All along the railway webs of wire cover cliffs and hold back boulders. We pass through Hood River with all its windsurfers and kiteboarders and white people, and in the observation car everyone sits in plastic chairs and takes turns hating the people on cell phones: “Can you hear me? Now? Can you hear me? Hello?”
The train stops in White Salmon, where no one ever gets on except children boarding without their parents. Smokers abandon their seats for the ten minute break. I join them for air and a better look at the wire net. I’m staring and counting the octagons trapping the mountain when I strike up a conversation with an elderly man who looks like an emaciated Santa Claus, all beard and holly-jolly and knee-slaps. He’s talking about how Oregon used to be, in some lost long ago where people were few and far between and every backyard was an apple orchard and every street was a baseball field and no one ever overdosed on Valium. It sounds like Big Rock Candy Mountain and I don’t believe a word. He says “It’s nice to see you off the train,” and I wonder if he means standing but instead I tell him I’ll be on his porch next Friday, just so he doesn’t miss me. Laugh. Knee slap. Then he spots my tattoo and asks if I’m one of those 2012 weirdos, always fretting about the end of the world. I tell him the world has already ended, and it was all his fault. He laughs again but this one is different (no knee slap) and he looks around and he says excuse me and bums a cigarette from someone else and launches into a conversation about how Oregon used to be, sometime long ago, before conversations of 2012 and the end of the world, and things that are all his fault.