Monday, March 21, 2022

The Magic Handcar, Part I

For many years now, I've indulged a number of pleasant fantasies about strange magical journeys. Sometimes I'm sailing or rafting down an endless river through tropical jungles; sometimes I'm slingshotting from star to star. But most often I'm pumping the walking beam on my magic handcar. 

When I bought my first Walkman, I often listened to music late into the night while voyaging through the theatre of my mind. I don't remember the exact song that sparked the creation of the magic handcar, but it hit the radio around the time of Elton John's "I'm Still Standing." 

In most versions of the journey, I'm walking along the rails through a heavily wooded forest on a summer afternoon when I come across the abandoned handcar, which leads me to believe that the rail line I'm following must also be abandoned. On a whim, I hop aboard and start pumping the walking beam. There's a long, groaning squeal that sounds like a cry of mixed pain and relief, and after some hesitation, the handcar sluggishly moves forward. Once that inertia is overcome, it takes very little effort on my part to keep the handcar going; indeed, it seems like just a couple of pumps keeps the handcar in motion for dozens of kilometres at a speedy clip, fast enough that I'm afraid to pump much harder. During the time it takes me to experiment with speed and braking, I've already journeyed perhaps a hundred kilometres through a forest that's grown so dense that it's formed a canopy overhead that filters out perhaps three-quarters of the sunlight. Some branches grow so close to the rails that I can easily pluck berries and fruits from the bushes and trees, a harvest so delicious and sweet that I can hardly believe it's real (and of course, it's not - but it is). 

As my adventures and explorations continue, I find that the handcar has an endless cache of supplies accessed by a small trapdoor near one corner of the vehicle. Even though the space revealed when you open the door seems to be only a couple of feet square, it seems to have whatever you need: a book, a beverage, socks and underwear, toiletries, binoculars, and so on. Moreover, along the course of the railway there are occasional rest stops where one can find bathrooms, showers, a picnic site, more supplies, and a myriad of other self-service options that seem tied to the particular function of each rest stop. 

The long journey is solitary but pleasant, and the rails take me across jungles, deserts, mountains, along coastlines, through ghost towns and mines, and sometimes forwards and backwards through time. I never seem to see anyone, and yet I sense that there are multitudes just beyond my reach. 

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