Turns out that waiting for the coal train to wander its way along the downtown tracks lasts as long as it would take to smoke two cigarettes. This I hadn’t known, and I also didn’t know about counterweights on the railroad crossing bars. You have to watch out for them when you are crossing the tracks on foot, after the train goes by. Standing in zero-degree weather, waiting to cross from the south side to the north side, I listened to the slow-moving westbound coal train. Train wheels on a frozen track produce a continual ringing. Unlike church bells where you might hear the moment when the bells are struck, the train wheel ringing goes on and on. And on.
When the last coal car slipped by, he offered to show me the best way to weave through the cross bars and piles of shoveled snow. We needed to hurry, he warned, because the eastbound rail was next.
“Are you after a tree, too?” he asked as we worked our way between the chain link fence and loading dock behind St Vincent de Paul’s. I didn’t know what to say. Really, I had only stopped by to take photos of the donated trees lining the front of the charity store.