gaze (not pictured)

a piece of infrastructure that is as efficient and as trite as railroad tracks

It wasn’t until the fourth time that I walked by them in the span of two days that I noticed the railroad ties strewn all over the side of the trail where I was walking my dog, Tilly. (Railroad ties, for reference, are the [generally] wooden planks that you hop along when you [illegally] walk down railroad tracks. I had to look that up.)

Where I was walking wasn’t illegal because the tracks had been ripped up to make way for a walking/biking/hiking whatever path that spans through different chunks of the town where I live. That would be the town where I just moved a few weeks ago, and where I did not know that there was such a trail, even though it was just down the road from me.

I was as oblivious to the railroad ties which, admittedly, were piled in mounds immediately on the path’s edge, as I was to the trail itself, despite having studied the map around my immediate area in an attempt to situate myself in my new neighborhood. I’m sure that I’m not dumb but when I think about this I feel incredibly, incredibly dumb.

Just about a block away from us in the opposite direction are actual, actively used railroad tracks. These couldn’t possibly escape my notice because every couple of days we hear a train tearing down the way — making way for what, I do not know, but I imagine its end destination has something to do with manufacturing.

It’s hard for me to think of a piece of infrastructure that is as efficient and as trite as railroad tracks. They’re everywhere, at least in New England, many of them tying together a network of abandoned and half-used mill buildings. And as young teenagers, my friends and I often walked along them, taking endless photos of ourselves balancing on their metal beams, and trying to find the proper stride for stepping from tie to tie. The latter was an impossible feat because, I supposed, the ties were not laid for people, but for train cars (obviously) and no matter how we adjusted the length of each step, the planks were either too far apart or too close together.

We were fixated on these tracks, secondarily because they provided the fastest way to walk across our windy, hilly town. Foremost, we were attracted to them because of their perceived aesthetic value. This was over ten years ago, of course, when we were taking photos of ourselves wearing fairy wings and straightening our hair to death.

We recreated a genre of distinctly Photobucket-era images — subject standing on the left or right third of the shot, back often facing the camera, gaze (not pictured) fixated off into the distance. We (the generally-speaking teens of the time) virtually always “edited” the photo to black and white and shared it to social media later that night.

(You’ve seen these images. They were so obvious that even at the time they didn’t even warrant discussion. And while I think now that we knew then what we were trying to say about ourselves and about our thoughts, we never verbalized any of this, ever.)

The implication was that we were thinking about something else; that though we were teenagers in a small, unremarkable town, the ideas that occupied our minds were concerned with more than just where we were in that moment. And ill-equipped to do absolutely anything about it, given that we (generally speaking) did not have jobs, were too young to drive, and hadn’t seen anything of the world that wasn’t included in some family vacation itinerary, we did our best to imitate what we thought a desire for worldly passions might look like, based on the OG-overly filtered photos we saw in droves on the internet.

And in yet another motion-sick full circle, more than a decade later, I find myself walking down the remnants of an old railroad bed not thirty minutes from where we took those photos, so oblivious to the world immediately around me, so lost in my own thoughts (which are regretfully and inescapably still focused on anywhere where I am not, and on anything which I am not doing) that I failed to even see the wooden beams that a younger version of myself spent a useless but necessary amount of attention trying to gracefully walk upon.

I take these walks not just because my dog demands it, but because I tell myself that if I give myself the space to think for just a moment, perhaps my incessantly wandering thoughts will form some sort of discernable pattern and the day will end with my being able to cogently express myself. Yet, here we are.