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RANT #7 - Queer for Trains

August 16, 2003

I will put this short and succinct. Anybody who doesn’t love trains; anybody who doesn’t get a brain rush at the sound of a mournful whistle in the night; anyone who doesn’t wish, deep down inside, they had been born during the Golden Age of Railroading, is nuts. Period.

I’ve been riding trains all my life. At the top of the list of things I love about California are the numerous opportunities to ride trains. You have to love a city (San Francisco) where you get to ride a train (Caltrain) to go to Target. Once I rode a train (BART) for 45 minutes to go to Sizzler. God love it. When I worked in Seattle I’d take the train to Portland, just for something to do. They say the only sex you regret is the sex you didn’t have. I regret all the train rides I didn’t take.

There is a whole genre of literature and film wrapped around train rides. I’ve lived my own Agatha Christie train mystery when Mesa Kincaid tried to poison me on a train trip to Chicago. But that is a story for another time.

With apologies to one of the funniest men who ever lived, Jack Douglas, I share this story:

You may not know this about my father. He loved trains. It’s no co-incidence that to this day, I wave at trains.

When I was a little boy, a distant train whistle would be the signal for my dad to drop whatever he was doing, grab me, and hop in the Hudson and dash to the crossing. We’d watch a couple of hundred ore cars whiz by and the end-thrill was waving at the man in the caboose. It was what the good life was all about. On a particularly red-letter day, we‘d get to the crossing in time to wave at the engineer. How wonderful when he waved back.

Christmas was special. Since there wasn‘t all that much excitement in Northern Minnesota on Christmas Eve, we‘d drive to Carlton. There was always the potential for something special in Carlton because that‘s where one went to see railroad crossing accidents.

Railroad crossing accidents were to Carltonians what barbecues are to African Methodists. They brought the whole community together at least once a week. Carlton was where the Duluth North Eastern, The Great Northern and the Northern Pacific railroads all crossed. That was why the little town existed and that is why there was always the possibility of a train-car accident, a train-train accident or a train-train-train accident. (As Dad would say, “A Trifecta.) And if we were really very, very lucky, maybe a train-car-train-car-train accident, also known as a Christmas Spectacular.

As the snow gently wafted down, we‘d stand in anticipation. Dad, Mom, the kids, the grandmother and the dog, Pets. (The trains would make the dog nervous and he once ripped my brother up so badly we had to have him put away. My brother. Not the dog.) We‘d sing Christmas carols. Dad would sing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer“ and “Frosty The Snowman“; Mom would sing “Silent Night“ and “Hark the Herald Angels“ and the kids would sing “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent“ It was a special moment.

It seems silly now to think we stood in the cold and snow on Christmas Eve waiting for people to get killed. Of course, that was then.

Now people don‘t need the railroad to get killed. They have each other.



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