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Danny Boehr/Al Tuner - The Muse From Here Archive - 1996

Last Update: March 1, 2015


Monday, January 8, 1996

Well I slowly moved to take my coat off, and my hat. Then slowly I remove the sweater which covers the sweat shirt, which covers the shirt, which covers the T-shirt. Wearing two pairs of pants and boots cuts down mobility too, I know, but they were necessary. When I move my left leg, it hurts, but it keeps my mind off my right shoulder. Two tylenol, a hot chocolate, and the hottest shower I can stand provides relief, and time to consider the day.

The driveway in now cleared. Trying to figure out 21 inches of snow times the size of my driveway equals exactly what in cubic feet? Never mind. It is a lot.

Perhaps it was when the barometer dropped to its lowest, the wind howled out of the northwest, the snow re-intensified and it thundered last night is when I was in the most awe. The yardstick I planted in the front yard had its bottom 21 inches covered with snow en I looked at it this morning.

Turned on the TV, and they called it the Blizzard of 1996. How pompous! What if there is another one? Then, "The Other Other Blizzard of 1996"? The media characters sung on about the airlines, the roads, the subway, the busses, the schools and churches. Amtrak was running. Hardly the "Smarter Shuttle," perhaps the "Only Shuttle" would be better. They said Amtrak was running limited service, and was running late. But it was running, providing the only connections between the Northeast's major population centers! Can't expect much from people who wear sweaters under studio lights, I suppose.

Shovelling was interesting though. I set my radio on top of my car, (that is, after I found the roof of my car) and proceeded to listen to my favorite music. While chatting with passing pedestrians, many of whom were on skis, we started with the overture from Tannhauser which appropriately was of epic proportions, then after some pleasant Mozart and a Beethoven piano concerto to allow my dulling mind to stay occupied, we switched to Sorcerer's Apprentice and Bolero, indicative of the monotony of the shoveling, digging, shoveling, digging. I was amused and entertained.

Kudos to the CSXT dispatcher who asked K136's engineer about the state of his health and well being, waiting for a recrew in the neighborhood. (It took that train 12 hours to go the 40 miles from Brunswick to Baltimore.) Sympathy to the Metro operator who perished in a yard collision in Shady Grove. Outrage to the Metro supervision for allowing an unpowered Metro train to sit in Tacoma Park for six hours with 150 passengers on it until a diesel coupled on it. What were they thinking?

The path to my bird feeder was cleared early so that the flying residents of my community would not miss a meal. The squirrels looked cold, and a little bewildered. While the snow was blown around by the wind, I realized that despite the violence of the storm, natural forces protected the trees, blowing the snow off their limbs keeping the branches from breaking. We humans, so confident of our own abilities, are left alone to our own devices.

While digging, I wondered whether it makes more sense before the next storm comes, to dig down my yard the appropriate number of inches, so that the snow has a place to go when it comes. Perhaps I was working too hard, after all.

So I was standing out there, nearing my goal of once again connecting to the rest of civilization by reaching the street and a neighbor stopped by to chat. Like an advanced scout he advised me of the conditions of the rest of the streets, what stores were open and so on. We discussed the humility of high tech mankind at times like these, humbled before the incredible power of a Nor'easter, with an attitude, in January. He went down the roster of transport services rendered helpless.

We both heard a train blow at the crossing, tho there were no cars on the street. "'Cept the trains are running, I said. Under my hat and scarf, I cracked a smile.

Al Tuner


Sunday, January 14, 1996

Not wanting to sit and read the book I had taken out of the library, going through a period of time when anything close to cerebral activity seemed like too much effort, I decided to watch a football game. It was one of the last preliminary games to the Super Bowl, and having tired of watching the icicles play upon the feet of snow on the ground, I caved into sports oblivion.

To my dismay, I found the gray matter I was defending from assault, was attacked again, by electronic pencilled drawings, as intelligent, well paid people were trying to explain to me why it was that one team was losing to the other because of their "inability to cover the blitz." In retreat, but willing to stand some ground, I decided to ignore most of the analysis, and try to watch the game.

Though it was an important game in the world of footballness, and a flow of adrenalin mixed with testosterone was flowing, I quickly became aware of some disturbing actions.

A man carries the ball five yards, and another one tackles him. However, at the end of the play, there is all this dancing, evocative of ego gone beyond limit by the tackler, who I suppose is paid unbelievably well to do this routinely. So he did. Yet there is celebration. Now I don't know football admittedly, and clearly there are plays that go beyond what is expected, but this ceremonial self-love dance at the end of the routine play got me thinking. Surely, my favorite shortstop doesn't wiggle his anatomy when he snares a line drive, or covers second base successfully in a pick off play? Though, this maniacal me-firstness can be found in much of sport. The free agent member of the "team" who departs the game in a limo .... The All Star selection who has to be paid for any autograph, even from a six year old trying to add to his collection, and pay homage to his father's heroes, but can't because he doesn't have five dollars to get a signature on a scruffy note pad.

But alas, it is worse than that. Essays are written, explaining how people don't develop team work anymore, and, in fact, prefer bowling alone, and posting scores competitively against other solitary bowlers, who of course are on other "teams." Coalitions of people decry social spending for aged and poor members of their societal team, while advocating tax cuts for themselves in some dance of fairness that I cannot follow, nor even comprehend. The social team is clearly full of free agency now, and the lowly common person walks, while the heavily subsidized success story rides.

As I continue to watch this game as the much cherished ball's possession changes hands, and marches up and down the field, carried by real heroes, and self-proclaimed ones, my scanner announces yet another switch has been cleaned of snow for the day, though likely it will be plugged again soon. By whom? I begin to ponder, as I reach for the dip one more time.

There are laborers and skilled maintainers working on those tracks day after day. The government "closed," then opened, then partially closed with folks allowed to come to work, but do nothing substantial. News bulletins continue endlessly as to closings, openings and curtailments, because in this litigious society no organization dare open if their walk is not cleared. However, access to the switch, leading to the spur that provides this community with propane, with coal, and now even a departure point for the community's trash was cleared out by hard working individuals who more or less walked in 25 inches of snow, in the cold, to get their work done.

I imagine they wear short sleeves in the mega control center in the south that runs this snowed-in railroad, but their care and concern or the well being of the crews, both on the trains and in the snow trenches, was clear and sincere all week. Quite obviously, hamstrung by inoperative switches and failing locomotives, they could have danced a dance of self-delight when they were able to move commerce across the subdivision, but I hardly doubt they did.

The men cleaning out the interlocking while some enormous train stood behind them, waiting for access to be gained to further rails ahead, did not launch into a dance, or hold hands in some mock tribal ceremony to the God-Who-Wants-Touchdowns, when the switch could finally be thrown into reverse. They likely walked through the high snow, tired, exhausted, andback into their truck, where a dispatcher advised them of where their next "play" would be, some 20 miles away, below a hill and along a frozen river.

The folks who opened this railroad, in parallel to the folks who actually had pick and shovel in hand when the railroad was built are unknown to us. Histories of the past speak of Vanderbilts, Hills and Stanfords, not the unknown armies of people who actually did the work. So, in some sense it is only fitting, that we don't know who these people are either toiling today. But they clearly are stars on the railroad team. While all is never well, and justifiable complaints are likely voiced, these team members went about their tasks, without spin control, without complex incentive agreements, and without undue concern that they dirty their uniforms for the team picture. For perhaps unlike some sports anymore,railroading is a team effort, with a common goal.

So, as the nose-tackle (a term I will somehow always want to take too literally) raises his hands to the sky, for having the talent and ability to actually stand where the coach told him to stand, and do what he was supposed to do, I cannot but help thinking that the true heroes of this week, were the ones who braved the elements, expended energy, and muscle to open up our steel highway, and to let the clogged. arteries of commerce flow once more.

For them, I dance a victory dance.

Al Tuner


Saturday, February 10, 1996

As I sat and listened to the sermon this morning, the speaker noted that we read the Ten Commandments today. He went on to state that all modern laws and ethics derive from those ten rules. I turned to my friend Leon who was sitting next to me, and asked, "No left on red?"

Straight faced, he considered my question and quietly replied "No Idolatry." I thought for a moment and turned to him, and said, "No, that's dashboards." "Ah!" he replied, and I once again turned my attention to the speaker.

But as I thought about the scene at Mt. Sinai, and considered the sermon's emphasize of the "rocking mountain," I considered an earlier passage, describing lightning and thunder and sounds of the Lord's trumpet I began to think of not only the mystical description, so difficult to visualize, but also this early evidence of the effect of the sound of the horn on peoples' consciousness.

My thoughts wandered to the Call to Prayer heard in the Moslem world, stopping people from their normal activities, calling them to a higher level of thought. Or perhaps, Handel's Messiah, where "And the Trumpets Shall Sound!" rocks my house every Christmas Eve.

In the secular world, perhaps it is my father in me, that causes such a stir within when listening to a Mozart Horn Concerto, or a Wagnerian trumpet blast somewhere deep in the Ring of the Niebelungen.

Then, my thoughts went back to a time several years ago, when life as I perceived it began to rock on its base, much like the Mount referred to today. It was an anxiety ridden time.

But I remember what the turning point, the return to wholeness and happiness was, as easily as I recall the problems.

In fact, now years later, I don't remember what actually saved the situation in deeds or words, but I do remember where my personal turnaround occurred.

As I took my evening walk alone, which I did nightly in those months, it was cold and a light rain was falling. Spring was approaching, and the rain felt good as it fell. Troubled, stressed as I was then, I walked on, seeking answers and some prescription for personal healing. A train passed through the neighborhood, and although I could not see it, the wind that night carried its sounds directly to me. "Eastbound" I thought, because I could hear the dynamic brakes whining, with the rain drops hitting the trees as a backdrop.

Like stopping the car at a scenic overview, I stopped walking and just listened, and let the sounds carry me off. Approaching our major road crossing, the five chimes rang out with the traditional warning for vehicular traffic. But I felt the hairs on the back of my neck become erect, as the tones of that trumpet sounded. It was then, at that very moment, I felt the beginnings of an involuntary smile begin to form on my face. It was the first smile I had felt in some time. Life was OK. I was OK.

Because I knew. I knew that this sound, this particular musical motto, made things within me reverberate. I knew, that like a call to worship, it was both commanding of my attention, and reassuring. An in-gathering of hope and future well-being.

So I adopted that sound, a life motiff perhaps, If I could continue to be stirred by it, life was salvageable. As it certainly was. Some folks have different mirrors they hold up to themselves for reassurance. A place or person they can check in with, and smell the sweet odor of wellness. Perhaps a favorite mountain overlook, or a favorite song.

I am blessed with several such checkpoints in a year. The walks on the each, my favorite mountain, some one singing "Amazing Grace," or marching behind the bagpipes and drums through the streets announcing the arrival of the New Year at the end of First Night festivities.

Though a train's whistle, jerks my senses every time, and reminds me of life's basic goodness and joy. It calls me away from any particular pessimistic cloud I may have flown into. It tells me that whatever membrane within me, the one that vibrates when I hear a train whistle, is both functioning, and not so encumbered with day to day concerns, as to be rendered dead or isolated and unable to function. In space parlance, all personal systems are GO. I remain who I am.

I sat and listened as the sermon ended, but my thoughts were of blinking ditch lights, and the clarion call of locomotives approaching favorite haunts. I held my wife's hand as we sang.

A train whistle as a call to worship? Probably not. But certainly a calling.

Al Tuner


Wednesday, February 21, 1996

It is a very much a human sort of thing. Nightly we gather together at the appointed hour. We have completed our daily effort and go home for some rest and sustenance. Charts were charted, meetings attended memos penned, lunches consumed (though likely not well digested). Be it via piles of pink message slips, secretarial scribblings, or electronic phone mail, we have reacted to the barrage of incoming calls and likely responded with an assault of our own.

Though most of us don't know each other, we recognize one another on our nightly congregation. The man with a cane, the woman who always reads the comics to her friend. We know who sits with whom, in what car, window or aisle. We share the snowy nights, the late trains, the summer gallop homeward into darkening clouds, silently hoping that the impending thunderstorm holds off until we reach the dry safety of our waiting cars.

We know the crews. The changes in faces because of reposting of positions or bumping oftentimes breaks up our little family setting, until routine is restored. The days when our monthly tickets are left on the bedroom dresser in early morning's haste is happily forgiven with only an obligatory and flimsy official firmness. The nightly lottery where we guess the ridership out of Washington, and are rewarded by a piece of candy for a close guess, is indicative of the atmosphere of a nightly run. (I have suspected that the pretty women seem to win a disproportionate amount of the time, but I can't prove it.)

The fact that they assist us in successfully completing our nightly exodus would be fine enough, but their genuine friendliness speaks volumes of a human touch. Last Friday, for reasons yet unclear, an engineer with a reported unblemished record, managed to collide with an oncoming Amtrak train. In this costly winter, in this prolonged season of struggle, eleven people were lost.

The media explained in detail what occurred, because that is what they do, sometimes well. Federal regulatory authorities launched decisive action by regulation, press conference, and news release. That is what they do, especially in an election year, especially in response to a disaster in close proximity to the Capital Beltway. Though millions of injury-free passenger miles have accumulated on these lines, though operating rules seemed appropriate all these many years, the recommendations, promulgations and pontifications continue as if the sheer weight of these pronouncements could legislate against human error. Simple rules not followed, create complicated rules which somehow assure safety.

Since signals have not been restored, tonight we sit at that very junction waiting for an absolute clear block. We stare out in the fog, and silently recall that night of hellish trauma. Smashed equipment, crushed operating personnel, burning fuel creating a funeral pyre to complacency and presumed routine commuting.

Tonight, the solemn crew members pass amongst us checking tickets, spiritlessly. Their fallen colleagues silently and poignantly in mind. Eleven funerals to attend, grieving families of youngsters, in profound pain elsewhere, but close to this very spot somehow.

The crew wears black armbands, and walk slowly down the aisles. A lifeless announcement listing our station stops is made, then followed by a request for contributions to the families of the victims. The crews pass through the train again, not announcing tonight's winner, but with an inverted conductor's cap. Copious amounts of cash are collected. In our car, we had 70 riders, and $500 were solemnly deposited in that hat. Frustrated by press reports mentioning meaningless names, but not including photographs of crew members we are sure to recognize, we contribute. We are too timid to ask the crew to describe their fallen colleagues' physical descriptions, because it is too early to inquire of their bunk room buddies.

As talking heads representing private and public organizations gown only to us as acronyms blitz the media we act without fanfare. You won't read about this in your newspaper, nor will it be part of a deposition or a post accident report. Nor does it have to be reported to be important. It wasn't obligatory, and it wasn't terribly difficult, and perhaps it was not even charitable. It was an act of easy, but nevertheless profound thanks to those who lost their lives and a silent bridge to the families involved, to let them know that we commuters, unknown to them by name, cared for them, and shared their loss.

I just thought you would like to know. It was of a piece with the surroundings. It was a human sort of a thing.

Al Tuner


Tuesday, March 19, 1996

We have a 25 mile per hour slow order passing Georgetown Junction very morning and every evening. The crews are out there everyday trying to make the rail infrastructure heal after the wound. While safety considerations dictate the slowed speed, it seems appropriate -- a solemn pause for the 11 people who died there. One never feels comfortable running through a cemetery after all.

The winds howl as the forces of nature battle once more. Snow is forecast tomorrow, on this first day of Spring, because this is a winter that appears will never end. We had monumental snow falls, stranding people in all their conveyances - including trains.

We have had killing floods, in which the placid waters of the Susquehanna River reached out violently over their banks, grasping for Land and the structures mounted on it. Trains were snatched by the river and were derailed.

We have had exceptional cold. Long periods of time when the biting chill, made standing on the platform waiting for the train both an invigorating experience, and a struggle. The cold air woke me faster than my cup of coffee ever could. Which is just as well, since the cold invaded the styrofoam cup and ruined the coffee anyway.

The toll was enormous, and now with a not so seamless transition, one hopes Spring approaches for real. But there are hopeful signs.

While sitting here on a quiet, but gray Sunday, I decided to channel surf. After all, 80 some odd cable channels ought to provide some light in this gloom. And then I found it.

Not some sitcom. No discussion on C-Span, or mindless political. debate. Not a documentary on seasons, nor weather map with a particular "H" or "L" announcing warmth. I found something more.

Nine players on a side, bats and gloves. And a voice I knew to be Harry Caray's singing "Let's Go Out to the Ballgame." No thought of snow in this Arizona playground. No thought of ice encrusted driveways and fallen limbs. Someone was trying out for first baseman, and a retired veteran in the infield decided to return home. They were discussing the rosy future of the club. The Cubs after all had not lost a game yet. In fact no team has. Everyone is optimistic about their chances, because, frankly, that is the symbol of the Spring. Emerging, starting over, writing new history, and incurable and unabashed optimism.

The daffodils fight the elements outside and emerge on time, oblivious to the forecast. The time for warm trackside watching surely approaches, for if Harry is screaming "The Cubs Win!!!!," and I am not dreaming, the time for renewal is surely upon us.

So perhaps, we look back on the last months as a symbol of distress, trauma and struggle. But let us not stay here too long. Check the camera for film, the video for tape and the scanner for batteries. For unlike the daffodils we may not be able to feel it yet. The birds remain songless in the mornings but this too will change. The calendar bespeaks of warmth, but it has not yet arrived.

But deep down inside, we know the time cannot be long now. The sky is gray, the winds blow hard and cold still lingers. But Harry is on TV, so we are about to arrive at our destination. Hopefully, on time.

Al Tuner


Sunday, March 31, 1996

And since life imitates baseball, life begins anew tomorrow. We get to start again. I can picture the scene tomorrow at Camden Yards, when 16000 people including the President of the United States welcome the return of THE GAME. People will come in by car, by bus, and by train. gait, not by train.

Camden Yards is built on the B&O. Camden Station sits outside, but there will be no trains. The B&O warehouse looms over the outfield but there will be no trains. Oddly, by game's end, the MARC trains will begin to arrive.

But why? This year we have non striking players, and non lock-out owners finding a way to play the game. But CSXT can't figure out a way. But why?

Well let's see. Perhaps it is post Silver Spring liability shock. A passenger train carries passengers, and they aren't a hazardous commodity, but their lawyers sure are. Ah, that must be it. But it isn't logical, because MARC train passengers are MARC's liability, problem. Only CSXT crews are possible potential lawsuits waiting to happen. But in the Silver Spring wreck, three CSXT crewmen lost their lives-so it follows then that CSXT won't run passenger trains because of that. Now, had P286 been Q286, and it ran a signal, and P029 was Q249 instead, then what? Would they stop running freight trains? I doubt it.

So the national game begins and CSXT doesn't participate, and we can't figure out why. Well wait a second. Let's give CSXT a chance to explain. After all they announce it to the press after hundreds of thousands of schedules had been printed. What did they say?

CSXT has a very busy railroad they said, and because one can never tell when a game is over, they can't be certain when the returning trains will leave the stadium, so that causes a real problem for them. So, they will run scheduled trains to the stadium, but nothing back, because of the uncertainty. This is insulting. Empty hopper trains leaving Curtis Bay nightly leave precisely the same time every night? I think not. Do they tell General Motors a few miles away that they can't deal with uncertainty? I doubt it. Do they tell the ocean liners coming to the Port of Baltimore laden with containers for CSXT served points, that if they are late, they can forget about rail service. Of course not.

Highly trained dispatchers in Jacksonville cannot manage trains that will likely leave between 1030p and 1130p nightly, but must know exactly when they will leave hours before? I think not.

In fact, like so many companies who prefer not to divulge their true thoughts, they insult their employees by indicating that it is the employee's inability to perform service, or to cope, or to learn, or whatever. That is the reason for their actions? Way to go CSXT!

So then why? We don't know. Perhaps the governor should call and suggest that if a CSXT/NS/CR tussle comes to Maryland, Oriole Trains loom large? For us we can only wonder. All I know is this is the national pastime, and CSXT can't figure out a way to come to the game. Their pronouncements are insulting to both their employees and to the knowledgeable public. Rather than say, "We aren't in the passenger business" and say what is really on their minds, they hide behind rhetorical skirts. It is so much easier to blame the inconsistent times games end, and the "havoc" that causes, than what is truly on their minds, For CSXT, that is how they play the game.

Major League Baseball starts its tomorrow. For CSXT, well, another year in the minors.

Al Tuner


Saturday, April 13, 1996

The train arrives early, and we have thirty minutes to change crews, fuel the units and water the cars. Some folks arrive to perform the 1000 mile inspection, and they begin to tinker with valves and stare at the running gear.

Having spent the night on the train, and with the sun warming the countryside, with my insides warmed by the "Railroad Style French Toast", I elect to take a walk.

Across the street is a small public park. A few local residents have their children playing in the park, and you can here the squeals of the kids, finally allowed to run unbridled by snow and cold. Within the park, rests a steam locomotive - more and more a totem of the rail side of town, in village after village. Having not a lot else to do, I make my way over to investigate.

A black beast, needing some paint and perhaps some tender loving care, beyond just restoration and display, I stare at it intently. Not having seen many of these run, I know little about them. If it didn't run while I was alive, it has not been a subject to which I have reserved much time. But, thankfully, there is a sign that someone had the wisdom to post, for folks like me. It says what the unit was, where it was built and over which railroad it ran, and lists the local bank, railroad group and a series of political types to whom we all need to give thanks for having saved the locomotive, or erected the sign. I am not sure of which. The class designation rings no specific bells, the name of the shop of birth is a new one on me, and the name of the railroad I vaguely recall has having been a predecessor road to some other road I have heard of.

A man walks over to me, and having noticed my interest in this metal shadowing of the past, he turns to me and says, "You know when I worked on the railroad, and the local train master died, all of us track workers used to hire a bus, go down to the cemetery after the funeral, and make sure the son of a bitch was dead!"

He smiled as I left. With a knowing look in his eye, he begins to elaborate about the steamer's history, but I hasten to catch my train. I mumble an apology, point to the gleaming train that I must reboard. Discouraged, perhaps saddened by the early abortion of a series of tales he wished to share, but also somehow knowing the routine created when big city folks mercurially pass through this little outpost, he bids me farewell.

Having returned to my seat, I stare out the window to perhaps wave, but the gentleman has moved on.

Months later, I find myself once more trackside. This time at my usual haunt, and with my eyes half closed, listening to the song of a nearby bird, I soon realize I have company. A man, and his son, have come down to this spot along the tracks, in hopes of seeing a train. We chat. Luckily, to the glee of the youngster, and to my quiet joy as well, a train does come along.

With my camera in hand, I spot in the slow moving consist, a Pennsy gondola. I take a picture of it. After the train passes, the boy asks me why it was I took a picture of that particular car. I told him it was sort of a classic, and I specifically recall trainloads of such cars roaming the rails, and now this car, somehow having escaped the paint of Penn Central and Conrail, remains in service. His father looks at his watch, and they quickly leave, as if they needed to reboard a train. In parting, the boy suggests that he appreciated the time, and the explanation, because all the cars looked pretty much the same to him.

Thinking about the last statement long after the two had left, I began to ponder the trains I have ridden on tracks that no longer go there, on railroads no longer found in the Official Guide. Steam before head end power, E's and F's, names on cars that to the knowing explained their interior configurations and the routes they were assigned, cabooses with slogans about roads to the future, and shipping and traveling a particular way.

Perhaps these pieces of rolling stock have their place in history because of what they were, and what they did. But of greater consequence, they are mileposts of whole lives and livelihoods. Maybe you hand your children an old family trinket, not because of its value to them, but its value to you. A fifty foot boxcar painted for the UP is commonplace, but the very same car stenciled for the New Haven pulls an interior string. A string of some length and depth.

So while listening to a retirement speech today, I realized the stories that were retold, met with knowing smiles of the few, and polite but glazed eyes of the many. And since I found myself somehow in most of the stories, having experienced it myself, or know someone who had witnessed the tale, I quickly became aware of where I was in time's continuum.

I grow more unlike the father and son, and more like the man in the park. I had spent as much time considering the value of that steamer, as that boy considered the significance of that Pennsy gon. So a new measure of time emerges.

While I appreciate new equipment, and new paint schemes as they are created from corporate combinations and cataclysm, I begin to recognize the signposts of the past, as a personal calendar. I move closer to the old man's stories, and gravitate away from the unknowing and undiscerning. When you don't have a long personal history, I guess you can't tell the difference from one car to the other, one steamer from the other, passed time from the present.

When you are young all the cars are the same. As you age, some seem rarer than the others.

It is never a question of what is better, or what is now. It is a question of what was there, when you were there.

While we can restore and capture what there was for us, and preserve it for others, the best legacy we can supply is a continuing source of future memories for others. Today's trains are tomorrow's memories.

Let them roll.

Al Tuner

--Thanks to Bill Sione for finding this Muse, and sending it to OTOL


Saturday, August 17, 1996

I love the feeling of the sand between my toes. Plunging headlong into the surf, feeling some of the danger of the untamed ocean, yet by its covering my ears, it jerks me far from the day-to-day. A vacation for all senses, and deepest feelings.

My son lifts an injured seabird to his chest, after reassuring it in some powerful, unspoken way, that he means it no further harm. The bird is placed on a dune, high above the surf, ending its struggle against the incoming tide. I am assured that my now grown up child has within him the values and consciousness I have deeply hoped for. By morning the bird is gone. The bird and he are better for this act of kindness.

Here is where I come to rest and to reconsider. A place where the closest of friends gather by the shore. It is a place where curling up with a good book, or taking a long walk alone, is not an anti-social act. We are enjoying our annual group therapy. It is a place where one can begin the annual search for some additional insight, while deflating the bladder of stresses and immediate concerns. A place where one sleeps with the sound of crashing surf outside as a nocturnal symphony of constancy and timelessness. It's a place where a visage of a white bird flying against the black backdrop of an impending storm gives one pause at its notice.

It is a place where upon a crashing storm's departure, one can stand on the now dripping deck to take in a rainbow spanning the boiling sea - a rembrance of a covenant of peace.

The girl next door, in blue shorts and a green tie-died shirt leaves bread crumbs for the seagulls. None are apparent at the girl's start, a blizzard of flapping wings encircle her moments later. One wonders about communications of the "lower species."

Someone suggests dogs and their owners seem happy at play on the shore, leading one to consider opening a Rent A Beach Dog (by the week) store, for those needing an uplifting companion. For me, I intended to consider nothing deeper than the question of the appropriate age where the American Male should be expected to wear his baseball cap visor-forward.

But inexorably, as day-to-day considerations recede like a rainstorm racing to the east, other topics come clear.

Perhaps a quick review brings immediately to mind a recent discovery I am pleased to add to my limited understanding of this life. Extensive travel, several train rides, and some limited, trackside adventures, have added to my enjoyment of the hobby. It is a cup that never runs over. Yes, there were some rare (for me) rolling stock, and returns to recently found haunts where volume and train direction are voluminous. A steno pad full of notes, waiting to be transcribed, awaits the days of unfilled time commitments, whenever and if ever they occur.

But where ever I have gone during the summer of 1996, I have become acquainted, or re-acquainted with some fine folks. People have come into my life from trackside forays, and on line discussions. Personalities have coupled initially because of mutual rail related interest, but have grown substantially deeper since. And I am stronger as a result. Whether it is keeping up with the gang on Horse Shoe, or at the official parking spot in Berea, or while sitting in the cold fog of Candlestick (where the scene resembles "what it would look like if Alfred Hitchcock produced Field of Dreams") with my Internet co-rail-religionists, I have been blessed with the warmth of some wonderful people.

My friend in this very beach house I met in Penn Station nearly thirty rears ago. We followed one another down each track, checking on the Meteor, the Champions, the Manhattan Limited and the Afternoon Congressional. Conversation began. Our families have grown, well, as family.

So of course, it is a passion. And yes, it is a profession. It is after all a way to make a living. But at a time when superficiality reigns, it is also about friends, true lasting friends. As my wife and I walk along the dark starlit beach, I have learned it is a dimension I embrace like the hold of a bird in my son's outstretched arms.

Al Tuner


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