RAILROAD SEMANTICS #1: $7.95, 7” x 5½”, offset, 68 pgs.

Mar 23, 2012

Well, it’s too bad. What could have been an interesting glimpse into a world very few of us will experience—trainhopping—Railroad Semantics is instead yet another treatise that only those enmeshed in the subculture will have any ability to decipher. There’s a bevy of insider terms used repeatedly throughout the zine that are never explained—honestly, what the fuck is a DPU? Or a hotshot? Or a manifest?—making it entirely clear who this was intended for: people in the club. Which is fine, but even a one-page glossary about these terms and a little bit of train info and etiquette would have made the technical aspect of this zine way more interesting. Anyway, this is essentially a travel zine of some dude trainhopping throughout Oregon and Idaho. Interspersing his journal entries—which are admittedly beautifully written, especially those passages describing the landscape —are pictures of railyard and train car graffiti, clippings from newspapers, nearly-illegible letters, and pictures of oogles and their dogs. I found this zine irritating on a lot of levels—for that exclusionary tone, for one, but mostly for the incredible sense of unacknowledged entitlement and privilege that’s prevalent throughout. His only interactions with humanity take place when people are giving him things for free—be it coffee, money, or bus rides—or when he’s shoplifting beer from grocery stores, all of which is supposedly made not only acceptable but awesome, under the banner of being a “tramp.” And yet there’s no real gratitude ever shown to any of these people. In that regard, Railroad Semantics is like a little snapshot of punk as a whole—while there are plenty of people who contribute to a scene, there are also plenty people who just feel entitled to take and take. This one soured me.  –Keith Rosson (Microcosm Publishing, 636 SE 11th Ave., Portland, OR 97214)

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