Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vi-viii

Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

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Introduction

Leslie Marmon Silko

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pp. xi-xx

Boomer is an American classic, a work of creative non-fiction that is a delight to read. The writing is distinctive-vivid and concise-and its greatness lies in the unique narrative voice that the author created to tell her story. This narrative style came in large part from the railroad work itself. On the railroad, telling stories not only got...

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1. Breaking In

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pp. 1-14

The freightyard lay to the east of the town, surrounded by apple orchards and artichoke fields that swept in painterly rows down to the dunes and riptides waiting in the bay. It was cool for July, with that wet smell of salty fog and rotting produce in the packing sheds of the cold storage plants. I drove my fifty-six Chevy...

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2. Under the Freeways

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pp. 15-29

As one of the old heads explained it to me, a boomer is a railroad term for a brakeman who travels around following the rush periods of work in different parts of the country. In Watsonville, for example, there were two runs of sugar beets, one in the fall and one in the spring. You were always busy then, even in bad years...

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3. Boomer in a Boom Town

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pp. 30-46

The center city hotel was located on the corner of Mug and Murder in downtown Houston. It was the kind of location where, if you went out the front door to hail a cab, drivers would pull over and ask you what you cost. As a matter of fact, if you sat in the lobby even in overalls and work boots, men thought you were...

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4. Brakettes Invade Tucson

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pp. 47-74

Over the winter, the railroad women gather, have potlucks, tell stories. In the Bay Area, women from all the railroad crafts organize around safety, working conditions, and job discrimination. We imagine that there will be other women who follow us in these jobs, and we want to set up some structures to help them...

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5. Pasadena Gothic

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pp. 75-89

I had thought, when my mother began telling my old friends that I was picking crops in South America, that it was her genteel way of expressing her disapproval. As I walked in the door, following the narrow path between the rows of stacked newspapers and Time magazines, it became clear that it was something more...

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6. The Monterey Local

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pp. 90-109

It was now early December, and I was sleeping on the floor in an empty house. It, too, had been sold, and I was now free to go. I had somehow muddled through. There were more problems in the future with my mother, of course, but for now, she was safe. I turned my Chevy up the Coast, leaving Pasadena crisp...

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7. This is the Place

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pp. 110-123

What is a spiritual journey? To set out in search of something, confident you will find it or that you will yourself become its location. In those spring months I lay in my loft above Luther the Millionaire's mansion and read Death Comes for the Archbishop and dreamed of the desert. A place where the baggage of life...

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8. Cadillac Ranch

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pp. 124-139

Two days later, I left Utah, driving the desert road toward New Mexico. After two months of constantly cutting me off the board and otherwise hassling me for being there, when the trainmaster's queen-bee secretary heard that I wanted to leave, of course she told me I couldn't leave. She liked telling people...

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9. The Pass to the North

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pp. 140-158

El Paso del Norte was a famous place—a borderland, a break in the barren mountains running south into Mexico; the route chosen by the Rio Grande on its journey to the Gulf; a high, treeless desert restlessly containing twin cities, both on a boom. At least six hundred thousand people on the Juarez side; four hundred...

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10. Down the Line

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pp. 159-169

I bought a typewriter and brand new pickup-a granny gear, four-on-the-floor, plain-Jane Ford 150 shortbed with dual tanks, white on white. I had been listening during all those hours spent on the rails with ranchers. This was my first new car. It smelled new and it rode high, and I felt protected. A house on wheels...

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11. Versions of Home

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pp. 170-195

I sat there in the Cave de los Frijoles, looking out a door. I was a woman lost in time, homeless, an alien in my own body. I can look into my eyes as I was then, and I can see a helpless blackness there: cornered animal eyes, ready to bite and claw. Weariness, a blankness in the right eye, a desire to lie down and sleep a long...

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12. A Road to Ride

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pp. 196-204

By now I had nearly eight years working in the craft as a brakeman/switchman. I had worked every type of braking job there was from one-day turnaround locals to mainline runs. I'd been on work trains doing every kind of track work. I'd been a switchman in small working yards knocking out hundreds of cars a night and...

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13. Northline

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pp. 205-220

My union griever assured me that the new agreement wouldn't hurt my job.
"You'll be workin' better than you ever did. And at the end of the year-that productivity bonus."
Two weeks later I was cut off the Eastline extra board. I moved...

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14. Shasta

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pp. 221-232

Hunkered in under the rain in the redwoods, I did home things and waited for spring. I wanted to clean up the cabin so I could photograph it. I knew I wasn't going to settle down here, but I wanted images of home. I was creating a set for the story of my own life. Looking through the lens I looked into a window framed...

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15. End of Track

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pp. 233-246

Past the Sacramento Delta and the Bay, the California rivers were sucked dry by irrigation and the summer heat. I passed Tracy and the valley towns I'd switched on the west side hauler, past Fresno where I'd spent those long nights not drinking. Every minute not drinking. Things were different now, I thought. They were...

Glossary

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pp. 247-252

Books in The Railroad Past and Present Series

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pp. 253-254

About the Author

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p. 255