aren’t goin’ home, boy. You’re goin’ to jail.” said the cop.

“What?! What for?”

“How about indecent exposure and trespassin’ on the railroad property.”

“Are you kidding me? I don’t believe this.” He told me I better believe it and guided me to his car and put me in the back seat. I said nothing on the five minute trip to the station and neither did the cop. Inside the station house I was put in a room with a table and two chairs and told to ‘keep my shirt on.’ The cop was pleased with his joke. I didn’t think it was funny. He left, locking the door and I sat down on one of the chairs. After about 20 minutes a sergeant came into the room and handed me a pair of gray coveralls and then sat at the table and waited while I slipped into them. They were a little tight, but I felt a lot better than I did wrapped in a blanket.

“So, what happened out there. My officer says you were naked on the railroad right of way.”

“Did he tell you I was hog tied? Did he say that I’d just been jumped by a few rednecks?” I asked, angry.

“He said that you claimed you’d been attacked but said he saw no sign of it –or of anyone else.”

“Oh, man. Come on sergeant. Look at me. Do I look like I made that up?” I asked.

“No. No, you don’t. I saw you were bruised and cut all over while you were putting on that jump suit. So tell me what happened out there. Start from the beginning.”

I told him how the band finished its last set and of heading home, cutting across the tracks to shave a little of the walk off. I explained that a few guys on the street across the tracks spotted me, started giving me a hard time and then got carried away, how I ended up on the tracks naked. I explained how his “officer” acted almost as bad as the rednecks who jumped me. “He doesn’t much like, um, liberal types.” the sergeant said. “He’s a good man though. I’ll have a talk with him about this. You can go ahead and take off.”

I was still bare footed and I was farther from home than I’d started, but I’d had about enough of the cops for one night. Without a word I stood up and left. As I went through the door, the sergeant told me I could return the coveralls in the morning. No need to do it tonight. By the time I got home I was chilled to the bone again and my feet were sore. I drank a couple of shots of Segrams Seven from a fifth I kept over the ‘fridge and fell into bed. I was asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow.

When I got up the following morning I took a long shower and inspected the bruises and small cuts that covered me from head to toe. I got dressed and looked over at the coveralls. I made a rude noise and threw them into the kitchen trash bin. Before long they were decorated with coffee grounds, cantaloupe seeds and other kitchen discards. If the police stopped by, I’d give the gray rag back. They never did come for them and I never returned them as I was told to.

A few months later I would move to Portland, Oregon for a better paying job in a much friendlier city. When I left, I never looked back and never missed the town. I expect that the feeling was mutual.