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A Train in the Night

Sunday, February 12, 2017

trainI’ll lived all my life near a town with the nickname “Hub City”. I know my town is not the only town in the 50 states with such a nickname, but we do have two major interstates, two mainline rail tracks, and one historic canal in the area. This is not Chicago, but we did have Ludacris fly through the regional airport last year.

The railroad tracks here have always piqued my interest. Trains too, but even more the mystery and history of the line itself. As a kid, I was told not to hang around railroad lines. But, being a kid, with a bike and a curiosity, I did anyway.

Where does it come from? Where does it go?

Those types of questions are easier to answer these days with all the satellite imagery and sites like OpenRailwayMap. I discovered, for example, the line closest to me now was built in the late 1800s when railroads were expanding. Back then, the more lines you built, the better chance you had of taking market share. When railroad companies consolidated in the 1970s, they abandoned most of this track. Still, there is a piece being used, albeit infrequently.

When the line is used on a cold winter night, the distant train whistle makes me hold my breath and listen. Two long, one short, one long. A B major 7th, I think. The 7th is there to tingle the hairs on your neck. It’s hard to believe how machinery and compressed air can provoke an emotional response. After all, there is the occasional horned owl in the area whose hollow cooing is always distant, lonely, and organic. Yet, the mechanical whistle is somehow more urgent, searching, and all-pervading. A proclamation.

I know where I’ve been. I know where I’m going.

Code Whistles

It’s hard to believe how code and technology can provoke an emotional response. The shape of the code, the whitespace between. The spark that lights a fire when you uncover a new secret. Now that you’ve learned it won’t go away, but you had to earn it. Idioms and idiosyncrasies pour into the brain like milk into cereal. Changing something, and it’s good.

The whistle. How quickly things change. Or, perhaps the process was slower than I thought. Your idioms impossible, your idiosyncrasies an irritation. If only we could reverse the clock to reach the point before these neurons put together that particular chemical reaction, but there are high winds tonight. I’ve lost power. There was the whistle.

I know where I’ve been, but I don’t know where I’m going.