That night, the train stopped in a corn field, like it often did. But this time, we heard someone talking through a bull horn: "Aww Rww Irr Severrrr!" It sounded like they were hollering from the caboose to the engine. People kept walking back and forth along the railroad track. "Carrr Wrrrr Mrrr Mrrr."
Then someone walked next to our car, stuck a flashlight in our six inches of open door, and said, "Get out of there!" And walked on.
"Doug, we'd better get out of here. They know we're in here."
"Aw, Eddie, they don't know we're here. They're just trying to scare us. They just saw the open door."
After a time, we heard two sets of footsteps: "crunch-crunch, crunch-crunch...." Some one came up to our freight car door, threw the lever, and shoved the door closed. We heard the lever being thrown back, the chain being put on, and - bang! bang! bang! - somebody was hammering down the wedge with something made of metal.
To understand what happened next, you have to know a few things about how men are raised. If you weren't raised as a future man, you might be saying "Why didn't you say something? You know, 'Excuse me, there are people in here!'"
But to ask for help like that, there are two existing preconditions. First, you have to believe that it's okay to ask for help, ever.
I ask you to think about it. Don't you know some men who don't ask directions? "I'm not lost! I'm not lost!" If you're not raised as a future man, it's difficult to understand. You might want to ask, "Are you sure you want to drive around in circles for hours? Wouldn't you rather just ASK SOMEONE?"
"I'm not lost! I've got a map. I'll find the way!"
Think of the great role model for males. In our generation, it was John Wayne. Can you imagine John Wayne asking directions? "Excuse me, pardner. Could you tell me how to get to Laredo?" It just wasn't part of the role.
Even if you believe it's okay to ask for help, you still have to believe in the humanity of those whose help you are asking.
I was raised to believe that there are two kinds of men: the kind who did bad things - like being where they weren't supposed to be - and the other kind, who did violent things to punish the bad ones.
So I would rather choose the impersonal threat of imprisonment in a freight car - death by thirst and starvation - than for one minute to trust my life to those faceless, armed, violent railroad bulls.
So we said nothing. We heard the steps getting further away on the gravel.
"Doug! How are we going to get out of here? Do you know how long they leave freight cars in yards? We have a real problem here!"
"Eddie, we've solved a lot of problems before, this is no more real than any others."
"Doug, this could make us die. Anything that can make you die is REAL!"
"Look, Eddie, I know what we're going to do."
"We haven't slept, had enough water, or enough food for two days. Here's what we're going to do. We're going to fall asleep."
"We can't think. When we wake up, we'll know what to do next."
"Lie down, Eddie. Close your eyes. Go to sleep."
When we lay down in the dust of that freight car floor, Eddie fell right asleep. But I didn't.
I was lying there, listening to the bull horn, and the sound of the footsteps on the gravel, going back and forth. And by now, I don't know how much was real, and how much I imagined, and how much I even dreamt, but I lay there, hearing those sounds: "Grr Trrr Frr Remawwww;" "Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch," thinking: "They're going to find us. They're going to come in here, and they're going to kill us." Grr Trrr Frr Remawwww. Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch. They're going to find us. They're going to come in here, and they're going to kill us.
My last waking thought was, "This wooden box is my coffin. And I am safe in here."
The complete story, "Hopping Freights," is available on an audiotape.