Here in Madison County, Illinois, we are awash in trains. Long trains, short trains. Train yards, train tracks. Train whistles, train crossings. But we don't notice the trains that much, especially if they aren't slowing us down. Lately, though, it seems I've been getting stopped a lot. Are the laws of randomness somehow dispersing my good train karma? Yesterday afternoon, late for a meeting, as I watched a Union Pacific train crawl along in front of me, I wondered: is mine merely a local affliction? Is it somehow worse when you're at the center of a vast transportation network crisscrossing the entire nation?
I wondered about Scheherazade Fowler in Maine and Jeremy Blachman in Boston: do they ever risk missing a meeting or a class because the crossing guards have just dropped down? I thought about Howard Bashman in Philadelphia: does he know the feeling of being stopped in train-slowed traffic, making it possible that he'll miss a hundred headlines? Have trains been impeding the progress of David Giacalone in upstate New York? Or Professor Bainbridge and George Wallace in California? Or Carolyn Elefant in Washington, D.C.? Or Beldar and Dedman down in Texas?
Do anonymous blawgers get a break? I think of them as existing in some ethereal region, never to be bothered by the problems of interstate transportation. I wondered about the authors of What Thanks: do they ever speed up their long black BMWs when they hear a train approaching? Do traffic jams caused by passing trains ever cause The Uncivil Litigator to curse uncivilly? Does The Curmudgeonly Clerk ever shake his fist at a passing conductor? Does TPB ever shout down a passing engineer?
And the techies, what of them? Is it possible that the technological advances of centuries past could slow down the progress of Denise Howell? Does Ernie the Attorney think about RSS and XML as he tries to beat a train across the tracks? Does Dennis Kennedy calculate the rate of passing cars so he can figure out their speed? Does Kevin Heller use noise-cancelling headphones to protect his ears from the train's shrill cry?
This is what I was thinking yesterday afternoon at 3 p.m. CST as I watched the slow-moving Union Pacific train pass in front of me. Somewhere to the east, the stock market was closing; somewhere to the west, someone was ordering bean sprouts for lunch. Meanwhile, in Madison County, Illinois, I waited, and waited, and waited, and finally turned around to find another route.