Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Chasing a Train

The Nickel Plate Road 765 weighs 404 tons, goes over 60 mph and keeps an elite company as one of the very small group of steam engines that are still operational.

LEGO company was born in Denmark in 1934 but it wasn't until 1949 that the evolution of wooden to plastic toys produced by the company became what it is now.

The Pere Marquette 1225 is the same size and sister to the 765. It's the only operable 2-8-4 Pere Marquette steam engine. To build the engine today, one would need 2.5 million dollars. The 1225 became famous in 2004 when its blueprints were used to design the Polar Express, featured in the Oscar-nominated movie by the same name which, in turn, was based upon the award-winning children's book by Michigan author Chris Van Allsburg.

Sub-cultures run rampant in our society. We have Trekkies, Harry Potter nerds (*shoots hand up in air*), and Weezer fans (*again with the hand*). I've recently become exposed to the Train Geeks, the group to which my boyfriend belongs.

At the hub of the Train Geek culture are festivals where said geeks can go and see a variety of real life, operable and otherwise, engines, model train sets (including the most awesome LEGO model I've ever seen, though not the largest), maps, art and literature featuring trains. It so happens that the largest such festival in America is Trainfestival 90 minutes away in Owosso, MI. *fist pump*

When we attended on Sunday, I had no possible way of knowing what I was about to see. Thousands of people come from who-knows-where to stand in hour-long lines for the chance to spend 120 seconds in an engine. Tents upon tents of impossible to navigate crowds hoarde around massive model train sets.

But that's not what the bad ass train enthusiasts do. Nope. Bad ass train enthusiasts hop aboard the motorcycle, ignoring the 70% chance of rain and they chase a train.

A day in the life of a train chaser.
1) See train off at start point.
2) Run like the wind to car in effort to be the first in the pack of dozens to try and beat train to next crossing. Alternatively: Decide at last minute after watching scores of people leave start point to head for their cars that it really is okay to chase a train on a motorcycle. Why the hell not? Run to motorcycle, put on helmet, and GO!
3) Look for steam on the horizon as biggest clue of train's present location. Go that way.
4) After what may be several *PWNs* by fast train or 10 miles of weaving down back country roads, finally beat train to crossing.
5) Get out of car (motorcycle), take pictures/video of train crossing.
6) If in car, repeat steps 1-5 until train reaches destination.

It seems silly, but I can't begin to describe how exhilarating it was. Maybe part of that is all of the other people doing the same thing. Anyhow, it was super fun and I hope to do it again someday.

In the video I took from my perch on the back of the bike, we are approaching the crossing. You can see a couple of cars in front of us and on the other side of the track. You can see my train geek boyfriend jumping off and leaving me in the dust to run up while simutaneously trying to wrench his camera from his pocket (HOT, there's nothing in the world like a nerdy boy). After the train goes by, you can see a woman beginning the run back to her car (there's also a man behind me who you can't see) to do it all over again.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Book Tag

“Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.”

A Tag from Dew(ed). She didn't actually tag me. She didn't actually tag anyone. I gave myself an invitation.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle- It was the first book I read cover to cover in a day and may, then, be directly responsible for my love of reading. I think I was in Fourth grade. My daughter has not finished it, she says she likes it but I think she's just aware of how much I liked it and doesn't want to "let me down." Maybe I'll steal it from her and re-read it and rediscover whatever it is that turned me into a reader.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald- When I read it in high school, I was in love with every word on every page. Now, it's nothing short of disappointing. Why do I include it if I don't like it? Books have infinite power, including reminding us how much we've changed. While the book gets me nostalgic for simpler times, I can also see an evolution of my preferences in writing.


To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee- Didn't like it in high school, don't know how anyone could not love it now. Maybe it took becoming a parent but the portraits painted of the characters in Ms. Lee's lone published novel encapusulate every trait we should strive to possess and all we should fight against. If I were to ever have another daughter, I would lobby heavily for the name "Nell."

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller- I've read it three times and liked it more each time. So laugh out loud funny and so sad at the same time. Hello, triumphant human spirit.

Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote- The most beautiful writing. Ever.

Devil in the White City by Erik Larson- The book that showed me that non-fiction doesn't have to be boring. Quite the contrary, it can be chilling and magnificent.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card- Orson Scott Card's foresight serves as a perfect backdrop for an amazing story that takes the good v. evil theme to depths most stories only touch on the surface.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley- The ultimate functionalist society. Chilling.

The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand- While I see holes in her philosophy that the 19 year old Melissa never did, these are two of the most important works of fiction ever written and every reader should read them, love her or hate her. Even if I don't embrace everything it means, Howard Roark will always be perfect to me.

The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck- It's hard to pick a favorite Steinbeck but this must be it. Ethan holds tight to values that will never get his family all that glitters. A very honest book.

And speaking of honesty,

Sonny's Blues by James Baldwin- A short story, maybe novella, actually. I dare you to read it and not want to finish it on the spot.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky- It took me a looong time to "get into" this book but I was so glad I did. Perhaps it's because I never tire of the good v. evil story and this had so many layers to it. Politics, society, self. It still makes me think.

Roll your eyes it you want to,

Harry Potter the entire series by J.K. Rowling- Unlike Ender, we got to see Harry experience some actual childhood, perhaps making it all the more bitter to see his youth compromised. The books are incredible and my only disappointment is how tidily everything was packaged up at the end. As an aside, the movies are likely the least disappointing reproductions of books ever. New movie in one week!!! Excuse me while I go touch myself.

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett- Actually a play but I've read my copy several times and struggle in public not to do so out loud. The dialog is musical. Never has a story of utter uselessness felt so good. If you like Samuel Beckett, YouTube "Play" with Alan Rickman. The whole thing is on there and I often forget to breathe when I'm watching it.

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger- My favorite Salinger, even more so than Catcher in the Rye. Great commentary on religion and, oh, how I fell in love with Zooey.