Thursday, November 22, 2012

Ghost Train

Stop. Look. Listen.
The three duties of a driver at all rail road crossings. Vaguely I recall watching a video in Driver's Ed showing the extreme caution to take upon reaching tracks and the inevitable stupid people that don't follow the rules.
As the scene of a car was getting smashed by a train, I recalled thinking: "How hard is it?"
WELL, if it's a Ghost Train slicing through a different dimension/ Wrinkle in Time from Hogwarts Academy, it can totally catch you off guard and scare the tar outta ya. Thanks to a strange fog the other day we were almost train track turkey.
Folks in the big city get plenty of time to respond, and even try to dash around the flashing lights and giant arms that keep you safely distanced from an oncoming train.
However, out in the sticks you come across tracks that don't flash all the signals and you have to use the steps you learned clear back in Driver's Ed. Driving out in the country and going over several of these spots is actually a highlight for me. It, with the four way stops and a round about that some residents are still trying to figure out how to use, are all part of the "back road" experience J. and I enjoy when we drive from my sister's.
Iona is far enough away from our house and in the country that we like to take our time, play some country music and take it easy.
When most country drivers come upon a four way stop and other cars are approaching, even if  first, all will wait and make sure everyone has made the consensus to stop. And kinda a way to say: "
"Howdy" and nod your head as you take your turn.
J. and I were headed back from there and doing just this while as snow fell down. Well, at an angle.
From the north, a large vertical sheet off fog went from the foothills  in the east of Iona clear to the west where it stopped abruptly in front of a sinking horizon sun which was blocked off all except in some places where it escaped in two or three shafts.
The fog wasn't a typical fog.
It was as if it were an ominous gray, cement building had been set down to our right; the top was buzzed off like a mega super store and the overcast day allowed enough light through the dirty clouds to show the precision-like "cut" of the fog.
We circled the round about and navigated the busy Yellowstone Hwy. to keep on our country back road ride. Passing the tire compound where old, black tires bulge inside a fenced in area we came to our first set of tracks and it was around this time that Jaden pointed out the fog brick to me.
In the back ground a  country song using the word, "Mistake", in a clever way ( that hoped if the girl was gonna make one, she'd make one with him) played. . It was a new song, and we concluded it had a nice little beat as I came to a slow stop at the tracks. So I cranked my neck left and then leaned forward to check out the right of our tracks. All clear. The gray brick wasn't impeding my vision down this angled section of tracks.
But I did get a feeling at this point. Not one that said: "hey, watch it." Just one of those feelings that you are aware of only after the fact, as if your body is prepping to be aware of something else. I'm sure this is another thing our brains do constantly and it's only if you are almost smooshed that you stop and think back to the little nuances of your thought process.
In my red neck fashion I proceeded; which is to roll over them slow and of course the angle so it is a nice, smooth methodical roll as each tire goes over the tracks.
Doesn't it make ya wanna take a back road?  With snow swirling around from above and some shooting out of the tall fog building that seemed to be approaching faster, we laughed at a herd of black cows and calves "stampeding" for the fence on the south side of our car. They'd just been given feed and were dancing, kicking up their heels and running towards the road as if they might take us out in the process of getting fed.
Pretty soon we'd passed the ever so attractive, junk car lot and approached the small knoll that leads over the second set of tracks, set upon a bridge that covers a fairly big canal. As we weren't in any hurry. I took my time and I think all the next events took place in one second:
First of all, I felt peaceful. The morning had been a good one. Ordinary. Ball game. Baby shower. Backwoods drive home. I felt a tangible contentedness come over me.
Looked left. Right. Nothing. Heard nothing. But I stayed- paused, putting the gears into neutral, instead of immediately going over the tracks. A song came on that started me to reminisce, a car pulled up behind me as I glanced in my rear view mirror, so I put the car into 1sr gear when
  stopped ME dead in our tracks.
Simultaneously I shoved the brakes into the road below, had a staring contest with the most unusual train I'd ever seen- and repeated the word in my head:  
One millisecond, nothing. No humming or vibrating to indicate, there had been no whistling in between the last stop and these tracks.
To top it off the train had the oddest contraption on it- Above the cow guard it had a two white panels pitched like a roof leading up to the conductor's window. So there was No color variance involved in this train transaction.
Jaden, in the passenger seat, upon hearing the "horn", had turned inward and looked BEHIND our car thinking that a semi-truck was honking at me to: "Get a MOVE ON IT. Sister!"
My life did not flash before my eyes. In fact, I don't know how many feet were actually involved. If I had pressed forward I'd have had time to get across or not, or if it was simply startling to see this massive peace of machinery come out of nowhere.
I thought 3 things:
My peripheral vision caught J's bright socks he'd worn to the basketball game that morning as I took in the approaching scene.
(Had this train had those socks on the front of it, I'm sure it would have been visible in the fog a mile away.)
When your adrenaline is amped, things slow down and you take in a lot of things. Like the look on the engineer's face- I think he was as surprised to see us as we were him, and I noticed that he was necessarily piling through the fog like the Polar Express when the brakes were out.
Jaden rolled down his window and we watched the train go silently over the tracks, the wet wheels rolling freight along a slick track was mesmerizing. I took in the enormity of each car, stared at the art work graffiti on the sides and finally blinked as the last cars swiftly pulled in a gush of air and snow as they left us to think about the close call.
It was a very simple thought process.  My brain that concluded with a: "hm." as I stared at the opening from which the Ghost Train had appeared while I hussled over the tracks.
Once I reached Lewisville Hwy, I started to put the implications together- mixing the bright cardinal red socks of J's and the white scene behind us and my brain started to go a mile a minute and my heart actually started to realize how it was pumping.
How did that HAPPEN? I asked myself while I started to get a feeling of emotion and bile swelling up in my throat.
I do have a new set of train track rules.
1. If it is foggy, take another way.
2. Stop. Roll Down Your Window if it's Foggy and You CAN'T take another way.
3. Listen
Glad the Ghost Train didn't have a different outcome, but when I look back to the events and how quickly it all could have gone down- I was glad for the peace that I felt, and for whatever reason that made J. look inward and back behind the car. It just gave me some peace of mind about getting hit by a train. Like God instigates some sort of brain fog anastesia before a disaster that allows you to cope.
Drive Careful.

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