Death Wishes of a Western Pennsylvanian


“I’ll die up in them woods,” and his face reminds me of so many old friends who might’ve been named Cliff or Rob. He heard me tell the conductor I was headed to Johnstown and so we were destined to sit next to eachother on the Amtrak from Pittsburgh, me to Johnstown. Flood City, he and his daughter to Altoona, home of the Curve.

His story was interesting if a bit continuous, he’d grown up in Patton which, like my own hometown, was one of dozens after dozens of small Western PA towns that was just a slow death away from ghost town status, but he had lived in Seattle for a few years, and was now on the last leg of a cross country train ride from which he was bringing his young daughter–he himself 38–back to the woods after having been raised in Seattle for her first 13 years.

We talked about small town brawls and keg parties and his affinity for riding trains and drinking beers on the train and the lack of designated smoking areas therein, where he’s been and who he is and about his time in Seattle and his daughter, wrapped up in pillows and blankets sleeping, every now and then stirring to ask him a favor, which he was always happy to extoll.

He’d met her mother while following the Grateful Dead but things have gone sour since, and after, in his own words, the city chewed him up, he was happy to get back to PA.

“I’ll die in them woods.” The train is just starting to pull out of the station. The man’s attention is directed at two little old ladies, first timers on Amtrak and about to get an earfull.