Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ride The Long Black Train

As I was watching V For Vendetta, I heard a subtle snippet of this song in the background of one of the scenes. I don't know how it actually fit into the scene, but it was a low, wistfully sad tune that stood out among everything else...

It reminded me of a dream I had, in the very few days after my Mom and sister died. In the dream, Mom came to me outside of the school I was attending at the time. I was sitting on the curb behind of the largest building on campus, and she appeared beside me. I burst into tears, and she comforted me, explaining that she had to go. As she was talking to me, I saw in the clouds the clouds transform into a long, dancing chain of train cars, with an old-fashioned locomotive in the front. There were musical notes emitting from the smokestack, and the sun crested the top of it and brightened everything within its reach. I was reminded of how Mom loved trains, her father having been a railroad man on the New York Central for many years. I wanted to come with her, but she wouldn't let me. I had unfinished business, as it was...

It also reminded me of something in real life. In North Tarrytown (now called Sleepy Hollow), along Beekman Avenue towards the river, there used to be a wonderland of an automobile factory. My mother worked there for years, as did one of my uncles, and even my youngest sister. I almost had the chance to work there, under the same program my sister was involved in, but they ended the program the year before I was eligible. Besides, Mom said, you're going to school to be an engineer, not an assembly line worker... GMAD Tarrytown it was officially called, and I was as fascinated by the structure and lights and it's inner workings as I am by great stories and artwork. Believe me, this plant was a work of art, especially at night; all lit up and glowing like a car-producing version of Times Square. And the memories it held, of people and things and events, including me as a little boy making my way up the long escalators, along the train overpass which shook with the thunder of a thousand feet during each shift change, and down the stairs to the security desk and the gateway to the magical land of automaking, where Mom lived.

The last time we ever crossed along the path and on our way out was the last day of plant operation. GM would close the plant in 1996, and with it its storied past, both bad and good. For me, it was the last time I would see many of the people who worked in that plant alongside my Mom and knew me from when I would show up, unannounced, to "pick her up" and walk her back up the roadway and across Beekman Avenue to Hudson Street, my ancestral home. Only now, I was a young man, driving Mom's Toyota Camry to actually pick her up and carry her home to Wappingers falls, where we had lived for nearly two decades. The road home was the same; the same way she always went for years, and the same way I learned to take her. We could both sleep on the way home and land safely in the driveway at the same time it always took.

But after she was gone, and a couple of years after that dream, it was decided that the plant would also go the way of its workers, wherever they were. In 1999 they began a long process of demolition, disassembling and clearing a major part of Tarrytown's heart, as well as my own. By then I had moved to the Bronx in order to attend Hunter College. I didn't know that they were tearing it all down when I came through to visit the old neighborhood, and in shock and dismay I examined the humungous pile of utter ruins of history and home. Ancient Rome had nothing on what I saw that day as I parked my red Nissan Sentra, "Gertrude" and stuck in a compilation tape of Blues tunes my sister Terry had made some time ago and I had fortunately rescued. I laid back and listened to the varied tunes, thinking of what once was and what lay ahead. With every slow song that sounded wistful, I turned away and wiped tears from my eyes, as red as Gertrude. I left after sundown, as there were no longer a fantasy land of lights to show the way home.

When I took subsequent trips north by train, I would pass through the scene, pictured above. It was sad and eerie at first, but eventually I became accustomed to the stark emptiness, save for a section of the overpass that was left because it passed over MTA property that could not be practically reached. I thought for some time I was okay with this, that time had moved on and I had grown wiser and more mature. In fact I had, and I know this, believe it or not, because when I saw the picture above, coupled with the low, wistfully sad tune that stood out among everything else, I burst into tears. I know it's okay.


1 comment:

Laceiba said...

This was one of your best pieces! It meant alot to read it. Continue doing what you do! In time I will be contributing too.

Da Nik wit da Nak