We were told by Tim and Cristina that the train we wanted out of Fulton would be a junk train that would come in from the Acca Yard, turn around in Fulton, reconnect heading westbound and “pop-a-wheelie” before heading west along the James. Overzealous and ambitious to get going, Ben and I spied a slow moving coal train headed west as soon as we got out of Y’s car, fifty feet this side of the Henrico County line. We climbed some decaying old stairs towards the tracks beside a yard building of unknown origin. Some more stairs elevated near the top of the building where Ben could surmise that the cars were full of coal and very much ridable. Without further debate we were up on top of a car and rolling slowly on the trestle through eerie, post-industrial R’VA.
A half-century, abandoned former gas works complex sprawled out below us looking very much like a set piece from the “Road Warrior” films of the late 70's. Tobacco Row arrived next with all but two of the dozen or so former carcinogenic manufacturers now adapted to their 21st century existence as maintenance-free, luxury condos for the young, the rich, the hip and other back-to-the-city (white folks) “adventurers.”The Lucky Strike Smokestack at the far eastern edge of the row shoots bolt upright 100 feet into the air as some sort of morbid monument to a past in Richmond that was already on its death bed by the time I was born, over thirty-years ago.
Before we had too much of a chance to spy the Saturday night Shockoe Bottom scene our train made the dreaded bend north towards Acca limbo, we sighed as our desired route faded. The train gained no velocity through the bottom as we opted to be some unscheduled 10pm guests at the recently restored 1901 Main Street Train Station. We climbed down, jumped off right onto the eastern platform and walked out into the Farmer’s Market which was doubling as a weekend parking lot. Back to Fulton for us.
We zig zagged past frat bars and dance clubs to Dock Street and then up Route 5, every other streetlight busted out and a faraway slammin’ party cascading off of all the century-old brick buildings. This time we made it into the yard proper, five or six rails, a service road, a worker building, some long-forgotten cars and a ten-foot high by thirty-foot long pile of ties. We ducked out behind a grainer close to the road, then made our way through some brush up to the southern side of the pile of ties. We had a good vantage point of all activity in the yard. We got comfortable on the ties, arms and legs draped every which way. Two headlights appeared 200-feet away, a truck dropping off workers. They pulled within forty -feet of us as we coiled our bodies like pretzels in the nooks and crannies of the pile. They left, we resumed our relaxation to the faint sounds of “Rock the Casbah” bouncing off of the foreboding wall of the former Richmond Cedar Works which is soon to be ground zero for a long-proposed, new urbanist village deemed: Rockett’s Landing, the namesake of the laborer’s village that disappeared in the same locale pre-WWII.
Ben tried to talk himself into believing that there was some grand, covert squatting party going on inside the old Cedar Works. I entertained the beauty of that for a moment myself, as activity in the yard picked up. It couldn’t have been fifteen minutes later that another string of coal cars, being pulled by a loan unit began hissing. It wasn’t what we needed or wanted, but we took it anyhow. Going no faster than a late-evening stroll through the neighborhood, we cut north to Acca once again, deciding to try our luck in a bigger, more active yard.
The voyage through the dark, low-lying edges of some of Richmond’s most embattled neighborhoods held my attention raptly as Ben slept soundly. We were a slingshot shot away from the city jail and the future home of a controversial, all-encompassing, “super” homeless service center. My mind flashed back eight years to the day that I had sandwiches and drinks waiting atop Broad Street hill at the end of what was billed as “The Monster Hill Walk.” The walk along 17th and up 8 or 10 of the most hellacious blocks in the city on Broad was being carried out by a homeless organization to highlight the insensitivity tot eh elderly and physically-challenged homeless who would have to make the inhumane trek multiple times daily if the doom site was approved. A valiant fight was fought for over a decade, but at last, the end is near. Shut out of every neighborhood in town, service providers were left with no alternative.
I didn’t dwell on the past too long as Shockoe Valley gave way to Barton Heights, Jackson ward, carver and Newtowne, some folks huddled by a fire under Lombardy Street. I rolled off the cross streets to ben who poked his head up every few minutes. We were now in Acca, just passing underneath the Powhite. Once past the yard’s main building we jumped off and I busted my ass. We trekked north to look for some southbound Fred’s and opted to climb atop another coal car and wait for our ride south.
We put on all of our layers and wrapped up in our sleeping bags and the temperature plummeted to the upper 40's. I thought of how absurd it would be if we were shuffled back to Fulton a third time like a paddle ball with a ten-mile string. I woke up just as we busted out over the top of the old James River train bridge. The water was almost non-existent in the midst of a two-month drought. Closing in on ten hours, we were finally out of Richmond, but the journey had just begun.
Notes- The following is excerpted from a story in the upcoming Complete Control #13. The Complete Control Anthology book is now out and floating around the country. It is being distroed through: Clamor, Microcosm, AK Press, Parcell Press, Tree of Knowledge and many local stores. To order a copy direct please send $8 cash or money order to P-I-X Books - PO Box 3521 Bloomington, IN. 47402. Please leave the money order blank. As always I can be contacted at: PO Box 5021 Richmond, VA. 23220 or email@example.com Take Care, Greg