As the train crawls onto the bridge, I hear live music echoing from The Beale and The Oyster Bar, rising above the low rumble and hiss of the lumbering freight cars. Soon the train is out of town, rolling eastward over the Mississippi - high above, surreal, unbelievable, mesmerizing, peaceful, ancient; one of the last living dinosaurs of the American landscape, with me riding on its back, a tiny and reverent parasite: A cartoon character adrift in a comic book country.
Why am I riding this coal car? To see the Mississippi River from this perspective: But the enterprise is also life-affirming, momentarily burning away those weak and ubiquitous antagonisms haunting ordinary life like burlesque but boring ghosts; I feel the vital flow of blood and rapid heartbeat that remind me that I’m fully alive, not just half-alive – not just a sleepy half-wit caught in the cogs of a meaningless life. That I’m awake, and that my minutes are fleeting and numbered, and for a moment I feel outrageous and even stupid, but at least I’m aware, paying attention, experiencing everything with unusual vividness; cognizant of the miracle of breathing, drinking water that tastes better than the best Spanish wine.
But tucked into the folds of my elation, I sense an inexplicable reservoir of depression. An aftertaste to the tragedy of desire, maybe; or betrayed restlessness, because for every intense high there is an inescapable low, and the fall always comes hard.