Thursday, December 31, 2009
So it's just me and the music again for New Year's and the first decade of the century ends...with Alice In Chains and DP's '37 Stitches' to keep the pain in.
Spin the dial up to 10 old man, stare in that Black Steel Mirror and pray for the glassware...
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
I usually have a book or two stashed on the nightstand or one propped open on the floor where I dropped it when I rolled over to kill the light. I can't stand TV at night (or much of any other time really) but to dig down in the covers and read a while usually unwinds most of the leftover insanity from the day and gets my lids heavy enough to conk out.
I've been chewing away on a long-ago book club selection that was looking kind of dusty and neglected on the shelf. I hate to see them in that state so I picked it up. Even the paper jacket went missing somewhere along the line so it's just a plain, black cover with 'Prelude To Mars' and 'Arthur C. Clarke' in used-to-be silver lettering on the spine. It's an old sci-fi omnibus made up of a couple of novels and a section of short stories sandwiched in the middle that was mostly written in the late '40s and early '50s. I think I got it when I was in Junior High because it has that goofy looking loopy signature I used back then on the title page. Anyway...it's interesting to read again and look at the way they saw things back then before dot.coms and derivatives. Nuclear power was still new and wonderful, able to leap tall buildings at a single bound...that kind of thing. Clarke talks about a miles-long launching track for atomic rockets across the Australian desert and how we would be happily lighting off radioactives in the upper atmosphere. Quaint in it's own way but not exactly how things really went. It's like a snapshot of the time to read his take on how the 'conquest of space' would take place; a private enterprise based in London, launching from Australia with mostly British leaders. The future in 1947 had us jetting between continents on huge airliners (which worked out), running a space program with it's first stop as the moon on a nuclear powered rocket (which didn't), and still broadcasting it over the radio and the morning papers (hmmm). And in the end, merry old England sort of missed out on most of it.
Clarke's description of the offices of 'Interplanetary' in London is a hoot. It's just plain fun to read about a place bustling with typists and mimeograph machines, engineers with slide rules; not a laptop or Blackberry in sight, astronauts doing orbital calculations with paper and pencil while nursing a brandy and listening to a 'light orchestra with soprano'. I guess 'The Right Stuff' was still a ways off.
It all looked so hopeful through old Arthur's eyes back then. The book is full of those uplifting 'we're all in this together' moments that I suppose were the post-WWII, pre-Cold War way of seeing the future. Mars was a real possibility before the turn of the century to him and the moon was just a hop and a skip for those big atomic rockets. Too bad it went a little bit differently in the real world. First there was Sputnik, then Yuri Gagarin, then all the Mercuries, Geminis and Apollos that I watched in black and white. A few footprints on the moon and we never stayed long enough to call it much more than a fare-thee-well.
I actually remember being very much younger, sitting on the steps of the old empty church behind my house looking up at the sky and wondering. We sat out there and looked at the stars on summer nights and dreamed of rockets. I figured out that I'd be 40 years old in the year 2000 and at the time, I couldn't help but imagine I or a whole bunch of others like me would be living up there by now. It seemed so promising. Now I'm 50, 2000 came and went in the Y2K scare and we still haven't even been back to the moon...to say nothing of Mars. Even living in orbit is reserved for a select few zillionaires willing to pay the Russians for a seat on a Soyuz or U.S. astronauts and payload specialists with a ticket on the shuttle. It just didn't play out the way old A.C. Clarke envisioned it...but then forecasting is a risky business even for weathermen. It very often doesn't go the way we thought it might but it's always pretty interesting no matter what. I never made it into being an astronaut and I guess I'm probably a permanent fixture on the ground but thanks to my friends like Arthur, I can still see the way things might have been. In a lot of ways, I guess I'm still looking up from the front steps of that unused white church...and hoping.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
At least I managed to grab a vacancy on a local job for the week. I won't have to worry about being out of town for the next holiday. With any luck...I might even be home for New Year's Eve. I worked back home from the hotel Christmas Eve and have been on trains for all the major holidays this year. It's getting a little old.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Sunday, December 20, 2009
...and so it goes.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
It usually starts with me thinking about how much I'd just plain like to be home for Christmas. In my line of work, there's no guarantee I will; I'm well aware of that and accepted long ago that it goes with the paycheck, but it doesn't mean I'll ever have to be happy about it. The carrier always trumpets that they're going to get everybody home for the holidays and for the most part they do. The catch is when and for how long? Thanksgiving went that mysterious way...the original (published) plan was to 'curtail operations' at 7 pm the night before. Color me doubtful. That got pushed back to 11 pm at some point but my phone rang at 11:30 to go on duty at 1:30 am Thanksgiving Day. Thirty five empty boxcars couldn't wait to roll for Canada so away we went. It turned into an all-nighter dragging another train up a hill and eventually taxiing back with a cab driver who also ended up working. I got in my driveway at about 4:30 that afternoon, staggered to dinner and fell asleep in my plate. I guess I should be happy, at least I didn't get stuck in a hotel.
Yup, I was home as (sort of) advertised but when any of the 'big' holidays come around I'd rather they just said, "Look, we're going to run trains just like every other day so don't plan on being home." I could deal with that. Maybe I'd bid my vacation to cover some of it if I could. Maybe it would have to be a 'Close Counts', near-miss celebration like so many birthdays and anniversaries have been. One way or another, we'd make it work.
Or if they'd say, "As of 0001 Christmas Eve, you'll either be home or on your way and that's final." That would be fantastic but they can't or won't commit to anything with that much conviction. The annual mystery of when or if they're actually going to shut down and send crews home is murder. That's the beginning of the slide.
The next step is the 'Spend It All' mentality that everybody develops. In days past, I've read that perhaps we expect too much from this time of year. I was under the impression that Christmas was supposed to have something to do with your family and some religious figures we're not allowed to mention lest we offend. I always get my hopes up that somehow it will. Then reality sets in and it becomes obvious that for all intents and purposes, it's a commercial. We're reminded constantly that we're supposed to be ecstatic over an ever-lengthening 'Holiday Season'. This joy is reported to begin around October first and last into the end of January. It seems to be particularly encouraged by people who'd like very much to sell me something obscenely expensive or at least outrageously beyond my means. My happiness apparently depends on a new 60" flat-screen bought with 35 or 40% plastic. Frankly, I'd be happier with new snows for the front of the Malibu so I could get to work or a real miracle of the season...a head gasket before the thing blows up entirely. I know I'm an oddball but I can't figure out how to be happy going broke buying things I want when there's so much we need and can't afford. The philosophy is we're supposed to BE HAPPY dammit; and if we're not, just keep spending until we are. The 'happiness' in such a thing escapes me and more often than not...pushes the down-button again. Maybe I'm being cynical but it just seems like there should be more to it.
I hate to feel so crummy when I know there's a boatload of things to be thankful for...my family and the friends who hang on even when I get like this...a home of my own, even if it is ready to collapse from sheer exhaustion...a job that pays well when half the country doesn't have one at all...the chance to be home late when there's so many who won't be home this year and so many who won't ever come back...how can anyone be down when he has so much? I wish I knew.
As usual, this too shall pass. When the dark gives up to lighter days, I'll think about it less and push along like always...but one of these years, I wish it wouldn't get so cold in December.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Monday, December 7, 2009
Of course the actual Pearl Harbor attack was almost 18 years before I was born so I don't have any living memory of it or the war it led us into. Hence it's something of a history lesson to me but also something more than just a section on my bookshelf. Out of all the studying, reading and listening I've done about World War II over the years, December 7th is one of those dates that sticks in my mind more than most. Maybe because the events that day are always trotted out whenever some politician younger than me has a point to make and needs a soundbite...or maybe its something else. I've been a reader of WWII history as long as I can remember and still for some reason gravitate toward the Pacific Theater when I'm cruising the shelf for a book. Pearl was the start of the Pacific war and something about the idea of a mangled Navy scraping itself together and heading west across all those miles of ocean looking for a fight is somehow inspiring. I don't like to fall into the trap of seeing it as all heroics and sacrifice that we can't or won't do now because it was a different time and a different set of circumstances but it was without a doubt...a lot of heroics and sacrifice. Could we do it again if we had to? I'd like to think so.
In the meantime, the memory of Pearl Harbor lives in at least one from a generation that never knew it as anything but memories and printed pages. Maybe it's enough to keep the thought in my mind as another December day flies by and I do all the things I do in the world I know. To think a little about who was there and what it meant; then and now. Isn't that the highest honor anyone who lived and died that day and all the long days after can recieve? To be remembered?
Maybe it's enough to simply "Remember Pearl Harbor" after all.
Friday, December 4, 2009
We've been talking about getting a trainer to ride on indoors so we don't lose all the edge but they're pretty steep for one that won't self-destruct in a week. With Christmas on the way and a couple of sick vehicles, it might have to wait until after the crisis of the month.
Like I said...I hate to give up easily on staying in shape. It's been almost five years since I looked in a mirror and saw 218 pounds staring back at me with a 36" waist. Talk about shock and awe. I knew I was getting heavy but for some reason...it suddenly dawned on me that I was really packing it on fast. My line of work is murder on your health anyway, especially when you hit the right-hand seat but this was ridiculous. Doing what I do, you pretty much just sit for a living and eat because you're bored. I was working a job to Allentown when I realized I was hogging down a sub and a big bag of chips for a warm-up before we'd been 30 miles. It was out of control. I pretty much made up my mind that this was not happening and haven't bought a Blimpie sub or darkened the door of a Wa-Wa since.
I've been a lot of miles on treadmills and bicycles since March of '04 but I did finally crack the 160 lb. barrier...if only briefly. I always said that 160 was my 'fighting weight' and that was my goal for all that time. Too bad I had to get sick to get over the last plateau but now the trick is to stay there.
Just like before...working the road is tough because of where we have to eat and the hours we keep. There really isn't much to be had at a mini-mart or Dunkin-Donuts at 3 in the morning that won't kill you. I pack a lot of my survival food from home and have gotten out of the habit of eating out and buying junk to eat on the way. I told my conductor last time out that everytime I walk away from the counter with only a large coffee and a thermos of black high-test for later, it's another little victory. It ain't much but I'll take them where I can get them.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
There just seems to be something wrong about the fact that the headlines for two days have focused on a couple of wannabe losers who managed to sneak/crash/lie/cheat or whatever their way into a state banquet in pursuit of yet another 'Reality TV' contract. In the meantime, the coverage of the event itself and almost everything about it got lost in the scandal-sheet, rumor and hype style of reporting. Yup...the Secret Service blew it and it could have been a disaster if someone had slithered in with a bomb vest instead of a cummerbund but they didn't. Learn from it and fix it. By Tuesday, some scapegoat slob is going to be looking for work. A supervisor might even resign or get sacked in the uproar but at the end of the day, it's all a sideshow that distracts from anything that really matters much beyond the failure in security implications.
Since this is the season for wishing, I have a wish for the world...Can we move on and forget about Reality TV? Reality TV is most decidedly NOT reality to anyone but those creating it and profiting by it. In the interest of sanity, could we get back to talking about news on the front page and let Judge Judy take care of the rest on weekday afternoons? I'd sure appreciate it and I'd like to think I'm not alone.
Friday, November 27, 2009
There was a time geologic ages ago when I worked on a farm. I was a teenager for most of it and for some reason, actually loved what I was doing. Something about machinery I think...small boys and big toys...
It evolved out of a field next to the house in Caroline where I grew up. We lived beside a flat piece of cropland that I never really noticed much except when I was hiding in the tall grain or cornstalks and the times every once-in-awhile when the tractors would show up. I used to sit and watch them go around and around, not really knowing what they were up to but fascinated just the same. I would wait long minutes between passes to watch them make a turn at the end of the field and dive back in for another go-round. I think I was a little scared of them but couldn't ignore how much they intrigued me.
My Dad knew the farmer who worked the field and the two of them would occasionally meet along the headland and shoot the breeze for a bit in the evening. It was just meaningless big-people talk to me but I always managed to wander over next to the tractor or truck and just look up at the monsters while the men visited about weather and politics. Dad introduced me to this tractor-man and he shook my hand once like he always did when he and Dad met. My fingers wouldn't even reach around his palm as he took my hand and his callouses left scratches but I almost felt grown up for a minute. I did eventually learn that this farmers name was Herb and I remember him from back then as a big man usually dressed in grey who mostly looked as dirty and dusty as his machines. His clothes smelled of old hay, the cowbarn from morning chores, diesel fuel, baler twine and sweat. To me, it was the smell of summer. He wore a limp-brimmed old hat that used to have some farm machinery's label on it before it disappeared in the dirt and he probably shaved once or twice a week if he had time or happened to go to church on Sunday. But he always waved and smiled as he worked his way past my lookout perch and when he stopped, I soon found out that he often had cookies and sandwiches stashed in brown paper bags and a quart metal jug filled with whole milk right out of the bulk tank or a jar of used-to-be-iced tea. More important, he was willing to share whatever he had with the wide-eyed, waist-high kid hanging around the big back tires.
Then there was the first time he offered me a ride. I had to ask Mom first and I think I had to do some pleading but somehow I ended up on the fender, way up there in the air, watching the hay go by and feeling like I was flying. I almost think I sat behind the steering wheel while he drove but it's all pretty fuzzy. I don't remember too much except the impressions of a really young boy but what I do know is I was well and finally hooked. I'm pretty sure they had to pry me off when dusk fell and the day was over. Unless I'm really mistaken, I would have slept right there on the platform if they'd let me. It was a start.
From there on out, Herb couldn't make a move in that field without me attached. Having to go to school was a real hardship in the spring and fall because he would start without me and I'd find half the work done when I got off the bus. He'd plow, plant and cut in turn as the seasons went and I'd usually be nearby at least watching the wheels go around or shamelessly trying to finagle a ride. Rainy weather was a serious disappointment because it meant the equipment parked under the maple tree wouldn't move that day and I might miss something. Gradually, the big red and green tools became more familiar and I started to know what each one did and how they worked. No matter what, they were all fascinating to a grade-school, entry-level gearhead.
The first really vivid memory of any particular machine came from that same field beside the house. Late one summer when harvest came around, Herb pulled in on a sunny afternoon to cut oats with the biggest thing I'd ever seen on wheels...a faded red combine. Much later I'd find out that it was really pretty small as these things go and it was already old when I first saw it but to me, it was like looking at a moon rocket. Later still, I got to know that old soldier as a plain-jane Massey Harris 82 with a ten foot grain table and pick-up reel but the day I first saw it, it was a wonder of the world. It was noisy and dirty, hung with belts, rods, augers and chains. You had to climb a ladder to get in the cab which was equipped with a bewildering array of levers, pedals, old burlap bags, stray tools, an inch of black dust and the ever-present brown lunch bag. When it chewed into the grain, it looked like the whole thing was in motion...belts and pulleys spinning, straw and chaff flying out the back, reel wading into the standing crop like it was pulling itself along. It was absolutely mesmerizing. Of course, I wanted a ride as soon as I saw it and Herb was willing to oblige. I made the long climb aboard and could hardly breathe in the heat and dust of the cab. Air conditioning was at least ten years in the future and all there was was a couple of little fans to blow the suffocating air around. The door was tied open and the glass windshield was almost opaque from dirt but it still was the most incredible thing I'd ever seen. Herb boosted me up and I rode around the field watching the slats pull the stalks into the cutterbar in waves and the feed auger swallow it in a cloud of dust. Behind the cab, the clean grain poured into a bin in a steady stream until it threatened to overflow and the straw shook out the big hood at the back in long windrows behind us. Every time around, we had to stop beside an ancient Dodge truck and dump the grain bin with a long auger and spout on the side of the little Massey. After a while, Herb put the machine in low-and-slow gear and set the header height a little high, put me in the seat to steer and climbed down the ladder as we rolled along to check if any grain was going out with the straw. He couldn't have been gone more than a minute or two but I thought I was the king of the world 'driving' that old beast out there in the sun. It sure was a big thing for a small boy, even though I didn't have a clue how to stop it or do much of anything except follow the line of the last cut and hold onto that big steering wheel spinner for dear life. There just was nothing like it.
I know that evening came too soon and I finally got hauled into the house for dinner when the dew fell and the oats got too tough to combine for the day. Herb and Dad chatted as usual before Herb headed home with the old Dodge and the day's load of grain. He had to get there before it got dark since the muffler-less truck probably hadn't had working lights in a decade. My clothes got stripped at the door and I got thrown in the bathtub to scrub the incredible amounts of dirt and chaff out of my hair and off my face. That's about the time I discovered for the first time that I had rip-roaring hay fever and a dust allergy. My eyes swelled shut and itched so bad I thought I'd scratch them out but I was too busy trying to breathe to bother with it. My Mom put cool washcloths on my eyes to take down the swelling and I eventually sneezed out enough crud to inhale again but it looked pretty bad for my future riding on combines. I don't know if I cried more about being miserable or the proclamation that my farming days were probably over.
I think I begged and made myself a nuisance so much over it that Mom and Dad finally relented and once more, I rode the combine. Predictably, I was a mess again but to my mind, it was worth it. Eventually, a prescription from the doctor made the hay fever tolerable if not ignorable and I was off and running on other adventures in Holsteins and International Harvesters, which paved the way to the railroad and the right-hand seat of a locomotive. In a sense, everything since has been tied to that old '82' and that long-ago summer in one way or another. I guess you just never know how some seemingly insignificant events can shape your life...even when you're only a little, four-foot tall future gearhead.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
A song brings memories that's for sure. I can still hear 'Call Me The Breeze' and 'Come Sail Away' playing on a converted car-stereo in the barn when I used to milk cows and 'Delta Dawn' on an AM tractor radio one summer baling oat straw in the heat. 'I'll Be Standing By' was a long drive home in my '74 Dodge pickup from a bad weekend in Geneseo. 'Don't Fear The Reaper' is still the song of my life since I heard it at my long-gone friend's house in '76. Along the way there was 'Turn The Page' for a thousand miles in one day on a Sportster, 'Runnin' With The Devil' on the cassette deck of an ugly orange Javelin. And then there's all the lost years of disco and the Big Hair days. Kiss and Ted Nugent, Donna Summer and Rod Stewart. 'Aqualung' and 'We Are The Champions' were my first apartment and the first season out of the nest. 'Do You Feel Like We Do' chased 'Like A Rock' around a tiny, one-room house I shared with my wife-to-be and a pet racoon we adopted like an orphan. 'Come Sail Away' segued into 'The Sultans Of Swing' and 'Rapper's Delight' at an ancient roller skating rink I hung at whenever I wasn't working. That's where I first set a diamond in a groove and learned the craft of mixing records from a DJ/college student named The Texan or just Tex to me. He taught me all I needed to get underway before he went home for some dental work and died in the chair from the anesthetic. I see him still when 'If You Could Read My Mind' runs into Yellow Magic Orchestra on the tape he made for me in '79.
We ran with it through 'Funkytown' and 'Situation' on lighted dance floors and hardwood skating rinks all over the east coast until Devo faded to Kool and The Gang and LLCoolJ.
Somewhere in all that, I got into the DJ business and the '80s still live in 12" singles on my shelves upstairs. Occasionally they even grace my old Technics 1200 turntables when I feel the need to 'put the needle on the record' for old time's sake. Even way back when, I paid what seemed like a fortune for those 'wheels of steel' but I loved hooking them to a trailer-load of amps and cabinets outdoors or in a frat and just letting them open up and scream...
'It Takes Two' was 900 high school kids jumping up and down in front of my lights and every watt of power I had on a winter night. 'Welcome To The Jungle' was frat parties 'till 3 in the morning and cops checking IDs. 'Daddy's Little Girl' came and went with years worth of weddings and 'Everything I Do' was there for hundreds of first dances. 'Old Time Rock And Roll' was the Big Gun that got everybody on the floor when nothing else worked. 'You're In My Heart' became "our song" and plays whenever I think of home from wherever I happen to land.
I somehow lived through Breakdancing and Milli Vanilli and found my way from Boston and Eddie Van Halen back again to where I started; Blue Oyster Cult. It all came around from the days of New Jack Swing to where I live now; a world where most anything goes...Enya to Megadeth...Willie Nelson to Black Label Society...Madonna to Drowning Pool...Jimmy Cliff to Pantera...it's all there on my iPod. I still lean into BOC pretty often though...after all, they are the 'Nexus of the Crisis and the Origin of Storms' but nowadays Rage Against the Machine does 'Know Your Enemy' and Korn is 'Falling Away From Me' more often than not. Metal has become the default these days for one reason or another. I don't even know why but the shoe fits.
I once wrote that metal music was the "black steel mirror" that I look into when things are falling apart and it seems like the world is going insane but then, Jimmy Buffett, ZZ Top or plain old George Thorogood pops up and the landscape seems a little brighter.
One way or another, the music is always there...be it as a memory of times long gone or a patch over a hurt this week...it's never gotten very far away and I hope it never does. The 'Train Of Consequences' is running and the 'Wayward Son' is still carrying on. It's come a long way from 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' and 'The Ballad Of Easy Rider' but all the time I spent as a kid watching the 45's go around on the turntable for hours at a time has sure paid off in the end.
Friday, November 13, 2009
...and I don't.
I think I said once before that it seemed wrong to have to choose between getting fully healed up after an illness and having an income...well it's pretty much the same when you have to choose between having any real time at home and making a living. I hope the guys who took away our days off are working this weekend...I am.
Friday, November 6, 2009
I'm a little curious if anybody's reading this thing or if I'm just whistling in the wind. I guess it's good therapy to tap out some frustrations no matter whether it's going anywhere or not but I'd be kinda cool to know if there's a soul out there who's stopping by now and again. I see there's three followers which is great but the rest of the world is pretty quiet. Anyone looking in on my tiny corner of the internet?
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
I spent some time hanging around the 'net and some news outlets today and once again...got a dose of weirdness that seems to be so prevalent lately.
Does anyone actually believe...?
- That because the health care system is in trouble, we've begun the long slide into socialism?
- That torture is a legitimate way for the United States to interrogate prisoners?
- That paid radio and television commentators should be dictating policy?
- That the President of The United States is not a citizen?
- That some secret government agency is going to tell you to euthanize your relatives because they’re old, ill and not worth the cost of saving?
- That every follower of Islam is a terrorist and wants to kill westerners?
- That America should lead by 'going it alone' as we did for eight years?
- That the government was responsible for 9/11?
Please...tell me it ain't so.
Some of this stuff is so outrageous that it seems like even the lunatic fringe would have a hard time swallowing it but I guess since it gets air time, somebody's listening. It's awfully hard for me to absorb quite so many conspiracy theories when I'm just trying to make a living every day. I guess it shouldn't be too surprising though since there's still a lively debate on the Kennedy assassination and a good share of those doing the debating weren't even born when it happened. Could we move on please? It's obvious that the 'vocal minority' has a lot on their minds and a lot of time to dedicate to their cause...whatever it is.
Hey, I'm just a blue collar guy with a mortgage and car payments. Most folks trying to make a living can't spend hours doing Freedom of Information lawsuits and digging through 'newly released govenment files' when they have to earn a paycheck. There's a few things that really do get my curiosity going but trying to figure out if Roswell was a federal cover up isn't tops on the list. One that does make my skin crawl is the debate over waterboarding ie., torture. Like I said, I don’t pretend to be overly educated in politics or social sciences but what I do know is this:
A while ago, I realized that I was for the first time in my life, terrified by what was happening to our country. Even more so than when 9/11 occurred, I felt as if we were vulnerable and under attack, not from some shadowy terrorist band but from ourselves and some of the people we elected to represent us. Not because of some secret conspiracy, but because of what was happening in the wide-open...in front of God and Country.
We somehow sold our souls to the devil of ‘security’ and nothing was exempt from that all-consuming, double edged sword. I never felt as ashamed of us as I did the day that ‘waterboarding’ became a legitimate tool in our ‘war on terrorism’. We jumped, fell or were pushed from the high ground and lowered ourselves into the same evil mud pit occupied by our enemies. We were told that torture was necessary to gain the information we needed to protect ourselves and in a blink, the end justified any means. Legal teams were trotted out to legitimize it and the talking heads of Fox News lined up to tell us that it really wasn’t torture in the strictest sense of the word and that since nobody really drowned, it was all OK. Good people knew it was wrong and our leaders spent useless time whistling in the dark trying to make everyone believe it wasn’t. We lost our position of strength in the world right then by refusing to hold to our honor and took a dangerous step closer to becoming what we were supposedly fighting.
How did we, not 'they' allow this to happen? That's a question that matters more to me than any rumors about Lee Harvey Oswald or Obama's birth certificate. When did we decide that we could do this and still be leaders in the world? I wondered then and I wonder now...I'm just glad that it's supposedly over and hope we learned something from it. Nobody respects a hypocrite and we led the world in that department for a while.
That's it for my political and social commentary (commonly known as my own opinion) for tonight. I'm on my way to work again in a few hours and the sheets are calling before the phone rings.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
"He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you."
Friedrich Nietzsche - Aphorism 146
I take it as a little reminder when I start getting angry or complaining about...well, almost anything...that maybe I'm not any better than what I'm up in arms over. If I'm so busy ripping about some of my acquaintances or circumstances, maybe I should just shut up and take the high ground instead of going down the same path I'm so unhappy about.
Be it personal, financial or occupational, it's awful easy to become the monster as the quote says, and once you do...there is no winning.
I don't much believe in things like New Year's resolutions and such where you suddenly make up your mind to change and then just do it because of an arbitrary date. It might work if you're resolving to keep your tires rotated on time but it's probably less likely to make a difference in how you behave. I do think that being aware when a part of your world doesn't feel right and taking some action to fix it is something that you need to do all the time.
Maybe it's the fact that I hit that five-oh milestone that sharpened the focus a little and made me think about these kind of things a bit more. A little introspection on occasion can't be all bad.
Friday, October 30, 2009
I've missed so many things over the years either actually working or just being available that I often wonder if it's worth it. The income is good but the time spent to get it feels like selling your soul. There's been a million nights when I felt like I'd spent most of my life in that right-hand seat of a locomotive. It's the only thing I've ever done in my whole life that resembled a profession or offered anything like a chance to retire someday but the price has been pretty stiff.
The old saw that railroading isn't a job, it's a lifestyle has some truth to it. At the end of the day though, it's even more than that...it'll eat you alive if you let it.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Yesterday, just for instance...I dragged out the mountain bike and took off for a quick jaunt around what I think of as my training loop. It's short but very steep right out of the gate so it's good for getting the old heart going before I've gone the first mile. My goal is to make it straight up to the top non-stop and then play around on the old logging trails on the hills. It's been a challenge to say the least since I kind of fell out of shape while I was mending my new battle scars. I wind up with leg-burn before I get all the way and the cold has my lungs screaming pretty quickly. It's been getting better but there's one little pitch at the very top of the hill that has defeated me on every attempt. Its really short but almost vertical and full of rocks and ruts from washouts and the thing has had me walking before I got halfway every time. This time out, I failed it again about 5 times but just kept dropping back down and trying it again instead of walking. Finally on the last try, on the verge of collapse, I made it. There's a first time for everything. It's just one tiny little insignificant accomplishment in the grand scheme of things but somehow, that small move smelled like victory. I'll take them where I can find them.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Maybe it's just me but it seems like something might be wrong when you have to pick between getting fully healed up and having an income when you work for a major corporation worth billions (with a B) of dollars but I guess that's pretty much standard procedure these days. The insurance company determines when you get out of the hospital instead of the doctors and off you go. I'm pretty sure that whole subject will lead me to another post one of these days but not right now.
For today, it's just pack and get ready for another 'round trip and watch the weather turn to cold. Winter's coming on fast this year...we hit the first snow already and the leaves aren't even off yet. I'm not ready but then, I never am.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Just to get started...as is the case for most people, I may not know what I'm talking about all the time but I do have an opinion. There's two things that everybody has, an opinion and an...anatomical feature...we'll just let it go that everybody really does have both and hold off on the PG rated details. The difference between the two is that very few people will show you the latter (the fewer the better actually) while nobody's shy about the former. Hence my presence here blogging at all; I'm just wagging my opinion. That might indicate that I'm not the least bit bashful about my POV (see, there's another one of those annoying sets of initials) but you'll never have to worry about anything else I have.
Onward and upward: HCI...That's 'Health Care Issue' which I abbreviated in the first place only because I knew I'd get tired of typing the whole smash repeatedly before I got done. As I mentioned, the world runs on initials anyway. You know; USPS, DOT, CIA, BFF, ROFLMAO, what's one more? Besides, it makes you sound like you know what you're talking about if you bat around some initials or an acronym or two. It's not quite as good as name-dropping but it works.
I got thinking about this sort of thing (the HCI that is) even before I got sick but spending a week in the hospital and watching it in action really got the wheels spinning. Don't get me wrong, I received incredibly good care and everyone I came in contact with was top-notch. It's not the people on the front lines or the work they do, it's the system that they and we have to put up with.
With all the fuss about the issue flying around the 'net and the news, it's hard to know where to start chewing on it. What I do know is that we need to start talking about it like adult humans and quit screaming at each other. Whatever system we come up with at the end of the day and it's price tag will haunt us and our heirs for generations. This is important folks so we'd better knock off the lunacy about unplugging Grandma, get on with solving our differences and get some work done. Aside from that, if I hear one more idiot raving about the horrors 'they' want to do to you or your finances, I might really need health care after I poke out my own eardrums to make it go away. The 'they' who want to do so much wrong is usually anybody with a different political affiliation from the set of lungs doing the hollering or Heaven forbid, someone with the ability to think for themselves. OMG!
IMHO (there's another one), the whole mess as it currently stands is BROKEN (just capital letters, not initials that time). Words sometimes escape me but a few like unworkable, wasteful and plain old failed come to mind. That may be just my opinion since lots of people, particularly the ones making the most money off it seem to be convinced that everything is OK. Public service entities (LOL) like insurance companies, HMOs, MMCs (I love this) and organizations of that sort are saying that an overhaul isn't needed because the system works...sort of. Well, that may be true but then again, Betamax worked too...sort of, but who's got one hooked to their wide-screen now? On the whole, it's obviously not working real well or we wouldn't be trying so hard to fix it. I heard one witty commentator the other day say that there really isn't a crisis so making changes may only make it worse. What? It limps along and wastes enough money to support most of the Third World and this is not a crisis? If it's not then I'm a little shaky on what you would call it. The sky may not actually be falling today but the odds are that Chicken Little will be right eventually and I'd rather it didn't fall on me.
There...that's my opening salvo. If I wasn't first-out to go to work tonight, I'd probably keep tapping away till the wee hours. I'm pretty concerned as to how all this will fall together or apart or I wouldn't bother to write it down in the first place. OTOH, I'm pretty sure the carrier doesn't want me to run a train after being up all day and blogging all night. I'm REAL sure I don't want to either. I'll come back to this one again...stay tuned.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Saturday, October 10, 2009
For all that though, the most amazing thing about the new Trek is how I wound up having it home by now at all. Playthings are kind of a low priority for me so I had no plans for any such item as a new mountain bike anytime soon. I was half looking on Craigslist for a used one but out-of-the-box was out-of-the-question. Then along comes my half-century. The local cast of characters ganged up to chip in on it for my over-the-hill event in lieu of the traditional old-guy gags. Very nice guys, I didn't need anything on my shelf gathering dust to remind me that I'm on the slippery slope to AARP. That in itself says a lot about my family and friends to think that way in the first place, and the effort put a sizable down-payment on the bike. The rub was; since I got forcibly put out of commission, there was a drastic cut in my income. Say down around zero. That meant I couldn't finish paying it off until I got back to work for a while and recovered some lost ground on the bills. The toys have to wait if you want to keep the lights lit and the kids fed right? Not the end of the world but it was looking like there'd be snow on the ground before I got the new wheels.
Now along comes a trio of friends. They dreamed up a plan to chip in yet again on the balance so I could get the bike out of the shop almost as soon as I got home from the hospital. I was presented with an owners manual and a paid-in-full receipt about the first day I could actually move from a chair. All I had to do was go pick it up.
There's only been a few times in my day when I was without words and that was one of them. I still don't really know what to say except "Thank You" and "Thank You" again. What happened to me wasn't life-threatening or even really life-changing except temporarily, yet they still found a way to turn it into something wonderful.
There's a circle of family, friends and even some folks we never expected who helped with the bike in the first place, who came out of the woodwork when I was in the hospital, who hung out and kept me company when I got home, who drove us around, who helped my wife whenever she needed it, who called just to check in and then to top it off, the Gang Of Three who finished off the bike. They were all there and did without asking and I'm more than grateful to every one of them. The only way I can think of to tell you guys how much it meant to me is to someday remember and somehow pay it forward or back. When you or someone else is in a fix and could use a hand, I'll remember.
You hear so little about the good still to be found in people amid the trials and troubles of the world yet it's there and in no small way, I'm in awe.
And to all of you...I will remember.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
For anyone who doesn't know, I run freight trains for a living and have been at it for a decade or so. Going back to the grind is a little easier because I happen to really like what I do even though I pretty much hate the baggage that goes with it. On the one hand, I'm away from home a lot and spend too much precious time when I am here listening for my cell to ring, trying to figure when it will and how to get some sleep before it does. The job demands constant attention and even though it pays pretty well, I often wonder if it's worth the cost.
On the other hand, the work in some ways 'suits me' as my wife terms it. I've always had a ball working on or around big, heavy machines going all the way back to my farm-kid days on tractors and combines when I was in high school. Those seemed pretty huge back then but unless I switch gears again and go into something in the maritime trades, this is about as big as it's going to get. I can't see me starting my seniority over again at this stage of the game so I'm thinking this is where I'll stay. The ships will have to sail on without me.
It's enough of a challenge for me to run the monsters I'm on now anyway. I'm not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer sometimes and I really have to think about what I'm doing. I guess that's why there's a great deal of personal satisfaction in handling a train over a tough run and getting it pretty close to right.
It's also a profession with a past and so it falls into my fascination with times gone by. The craft of Engineer carries much history, tradition and pride with it and I feel fortunate to have earned the right to hang the title after my name. There's a long line behind me and I sometimes wonder if they felt the same way.
Having that present-day link to something that extends 150 years to it's beginnings also has a certain appeal to it which helps keep me answering the phone at three in the morning. The money's good but it'd be tough for me to make a whole career out of nothing but a salary.
The railroads go back a long way and I know of quite a few guys who spend more time researching the heritage of the major carriers than they do their own genealogy. The books, films, websites and mass of information out there is pretty much beyond comprehension. I'm not that interested but the fact that it's there, following along like a long train is something to think about.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Just as a matter of course, any email that has that key word in it is pretty much automatically filed as a waste of time. Most folks I know don't normally use it in adult-to-adult conversation so an instant 'Wack Job Alert' goes up. I actually did use the term a lot when my kids were small to describe movies they couldn't watch or places they shouldn't go but even they outgrew it by around the age of six. I don't recall really needing it much in grown-up discussions which means that if somebody thinks I need to be warned about the next impending crisis via email, the hot setup is to leave out the 'scary' part or I'll be suspicious right out of the gate.
These things are particularly annoying because of the 'Ohhhhh - this is REALLY scary' format they usually come wrapped in. I can only picture a purple dinosaur addressing four-year-old children as actually saying that and meaning it. Unless Captain Kangaroo is somehow resurrected from the dead to host a news show on Lifetime.
The common alternative to the panic stricken, heavy breathing headline is the other old favorite, 'The media won't report this..." which by extension means they won't because they might have to back it up with a fact or two but we who forward unfounded rumors and are not bound by any such scruples, will. The logic of this one baffles me because the apparently easily-duped 'Mainstream Media' will report on just about anything, often going pretty light on the facts themselves. Why would these guys who are in it primarily for the money, let some of these really scary and hence really profitable stories get away? Sorry, but I'm not getting the picture here.
Anyway, this particular beauty was about how 'Scary' it is that President Obama is allegedly not a US citizen. Really? Imagine my astonishment. Didn't this one make the rounds for about the sixth month in a row right about the same week that Bush II was packing for Texas and Ashley Flores disappeared for the nine hundredth time? Gee, I suppose that must mean that nobody in Congress or anyplace else for that matter, was smart enough then or is smart enough now to figure it out. It's either that or you have to believe that everybody in government above the rank of Park Ranger is involved in a conspiracy to do...something. I'm not sure what they're out to do but they're all in on it. Didn't Jim Jones think like that?
So anyway, let me get this straight; the only way this travesty came to light is through unverifiable, unattributed email forwards and the attached breathless YouTube videos? Nobody but the long-lost original paranoid fruitcake that wrote the thing can see that the country is going to disintegrate unless we all forward this to two million unsuspecting inboxes in the next four minutes? Hmmm...color me doubtful.
What's truly 'scary' to me and the only reason I'm bothering to write about it in the first place is that so many normally intelligent people buy into this foolishness just because it drops into their inbox with two lines of exclamation points and a bold font. But then, an awful lot of pretty reasonable people got caught in the Nigerian Scheme and some are still waiting for their check from Microsoft's latest email beta test so I suppose I shouldn't be all that surprised.
Call me a sucker but even though my inbox says the sky is falling, I still believe there's hope for our little social experiment. No matter where Obama was born.
Monday, October 5, 2009
Could I just say that even though the internet doesn't actually jam stories down your throat in the manner of television, you'd better be ready to do some serious surfing if you're looking for anything that looks remotely like news? The competing agencies seem bent on out-screaming each other and from where I sit, it looks like when the real news gets scarce, they just make stuff up. I guess they need something to fill the tabs but the catch is they then expect everybody to worry about it. Case in point: MSNBC's recent breaking Business News item that "Sleeping with boss often leads to trouble".
Do you really think so? Anyone who's ever held a job pretty much has that one figured out but apparently, it's a hot story to somebody. I can see it being front page on Oprah or Springer perhaps but somehow in the grand scheme of things, I don't see it as particularly earth-shaking.
Oh and by the way...speaking of screaming and irrelevant...would someone please tell Nancy Grace to just go away? She and her ilk of both sexes are without a doubt the bane of all things journalistic. Rush, Glenn, Nancy, all of you...please just stop. First you came up with this familiar-name method of referring to the objects of your alleged reporting (as I've taken the liberty to hand right back at you), then you parade a pack of rumors and shrill innuendo past your enthralled audience and have the remarkable spinal fortitude to call it journalism. You are most certainly entitled to your opinion and of course you're entitled to broadcast it to anyone who'll listen in any format you can sell but don't try to pass it off as news or even as fact when it's not. Your antics and bully-pulpit shenanigans embarrass me and should embarrass you. I know, you're making a fortune at this so it's all good but in the name of human decency, constructive debate and our collective sanity, could you please take your money to some quiet, isolated place and shut up? I'm sure I'll come back to revisit your madness some other day so that's enough for now.
But I digress...I was starting to talk about the news and got sidetracked on non-news. In a way that's where I was going anyway. When you wander among the assorted outlets; print, television, internet, radio, you come away with the feeling that depending on where you look, you get a different slant on the same story. I'm well aware this isn't news to anyone either but it strikes me as odd these days that you have to weigh the known tendencies of a particular agency against the political and popular leaning of a particular issue or story to figure out what's really going on. Too often instead of straight up reporting, it's heavily editorial and more opinion (see above Nancy rant) than anything else. Even what seems to be strictly unbendable, statistics and hard numbers for example, are open to interpretation and political damage control. Sorting it all out is a tough row to hoe unless you're willing to take everything at face value from one source and tune out all the rest. I'm of my own opinion that far too many folks do that already.
That fast-food version of the news may be OK once in a while but it wouldn't be hard to 'Super Size' on it and have your own opinions die a slow and painful death from all the needless extra fat. With luck, I can keep chewing away at it all so that when my kids ask what I think...it'll really be what I think, not the latest spin.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
I'm too old to spray paint the walls around town so maybe in this tiny little way, I can leave a mark that some will see and wonder once in a while, "Who is this guy?"
Stick around and see.