Friday, October 30, 2009

In The Midnight Hour

Once again it seems like the time at home has flown by. I'm only here for a while then it's off and running for another round trip. That's the real downside to what I do...the time away from home and family. I'll never understand the logic of not having real days off...just time between calls. It's really tough to not know when I'll be home or gone more than a day or two in advance.
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'll eat you alive if you let it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Small Moves

I knew time was going to be a problem. Now that I'm back in the never-ending-on-call groove again, it seems like I just get my stuff unpacked, washed and repacked and the phone's ringing to go to work. I try to squeeze a ride in on either the road or trails to burn some calories and frustrations but sometimes it just won't fit. It's hard to get too far away from the flagpole when you never really know for sure when you're going to get the dreaded phone call. I have to stay in cell phone coverage and have to be able to get home in about a half hour or less to have time to get ready and make the drive. Writing this thing is about the same way. I get started and just keep on typing. I guess I have to take the minutes as they come and do what I can.

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

Saturday Between Trips

As expected, going back to work was a shock to the old system to say the least. That first trip was a little tougher than I expected. I wound up thinking that maybe I should have stayed off just a couple days more but not having a paycheck for three weeks sort of made the decision for me. The Doc told me a couple weeks after surgery was about the minimum for us blue-collar types but nothing would come loose or fall out if I went back so I took the fourteen days and ran with it.

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

The 'HCI'

Don't worry, I'll get around to the weird title in a minute. It has to do with those annoying sets of initials that seem to define so many conversations these days. I sort of figured I'd jump in and give it a try.

Just to get 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

Go North Young Man

It's time to go back to work I guess. I'm marked up and the phone just rang for my first trip after surgery. Funny to get up in the middle of the night again after almost three weeks away from it. You kind of fall into a groove of weird hours and odd days after a while but the shock of swinging from the normal to the crazy throws everything for a loop whenever you make the transition. I almost felt like a real human for the last few days except for the sore middle and now I've got to make the switch to noctournal again. Something's wrong when you have to get sick to live life in the daylight.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Thank You

I'll be back at the old 24/7 on-call drag soon so I took the chance to make a trip to my friendly cyclery to pick up my birthday bike. It's only the second new bicycle I've ever had so I was pretty itchy to get my hands on it before the weather closed in. Unfortunately, my medical adventures of late put a damper on things pretty hard so it was a somewhat longer delay getting it home than I expected. Nothing ever goes quite as planned around here, but what else is new? It was certainly well worth the wait though when I very gingerly tried it out for the first time on a short, easy loop. It sure rides like a trail killer, especially when compared to my old standby (the one I've beaten into near-destruction on the fire roads). I knew the new one would be great but I didn't expect HOW sweet it would handle. Even though I wasn't quite up to anything resembling a thrashing yet, I can already see myself getting in some serious trouble with it. Once all of my internal parts fall back into place so I can dig without hurting and I get this baby tuned up and settled in...I've got some hills in mind that have beat me into walking in the past. Steep or slick, they aren't going to win the next round. My riding partners are really in for it now too.

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

Back in the Saddle Again

Well, I got the OK to go back to work next Monday after a nearly three week hiatus. Funny how a pretty minor illness can set you back for so long. I could learn to like this not having the phone ringing all the time. Trouble is; there's no income in it (no paid sick time in my world) and the bills keep coming.

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

'Scary' emails

I hit my inbox this morning and surprise, surprise...there's another useless 'Scary' forward taking up perfectly good space that could be better used for the assorted phishing scams, virus bait and other valuable stuff that manages to squeak by my firewall. I can't even delete the usual batch of missing child alerts and Viagra sales fast enough to get to get rid of these things.
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

...and now the news.

Being on somewhat enforced (health related, not because I screwed up again) leave from work has given me a little more time of late to browse the news. I'm sort of a newshound anyway and like to be able to say that I at least read something about current events myself. I even like to think about it a bit as opposed to having somebody else digest it for me. I get most of it from various internet outlets instead of TV because I can't stand to listen to all the nonsense and non-news that the talking heads want to pass off as important. At least on the 'net I can breeze right by what doesn't interest me and take a pass on all the assorted irrelevant junk that pervades the tube. Besides, God knows I really don't need to watch yet another thrilling and meaningful 'Smiling Bob' commercial or even one more drug company hard-sell with longer disclaimers and warnings than actual pitch.

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'll really be what I think, not the latest spin.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Start Of It All

So away we go. As part of my latest mid-life crisis, I've decided to dip my toes in the water of a blog. In keeping with the title, I'll be wandering the Wayward Home through thoughts and musings about whatever comes to mind. Does anyone out in the big world care what I think? Probably not, but then one never knows...
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.