Wrong Side of the Tracks



Tonight I went to Mama Ninfa's - the original one on Navigation Boulevard - with an old coworker and her husband and son. (Ninfa's is the only Mexican place where I'm ever tempted to order fajitas - while I usually reject it as a weird American invention, Ninfa's is the first place in the US that ever served them, so at least it's their invention. And actually, most of the stuff at Mexican restaurants is American invention anyway.) The food was great as always, and we left. They turned one way to drive back to Sugar Land and I headed down the weird little street that leads to I-10, past the weird big lofts I almost lived in.

Except the train was coming, so I had to wait. Not a big deal. I was the second car in line, it was a nice night, and endless cylindrical containers with the Archer Daniels Midland logo were plodding by on the train. "Isoflavones!" I thought.

Two guys were standing on the sidewalk waiting to cross the tracks. A third guy wandered up. Now, the neighborhood around Ninfa's is transitional, shall we say. There are a few things like the new lofts and some new townhouses. Mostly it seems to be very poor, and people tell me it's not terribly safe there. It certainly doesn't have the feel of danger that I remember from various places around DC, but it's clumps of residential streets surrounded by warehouses and train tracks. Glamorous it is not.

So these three guys are standing there, all twenty-something black guys dressed in a vaguely thuggish way, which does not particularly set off alarm bells for me though I suppose it might for some. They were hanging out and talking as train car after train car emerged from between two warehousy buildings. You can't really see how much more train is coming from that spot; it's snaking its way between buildings.

Someone else wandered along on the other side of the street. Then a few more cars pulled up behind me. It was becoming quite a scene, all of us waiting for the train to go by so we could continue on our way. Oh, and the train seemed to be slowing down.

Then came the more interesting addition; two Mormon missionaries, in their formal dress, wearing their gold nametags, carrying their shoulderbags. They stood on the corner and frankly looked a little nervous. They probably figured they'd just walk back to wherever they were going quickly through the dark, but now here they were, standing on the corner in a seedy area trapped by the train. (I am comfortable calling it seedy, because Ninfa's has a cop guarding their parking lot, and the loft building has a police substation in it that's manned 24x7. These are things that tell you someone is concerned about safety. I wouldn't walk there at night, personally.)

The three black guys got tired of waiting, especially with the train slowing down. One of them walked right up to the track, and hopped onto the train. I was surprised then I saw what he was doing; he was just crossing through the part between the cars, hopping on, sliding over, and jumping off on the other side. The train was going slowly enough at that point that it didn't move more than about five feet before he was through.

The other two guys looked at him, looked at each other, then went for it. About a minute passed, and then the two Mormon missionaries looked at the train, looked at each other, and did the same.

Within a few minutes there were no more pedestrians around. Of course those of us in cars were stuck. Then the train stopped.

This is when I made a U-turn and went around the back way to the freeway. I think the train part was half my ride home, actually.

(At Ninfa's I had a combo plate with a beef taco, cheese enchilada, and pork tamale. And of course, rice and guarro beans. And a margarita. Yum!)

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