Train Damage

Fall in Michigan is a beautiful, tragic event. Forget what you’ve heard about peak colors and the thrill of the Autumn spectacle of the cycle of Life– it’s beautiful the way necrotic flesh turns hues of red and purple and black and yet bleak because you know it’s dying and eventually it will fall off.

I’m in love with traveling by train. I do it as often as I can, which is to say ever every eight to ten weeks or so, to the great jumping off point that is Union Station, and then anywhere my wallet can take me. If I’m lucky, which seems to be a fifty-fifty crapshoot, then I get a nice pair of seats to myself, at least long enough to establish some sort of Alpha aura over the area. On the short jaunts I don’t mind, as I can deal with people for short amounts of time. It’s the longer jaunts where I could stand a little more solitude. Other than the people, I love the way the lands spools out behind me, cruising past at a top speed of 85 miles per hour.

There is that beautiful point between leaving the City and suburbia, like a final gasp and grab of civilization before there is nothing but Rural America. Usually about twenty minutes outside of Ann Arbor but ten minutes from Jackson on the 351 Wolverine to Chicago do you really hit it.

There is a patch of land crowded with a few homes, but the thing that catches my eye is the humongous barn that has fallen into such disrepair, it folds forward like a foal barely able to stand. The boards are a season-beaten brown too stubborn to fade completely into gray. They lie in a jumble of dry-rot and tetanus. I can’t tell you how many other houses stood on the property or if there were cars or boats or the ever-popular double-wide, but the barn, despite being ancient and forgotten, still commands attention, and it waves to me.

I know it can’t see me, but it knows I’m here just the same.

This is my third trip out west by train this year, and I think it missed me.

McKeon Funeral Home outside of Long Beach, MI. I love this little non-sequitur of building. Funeral homes all by themselves are serene creepy places. Walk in the doors and the air feels sucked out of the room. The scent of lilies, perfume, and slightly comforting antiseptic wraps around a body – those living and dead – in a disquieting blanket of grief and a little relief. Stepping outside and it’s as if someone released the latch on an airlock, and as hard as you try, you can’t help but hurry – just a little – down the stairs. No one lingers in a funeral home. I mean, no one who’s not me.

Anyway, as I pass it today, and the parking lot is empty. It’s a little sad to see an empty funeral parlor parking lot, because deep down you know there are bodies inside waiting to be dressed and prepared and sent off to either a dirt nap or the great pyre. Where they go beyond that is completely up to whatever deity has given them final absolution, but if you look closely you can see where some of them may have started off.

Backed up to the Funeral parlor’s parking lot, just beyond the brush and a well-maintained retaining wall is a cement pool, complete with Rules of Conduct. I can’t tell from the over-brush along the railway whether or not the pool is filled or shut down for the season. In fact, it was sort of nasty little shock to see the funeral home mainly right up against to pool. I was thinking, there’s a nice little pool, all cement and hard edges to crack open your head and then *bam* McKeon Funeral Home. I could already see worried mothers shaking fingers at their children before pointing ominously to the funeral home: “No running … – or else” and then looking with over-wrought fear in their eyes towards the gothic-script letters of the funeral home.