One of the first memories in my life that have stuck to me to this day is that power that was supposed to determine the outcome of my life. I write about my Fate. Fate shaped and molded me to be the person I am today. Destiny fascinates me today as being responsible for that inevitable and necessary misfortune of being compelled to run due in part to that power that was supposed to determine the outcome of my life. Destiny for me was packaged with tiny weak legs. My life`s destiny meant I had to run. A Marathon run for survival.
I have written extensively about this two unsolicited human phenomenons that I was born with Here, Here, Here. I ran away from an unknown mystery that was life itself. I was too young to understand what living meant, or if I was destined as a child to suffer as I did, I just ran that fateful day down a trench into a creek and had kept on running ever since Here . I heard that soul healing sound of the train as I ran and felt that if I could escape just this one time, I might be able to catch up with the train and hop a ride to a new life far away from the foul smelling creek and those who tormented me.
There it was !! Laying on top of the high slope I had seen earlier. The monster. It looked shiny black against the night. Sleek and oily looking it spewed black smoke from its forehead high into the hot night. I wanted to see it closely so I stepped out and crossed carefully into my aunt`s yard to walk to the fence near the grass gully that led up the slope and near the monster. When I got close to the fence I saw that the monster`s belly crackled and churned with fire. Frozen on my feet it suddenly spat a hot spray of misty smoke causing me to turn and run away...An old oily train would write the script for this child`s life destiny. Here fate would slowly take more than seventy years to unfold so that this memoir could be written.
It was around seven p.m. when I eased my car to a slow drive entering the city limits of San Antonio, Texas. I knew I was back in the city when I first saw the night lights shine on the Life Tower Building. I remember as a child this particular building as "El 31" or the "Thirty One", for its height as it had thirty one stories. It is April 1969 and I finally have stopped running. I am tired and in this city I have the only person who loves me. My half-sister, who I lovingly refer to as my baby-mom. She lives here and she will be glad that I have come home. My baby mom is six years younger than I, the one person who understands everything there is to know about my life. She took the role of a mother that I never had. I am glad to come home to see baby mom. I understand that my biological mother is also here.
As I cruse slowly through thin traffic on Commerce Street heading west towards my baby mom`s home I am thinking of every place I have visited while I ran from my own shadow for so long. I cannot shake the sound of the trains that have pulled me towards them each time I heard one. I would drive close enough to marvel at the mighty iron monsters that fascinated me since childhood. I just wanted to get out of my car and ask for permission from the conductor to climb aboard and see inside. Of course that never happened. It was on my mind as I drove down the brightly lite street that night. I had three dollars in my pocket. I was tired and thirsty. It was only about ten more minutes drive until I enter Torreon Stree. Torreon was - and is today, actually a thin and narrow alley. Two cars cannot drive in opposite directions at the same time. It is here where I will rest.
I wanted to forge a livelihood and stop running once and for all. I had done many things that made me proud during my relentless journeys and running but I was still not satisfied. I needed to do something I loved to do. I told baby mom about my intention and she was thrilled. She always knew I had that gift that would propel me to success. I believed everything she told me. I laid back and thought of the academic course I had taken that taught me everything I needed to know about applying for a job, how to answer my potential employer when he wanted to ask a question as to why I wanted to work for his company. I felt that I was ready to apply for employment. I arranged the clothes I wanted to wear in the morning and laid down to an exhausted slumber and slept.
The lobby at the employment office was mostly empty except for a janitor sweeping the floor as I entered around 7:30 that morning. The office was still closed but I went in as the janitor walked out to place some trash in a bin by the curb. He did not seem to mind when he came back in, so I took a number from the ticket dispenser and sat down to wait for my number to be called. At exactly 8:00 a gentleman took a number from a small box on the counter and called me. In his office I introduce myself and told him I wanted to apply for a job.
Obviously, when applying for a job a person needs to know what type of job he is looking for. As an alternative, a person must disclose his experiences in the employment field where he is familiar with and has performed. I had already made up my mind to seek employment performing duties inside the building, and not in the hot Texas sun. So I told the gentleman doing my interview that I wanted clerical work and that I was proficient in this area of work. He asked if I had a college degree and I said no. He ran his fingers through his hair and stood up from his chair. I felt that I had failed. I had no other solution to my problem if I did not get a job or interview that day. I did not want to run away any more. I was exhausted of running away.
The gentleman walked into an office and remained there for some time and then came out.
"Do you type?" he asked me. "Yes, I perform most types of clerical work, I type, file, proof read and anything necessary to run a proficient and producing office". I said. "O.K. I am going to ask you to step into that office over there" he pointed at an office. "There is a secretary in that office that will test your typing skills. But I must tell you, you do not need to type fast or fifty words per minute. This job I have in mind for you requires accuracy and nothing short of accuracy. On this job you will only use practically one finger to type. But one hundred percent accuracy is required. I hope you pass this typing test. You are one lucky fellow to apply for a job in the clerical field this morning". He took my hand and shook it and I sensed his sincerity.
The typing test was easy. I was given a card with my score and sent to a county job placement office that was responsible for finding someone like me who could type.
When I arrived at the Bexar County Job Placement Office I was informed that the Southern Pacific Railroad Company in San Antonio needed a telegrapher operator and that I should report to the main office located on East Commerce Street for an interview with the Superintendent in that area. An appointment was arranged for the next morning at 9 a.m....
There are no words I can think of to type here to fully explain what my destiny had in store for my life from that day on. I was not asked questions nor did I speak, I only received the "order" to report for the interview. How creepy was my destiny?
It was a Wednesday morning that April 1969 I will never forget when I entered the office of the Superintendent for the Southern Pacific Railroad Co. in the San Antonio district. The Superintendent, ("he"), invited me to sit on one of the couches as he offered me his hand to shake. He got right to the business at hand and explained that a very important decision had been reached by the railroad to hire people who did not have a college degree. I already was aware of the winds of change that had come for people like me. Things were indeed changing for individuals who wanted to work. He asked me to tell him about myself, my life, my family and jobs I had done prior to coming to him for a job. I told him that my Mom and Dad had died a long time ago. I actually felt I was telling him the truth, and that my baby mom was all I had, which was in fact the truth. When I explained to him the things he wanted to know, I told him that I had all the confidence in the world that I was qualified for this job. He smiled and walked to a cabinet and took out two thick and heavy books.
He handed me the books and said: "Now I am going to ask you to go home. Take all the time you need to read and study these rules very carefully. You must know every thing that is in these books. Life and death depends on it. There is no other one person in line for his job. You do not need to rush and come back in here like if you were trying to outdo anyone. No one is waiting. The only one waiting will be me. When you are ready, you will be tested on everything you read. Your score will be the determining factor to whether you get hired...Now go home and I am confident just as you are, good luck"...and he shook my hand again.
Reading interestingly through the first book that evening at home, I noted that the book and the other one contained every rule, signal and duties that a Telegrapher Operator had to master in order to perform the job of directing train traffic during his shift at a certain train station, or depot. After all, a Telegraph Operator is stationed at a certain depot or picket station taking orders from a dispatcher to be passed on to train conductors by way of typed messages. These messages are placed by the side of the railroad tracks attached to a high sturdy pole in a fashion that a conductor can hook with his arm while speeding at one hundred miles per hour without stopping. A copy of the message is attached at a lower place for the caboose, or the last box car on the train.
It was true that this job depended on a Telegrapher Operator to secure that the lives of those who used the trains were safe. Trains I quickly learned, ran by the clock. Every employee who works on the railroad, by rule, wears a "train master" wrist or pocket watch. Upon coming to work each shift, the first thing an employee does is ask the trains dispatcher for the correct time. The time piece is set to the exact hour and second as everyone has the same time.... To write here the contents of those two books is unrealistic but I will add more as I go along writing this diary.
On the fifth day, a Monday morning I met with the superintendent and told him that I felt ready to take the test. He quickly showed his skeptical response by telling me that I was rushing myself. However he gave me a stack of documents that contained a multitude of questions to the information that I had read, in three-plus days. I found quickly enough that he was right. I was not ready and I told him so. I went back home and locked myself in a room for some serious reading.
It took me approximately ten days of reading to convince myself that I was ready. I
went back and took the test. When I finished answering all the questions and handed
the report to the superintendent he told me to go home. My test would be graded and I would get a telephone call to the number of my baby mom`s phone at home.
An eternity later the phone finally rang for me. I was ordered to report back to the
superintendent`s office at 6:30 a.m. the following Monday -- four days later.
"Welcome Aboard" are words that rang like a soft whisper in a dream. He took my hands in his own and told me I would join another gentleman present to Seguin to be broken in as a Telegrapher Operator. Seguin, Texas is only about 35 miles away from downtown San Antonio to the east. The gentleman who would show me the ropes, so to speak, about the job was "Mike" for this diary. Mike had a day shift as a swing man at Seguin that morning. A railroad Telegrapher swing man is he who takes the shift of those on a day off. Mike was working on the days off of the regular Operator at Seguin the day I was going there.
Mike and I arrived at Seguin in a flash I felt. It actually takes around 40 minutes drive to get there. Mike wasted no time in putting me to work. He told me to sit down on the swivel chair at the desk and put on the ear phones. For the first time I heard the chatter of conversations among Telegraphers that worked in depots down the railroad tracks that ran from Seguin to Del Rio, Texas to the west and the Mexican border. It wasn`t long or around 10:30 a.m. when I heard it. A loud buzzer made me jump up from the chair.
The loud buzzer that went off in the station was the signal to the station operator that a train was coming our way. When the train reached a spot a mile from the station it runs over a part of the tracks that triggers a signal device to send the buzzer signal to the operators station or depot. Mike tells me to allow him to handle this one. Mike pushes a peddle under the desk with his foot and talks into his ear-phone Mic. "OS, Sequin" Mike says to the dispatcher in Houston, Texas.
"Seguin, that # 3042 East, I have nothing for him" the dispatcher says to Mike. The number mentioned here is the one that all trains sport on their foreheads, just like a transit bus does. What the dispatcher meant was that this train had no orders and could go by without stopping. I looked down the railroad tracks and see the swirling smoke rise up lazily into the morning sun. Then the loud blast from the monster`s throat that sends chills down my spine. I stood there waiting for the monster to come to me. I will wait outside to see it roar by me, hoping it sprays me with that hot steam. I am not afraid any more. I will run no more.
Due to writing space, I will write a second diary to tell of my journey through the Railroads and how I travel inside passenger trains as part of my job to the waving of children`s hands and arm, standing by the roads. I will be assigned my own depot near the Mexican border.