Some Notes From A Siding

I’m on a rail siding just outside of Toledo, just kinda sitting here, watching an empty parking lot.

No, not just me.  There’s a whole train here, waiting for a heavy freight to get past.  But everyone else on board is asleep (not that there’s many of us) so it might as well just be me.  I just finished my book — rereading John Steakley’s “Armor”, one of the best sci-fi novels ever — and I need some time to absorb it.  So I’m looking out the window at an empty parking lot.

It’s a nasty chilly drizzle out there; looks miserable and cold.  Nothing’s moving; nothing’s happening; the only noise is white.  Normally I’d be bored stiff, but right now I’m at that perfect point where anything interesting would be an unwelcome distraction.  I’ve got enough to think about.  Is Felix alive?  How can he be?  But how can he be dead?

I’m not explaining.  No spoilers.  Read the book; you’ve got the time.

Thing is, you’re on a siding too.  We all are.  We’ve got that rare luxury we never seem to; we can stop and think about what we’re doing and why rather than our normal crazed madcap mindless career through life.  (Yes, that’s why they call it a career — it takes you places rather than the other way around.)

Heh.  No wonder people are scared.  Finally got time to think things over, but with absolutely zero practice in the art.

For instance:  There’s a reason my train is on a siding.  This part of Ohio is a national bottleneck; a quarter of the nation’s cargo goes through a spot with only two lines of track.  It’s a crew center; freight trains regularly stop so they can switch out the tired for the merely cranky.  Two miles from here is one of the world’s largest rail maintenance yards, but do they pull off on a siding to change crews?  They do not.

It’s like nobody ever stopped to ask why.

I mean, come on!  This is Ohio; it’s not as though there’s some sort of shortage of flat empty land you could put sidings on.  I’ve just come through miles of abandoned warehouses and vacant lots, and since Cleveland’s ahead I’m about to do the same thing all over again.  The rail lines could put up a luxury hotel and spa for their workers if they wanted, a quarter mile south of the freight corridor, and it would cost next to nothing.  But they don’t, probably because someone once measured the shortest distance between two points and ever since that day they’ve been riding the same rails over and over without asking why.

So I’m sitting on a siding in the rain.  And of course so are you.

Are you thinking things over?  Examining your life, taking the rare break as a chance to ask why you do what you do?

The average commute is a hair under an hour.  Twice a day you do this.  It takes up 5% of your life, 8% of your waking life, 13% of your free time — and that’s not counting showering and shaving.  If your day is average, it’s actually something like a third of all the free time you have available to you after the essentials are taken care of.  It’s hours you could be spending with your family, or reading a book, or actually figuring out what the hell Andrew Yang is talking about when he says UBI pays for itself.  Normally we think No, that can’t be right and forget about it, but we don’t go through the math, because who has the time?

Well, you do.  Right now, you’ve got a third more free time than you did two weeks ago.  (Unless you’re an essential employee, a healthcare worker or something, in which case you’re probably way too busy to be reading this.)

So.  You have the time.  Are you gonna do it?

While you’re thinking about things, maybe you could consider ways to keep from commuting so much once life gets back to normal.  Work four ten-hour days, maybe.  If you have a job where it’s possible to work from home, maybe you could do that an extra day each week.

There’s a lot of you that the last thing you want is more free time; for whom this forced imprisonment at home is sheer torture.  Maybe the condo is too small; maybe your home office is crappy.  Maybe you don’t actually enjoy spending time with the kids.  It’s OK to admit that, you know — to yourself; don’t spill it to the kids.  They’d be crushed.  Then again, they probably already figured it out; kids aren’t stupid just because they’re short.

I can’t solve that for you.  But I will mention:  The first step is admitting you have a problem.  Maybe take an hour a week to talk with a therapist; they have good ideas sometimes.  Worst case, it gives you a chance to vent about your troubles and let off some steam.

If we all take a few minutes to consider why we are where we are in our lives, to answer the big questions that we never get a chance to ask, I figure it’s an excellent opportunity to make a few important changes.  Once this present mess is over, we could come back to lives that are happier, more fulfilling, more meaningful.  I wouldn’t be surprised if our entire way of life takes a major shift in this country.

It had better.  Right now things are pretty awful for a lot of people.

And we’ve got the luxury of time.  So if we don’t fix things — if we don’t even consider how we might improve our lives — we’ve got only ourselves to blame.

Train’s moving again.  Next stop:  Sandusky.  I hear there’s some amazing roller coasters there; wonder if I’ll be able to see them from the window.


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