Saturday, March 21, 2009


John Kinsella: Is this heaven?
Ray Kinsella: No. It's Iowa.
-Field of Dreams

This isn't exactly what I had in mind.

When I went railroading, I went to Texas. And I loved it. The work was enjoyable and it allowed me to spend a lot of time outdoors and away from the computer. Even when I was at the computer, the sun streamed in through the bay window on the side of the depot where the office sits and trains passed maybe ten feet away. I worked with a great bunch of people. Many of them were old heads, veterans of the Missouri Pacific or Southern Pacific, with a sprinkling of Katy people and one refugee from the Rock Island. These men (and a couple of women) taught me a lot about life, about work, and about railroading. If I'm ever any kind of a railroader, it's because of them.

I would have been content to spend my whole career in Texas. I knew I'd be transferred, but I fully expected I'd be going to Houston, where we have a vast complex of yards and industrial trackage. What I didn't expect was to be offered a chance to transfer to the dispatching ranks. Nor did I expect to take it - but it's a good career move and in the current economy, it seemed like the way to go.

So now I sit in an open cubicle filled with computer screens in a windowless bunker in downtown Omaha, Nebraska.

As I said, this isn't exactly what I had in mind.

Don't get me wrong - the work is still interesting, the people are still good, and (a major plus) the hours are a lot shorter. And I like Omaha. I have a place just across the river in Council Bluffs, Iowa. It sits next to a golf course and gives me a great view of downtown. It reminds me in some respects of Fort Worth - it's relaxed, it has all the big city stuff but isn't so big that you feel lost, it's got a nice downtown area, there's a river, I have friends here. But in other ways it's very different from anywhere I've ever lived before.

I've traveled a lot, but I've always lived in the South, and I've never lived more than a couple of hours from the ocean. Until now, that is. See, I grew up with Southern drawls and tobacco fields in rural North Carolina; I've lived on the southern edge of the northeastern megalopolis, in a sleepy coastal city in Virginia, and in a small town in South Texas. Now I live in a Midwestern city smack-dab in the middle of the country, halfway between Chicago and Denver, a thousand miles from the nearest ocean, where the cornfields stretch off as far as the eye can see and the accents hint of Scandinavia rather than England. It's different.

I have lately had an acute urge to read Thomas Wolfe.

It's not a bad place to live, but I do feel a bit alien here at times. Maybe it's just because I'm still getting used to it. But it is so different from what I've been accustomed to that it's taking some adjustment. There is for me, who has always been close to the water, a sense of geographic isolation that comes from living so far from the sea. I am coastal, the Midwest is solidly terrestrial. It's different.

But it's not different in a bad way, and in some ways it's not very different very different at all. The people here have a lot of the same values as anywhere else in America - faith, family, hard work - that come from a rural heritage, albeit one of a different nature than the ones I knew. The commonalities are greater than the differences. Even so, I notice them.

Is this heaven? No. It's Iowa. But it'll do.


Anonymous Sunni said...

Hey, those Texans might've taught you about railroading but we're teaching you about parenting. :) Sort of.

11:51 AM  

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