Saturday, October 2, 2010

What would we do without the railroads?

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, Feb 5, 2006

I am still a relative newcomer to Terre Haute (we moved here in 1987). I was then and remain impressed with how the good people of Terre Haute persevere with the trains. My first and continuing response to the many trains criss-crossing our fair city has been “overpass,” “viaduct” or “Couldn’t there be a better place for these tracks?” So, I read with satisfaction that Mayor Burke is going to look into moving the tracks outside the city limits.

Then the sociologist kicked in. Wait, wait, wait a minute. The trains in Terre Haute are an important (albeit an irritating, inconvenient nuisance) part of our culture. There could be some negative, unforeseen repercussions as a result of changing such a distinctive part of life in Terre Haute and the culture that we have developed to deal with them.

I’m concerned about widespread unemployment. Before I was a college professor, I worked jobs with supervisors and time clocks. Nothing could get one in trouble faster than being late to work. In Terre Haute, however, we have the perfect excuse for being late: “Railroaded.” It is the only excuse that goes unquestioned. Without the trains, I fear, many people will be fired for being late for reasons not quite as sacred as “railroaded.”

Similarly, how many children waiting for their parents to pick them up from school, practice, dance and music lessons will think their parents forgot about them after waiting 10 minutes to an hour after “railroaded” has faded from our daily discourse? Come on, how many times have we used that excuse when we are late to pick up the kids? No more. We’ll have to come up with something different that provides us an excuse that doesn’t suggest we “forgot” about our kids.

Without the opportunities for conversation that being railroaded gives us, when will we find the opportunity to discuss those heavy subjects with our teenagers? Those impromptu father-daughter discussions forced upon us by the switching train at the Ft. Harrison crossing no doubt have given us some real bonding experiences.

How many young lovers, stuck at a crossing, were forced to actually talk to one another discovering how much (or little) in common they really have? Where will those important opportunities for serious discussion happen without the “fated” railroading?

I read that my employer, ISU, is a partner in this endeavor. ISU, indeed any workplace where trying to figure out how not to do something takes up more energy than figuring out how to do something, may find that moving the “tracks out back” may transform their organizations. Like Columbus crossing the ocean blue, moving the tracks might become the rallying point for tackling other heretofore-impossible obstacles. A “can-do” spirit at ISU and other Terre Haute institutions would be a (hopefully welcome) change.

I fear, too, that without our trains to derail us from time to time, we will all become terribly “anal,” you know, obsessed by time and the clock. The trains introduce a wonderful “unknown” into any trip across town. Will we make the movie in time? Let’s take Fruitridge to Davis and hope no trains block our way. Instead, we will all time our trips from home to the mall down to the second, with only an ill-timed traffic light to throw our obsession for time and punctuality off. Do we really want to become like that? I like leaving places 40 minutes earlier than I should “in case there is a train.”

What about our proficient driving skills honed by the 40 trains a day? I’m convinced that Terre Hauteans are the most skilled Y-turners east of the Pacific. I’ve seen people execute perfect (and not so perfect) Y-turns to get around a switching train. They are such a testimony to fine motor maneuvering. What will happen to those skills if there are no trains to impede our forward motion?

Of course there is one fact that needs to be worked into my growing hysteria. This isn’t going to happen over night. It is not like we will get the plan together and move forward quickly and get those tracks moved. It may have taken Lafayette 30 years to move their tracks, but this is still Terre Haute with its tracks. It took us better than 30 years to get something going at Seventh and Wabash. So, don’t get too concerned about losing the trains — yet.

No comments:

Blog Directory - Blogged The Steiger Counter at Blogged