Charles Agar: A noisy train … of thought
There’s an old Kingston Trio ballad about a man wooed by the Siren song of a distant train whistle as he lies awake in bed.
Once a rail-riding hobo, the man has settled down. He’s got himself a “pretty gal” who thinks the world of him, he says, and a “man would be a fool to let her down.”
But in the back of his mind he is fired by the “clickety-clack” of the wheels on the track, and the whistle sound morphs into a plaintive call from his old life: “Go bum again,” it tells him.
I relate to this guy. While I lay awake in our Fraser condo most nights, the empty coal trains run about a baseball throw from the end of my bed and rattle the house at regular intervals through the wee hours. But the trains are no call to the road for me, they just remind me I’m still awake and doing the most useless thing possible:
I’ve heard it called a “prayer that brings to you that which you don’t want,” but my early morning frets are usually about money (not having enough or wanting more) and recent gloomy reports in the national news don’t help much. Often, I’ll replay the day’s events, wondering why I said or did something worthy of a foot in the mouth. Other times, I’ll muse about the future, mulling projects, screenplay ideas, travel plans, or set the stage for something I’m dreading (like my upcoming 20th high school reunion).
Whatever the song playing in my head, it’s usually something I can’t do anything about, and I tell myself that, then another train clickety-clacks past and the loop tape starts over again.
When I first saw the train pass by the window while visiting my girlfriend in what would become our shared trackside condo, I was excited. It was spring and with the windows open the sound of the train was deafening. Like a kid I rushed to the window.
“Honey, look, a train!” I said.
Then came another one … then another.
“Honey, look, another train” turned into something like, “Wow, there sure are a lot of trains going by,” then “How the heck do you sleep with all this noise?”
“You’ll get used to it,” she said.
In the daytime, the trains are welcome visitors and mark short work breaks. Framed by my home office window, trains cut across the field below the sledding hill as Byers Peak looks over the whole scene ” a little “moment of Zen.”
I keep an eye out for the ski train as well as the rare Barnum and Bailey Circus train I’ve heard goes by, but my favorite are the moving museums of coal trains tagged by city street gangs.
Artful but indecipherable letters and numbers done in a rainbow of spray paint and the occasion picture of a shark, a skull, or a gun will roll past, and I wonder if the graffiti artists know that their work will travel this far, that some boonies-dweller like myself will try to decipher their code, or if they just mark their turf on the one night a train was parked in their neighborhood.
Sometimes when I’m walking to my car or outside splitting wood, I’ll wave to passing Amtrak travelers and I feel like one of the miniature “waving locals” which, as a little kid, I used to glue onto the gritty Astroturf of my little N-scale train set.
So, whether I like it or not, the Rio Grande rail line is part of my everyday, and maybe tonight while I’m pondering my little “crisis du jour” I’ll try something different. I’ll toss my worries on top of one of those passing coal cars and let them roll away, thinking how far that train can take them, and let my mind fill with thoughts of faraway places or a high mountain pass and a train rolling into the cold, still night.
Contact Charles Agar with feedback or sleep health suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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