All freight trains, no matter what they’re carrying, have one thing in common. They’re covered in graffiti. Check the next time a train passes by, most of the cars are tagged. I see it every morning on the way to work. The passenger tracks my train rides on inevitably go through a rail yard in the city which is full of freight trains.
Why would anyone tag a train? I get that it’s probably pretty easy to access the trains and thus easy to spray paint without much disturbance, but aside from the easy access what other benefits are there? If some kid is spray painting his gang signs onto a train, does he not realize that the train is going to be gone in a week tops? Or is the point to make sure every rail riding hobo in the Midwest knows that “The Machetes” are the toughest gang around. Somewhere, in my perfect world, there are hobos riding in a boxcar half full of oranges debating which gang is the toughest in St. Louis.
Hobo 1: Those Machetes don’t mess around. I saw them boys walkin’ around the yard, and they got real machetes! They gonna chop yo head off if you fuck with ‘em.
Hobo 2: Ain’t no fool scared of no Goddamn boys with knives you dumbass bum. Everybody ‘round town knows that those Tank boys is the toughest. The Tanks will fuck you up.
Hobo 1: Well they ain’t got no real tanks!
Hobo 2: Well I don’t give a fuck!
Hobo 3: I heard that, um, the Crypts were the toughest gang…
Hobo 2: Who? The Crypts?
Hobo 3: Uh, yeah…
Hobo 1: Are you kidding? That’s SOO nineties. Were you even listening? Or did you just feel like talking? What, you just assumed you were invited into this conversation? Thank you for pulling a random comment out of your ass while we were having a thoughtful discussion just to feel like you were participating. Real nice buddy. How about you just mind your own business and when we get to Detroit we go our separate ways. Sound good?
Hobo 2: God, some people.
Hobo 3: Sorry, I…
Hobo 1: Just stop, okay? We’ve made it clear we don’t want to talk to you so just eat some oranges and enjoy the view…Anyway, I saw some of them Tanks choke a fool three days ago and then take a dook on his chest.
Hobo 2: Damn, they don’t mess around do they?
It should be noted that in the hypothetical (although entirely probable) scenario above all gangs in this world have West Side Story-esque names. There’s no reason to get cryptic with your gang name, just do like American sports teams: pick a badass mascot and roll with it.
While the gang related graffiti is pretty stupid, the “art” graffiti makes a little more sense. At least it isn’t restricted by regional relativity. Anyone can appreciate colorfully decorated bubble letters (which of course is 98% of graffiti). Most of these train cars look like the header of a 7th grade girl’s notebook.
Dear God let a graffiti artist emerge with the talent, self awareness, and sense of humor to go all Lisa Frank on a freight car. A mural sprayed on a train showing a dolphin riding a unicorn through the rings of Neptune would be the greatest thing ever. In one flipper the dolphin would hold a magic wand, in the other a sparkling machete (subtly referencing the artist’s gang affiliation). That’s the kid who deserves to be discovered by a prominent artist and inspire a cheesy movie. I’m shaking with anticipation for the day when Lisa Frank style murals become hip, ironic art.
Unfortunately the only sense of humor the graffiti artists have is kind of…rapey. There’s a tractor trailer bed that’s been sitting near the train yard forever. On top of all the hardcore bubble letter graffiti are the words “You’re sleepin…we’re creepin” scrawled in spray paint. It’s not even decorative, just crudely sprayed. The graffiti looks like something Heath Ledger’s “Joker” would have done if he were a sex offender. The reason it creeps me out is because it’s in the middle of an abandoned factory parking lot and 400 yards from a seedy sex shop. It’s the kind of scene a clairvoyant sees in their vision when reading the fortune of an ill-fated hooker.
As pointless as train graffiti is, it’s definitely entertaining from time to time. It’s better than looking at the bare rust of a train. Seriously all trains are rusted over, a new one hasn’t been manufactured in ten years. Until some Union Pacific freighter goes “Unstoppable” graffiti will be the most interesting thing about the trains I pass every day. Besides reading the graffiti is better than thinking about why so many train cars are marked with Chinese letters. That’d just be depressing.