Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Songs of Norfolk Southern

We live on the wrong side of the tracks—or at least, too close to them. Our local rail line used to be  sleepy underfunded Amtrak, finally starved to death by the geniuses in Congress who don’t think passenger trains are necessary anymore—now that they all have their big black SUVs, air travel at the taxpayer's expense, and lifetime employment, all guaranteed by black bag lobbyists--plus a little attentive gerrymandering.

Now, I do like trains, and have spent a fair amount of my life living in close proximity to tracks. (Draw your own conclusions.)  I’m a believer, as far as transport goes, in these efficient movers of both freight and people.  I'd like to see the US recommit to railways again.

Despite all this friendly feeling, I must report that in the middle of the night my local Norfolk Southern regularly awakens me by conducting loud conversations. Their wee-hour prehistoric hoots, grunts, snorts, wails, and shrieks could put T Rex and all the rest of his ancient super-sized kinfolk to shame.

Around 2:30 a.m. and off and on for the next 24 hours,   ;)   I hear what I believe is signaling, perhaps when an eastbound train sidetracks, waiting for the westbound to pass. These communications eventually morph into a noisy, complex composition I'm dubbing Jet Engine Metal.

 I think I’m even getting to know the engineers too, in a way. Some of them must surely be frustrated musicians. At least that’s the conclusion I’d draw from all the back and forth, the rattle-the-windows staccato rending the air in an apparently endless series of short blasts, as if the engine suffers from a terminal cough. There are sustained hoots, followed by sudden roaring discords, as if someone has lowered a gigantic fanny onto an electronic keyboard and depressed all the keys at once. 

Finally, while I lie listening, the sound at last begins to die away in a bluesy Doppler effect. Cretaceous vocalizations diminish to pianissimo as the freight lugs another load on its way East, toward The Big City.

~~Juliet Waldron

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