February 26th, 2004


In the shuffling madness ...

I didn't sleep very well ... typical for getting up at a way earlier hour than normal, I kept anticipating the alarm (I ended up being "up" 15 minutes prior to it) and not getting deeply to sleep. Then, for some not-so-odd reason I got this tune stuck in my head ... and I figured I'd pass it along so you too can hum it all day:


In the shuffling madness
of the locomotive breath,
runs the all-time loser,
headlong to his death.
He feels the piston scraping --
steam breaking on his brow --
old Charlie stole the handle and
the train won't stop going --
no way to slow down.
He sees his children jumping off
at the stations -- one by one.
His woman and his best friend --
in bed and having fun.
He's crawling down the corridor
on his hands and knees --
old Charlie stole the handle and
the train won't stop going --
no way to slow down.
He hears the silence howling --
catches angels as they fall.
And the all-time winner
has got him by the balls.
He picks up Gideons Bible --
open at page one --
old Charlie stole the handle and
the train won't stop going --
no way to slow down.

- Ian Anderson

Wish me luck (or something).

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Well, that ain't gonna work ...

Whew! I guess if I was 20 years old without a college degree I'd be all over that gig like flies on shit ... but in my mid-40's with a zillion things I'm responsible for, it's NOT going to work for me. I had been led to believe that there was more structure to that (i.e. that I could just work 3rd shift), and I had erroneously assumed that downtown Chicago (Union Station) was a possibility. Wrong on both counts. Instead, it involved being "on call" 24/7 ... working up to 12 hour shifts, and they could call you back in six hours after letting you off (8 hours, but you had to be there ready to go at the end of 8 hours). Plus, there was likely to be a lot of 36-hour out-and-back runs, you could only beg off 1 weekend a month, and it was all (well, except when you were on the trains) outside ... heat, cold, sleet, rain, snow. On top of that, you had to be prepared to carry 70 lbs (the weight of a coupling) up to a mile (the trains can be 1.5 miles long) if you need to fix one. Like I said ... if I was 20, no college, this would be great ... they estimated it would take about 5 years to get enough seniority to get a regular shift, plus at the end of 5 years you're vested in the retirement fund.

There was some wierd Union shit too ... if you were on a out-of-town run and your 12-hour maximum shift ended, you had to get off the train and wait for a van to come get you! It sounded like during the busy times ("grain rushes", pre-Xmas deliveries, etc.) you could pretty much count on working 12 hours, going home for 8, but being called at 6 hours to come back out. PLUS, the locations were all "out there" ... so you'd probably have to GO (if the weather was bad) at 6 hours to make sure you got to the yard on time.

On the plus side, they indicated that the Chicago operation was always busy, so the odds of getting laid off for more than a few weeks at any point were pretty slim ... and the actual work sounded interesting (taking apart a several-hundred-car train and sorting the cars according to where they were having to go, using remote control driving things!). However, at this point in my life, it aint' gonna happen. I stayed out there for the orientation, picked up my paperwork, but figured it didn't make any sense to stay for the test (and possible interviews, which could also have been tomorrow or Saturday), given the realities of the gig.

Oh, well ... I guess I won't be working on the railroad all the live-long day afterall.

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