Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Trained to Be a Big Jerk

You know who can be real jerks? Train drivers. I know--we used to call them engineers. But that was back when the guys who walk through the cars checking passenger tickets were called conductors. Now they are "train hosts." Besides, I'm not calling anyone an engineer unless he has some measure of human courtesy, or at least a scientific college degree.

Yesterday I had occasion to ride Utah Transit Authority's FrontRunner. This is Northern Utah's commuter train, which has been in operation since 2008 and earned a less than admirable safety record. I have ridden it many times before, although I don't ride on a regular basis.

I understand all about train safety. My father worked a long career as a railroad inspector, so we always had safety awareness paraphernalia around the house, and he often talked about how to be safe around trains. I love the Dumb Ways to Die video. (You have to watch all the way to the end for the video to make sense in this context.) I've always thought you have to be pretty stupid to get hit by a train because, as Larry the Cable Guy says, it aint gonna pop out from behind the bushes. It stays on those tracks right there. I tell you all this so you'll hopefully believe I am not someone who goes stumbling in front of speeding trains, tries to beat them through a crossing, or otherwise ignores their deadly potential.

As I was saying, I went to ride FrontRunner yesterday. I bought my ticket and then proceeded toward the boarding platform. There are two sets of tracks: one for northbound trains and one for southbound, with the boarding platform between them, where it can be used for trains on either side. The parking lot/bus terminal/ticket kiosk is across one set of tracks from the platform, and there is no footbridge or tunnel, therefore it is necessary to cross those tracks to get to the platform...

While I bought my ticket a train was pulling to a stop at the platform, bells ringing to signal its approach. By the time I walked from the kiosk to the track crossing, the bells had stopped, passengers had loaded/unloaded, and the bells started up again to indicate Mr. Train Driver was ready to get moving. I stopped short of the tracks and waited. Bells ringing. Train not budging. Waited some more. Still not moving. I looked at the driver. He looked back at me. Actually made eye contact. Still I waited. This went on for several seconds. I looked at him again, gestured with my hand, and made a face that I thought asked, "Well, can I cross?" He didn't do anything. I waited a few more seconds, then thought, I'm not going to stand here all day. So I crossed. And that's when he leaned on his air horn and immediately began moving. This was not a little courtesy honk to get my attention. He blared on that deafening horn for several seconds, so there could be no doubt that he's some kind of infallible god of the rails, and I--the little pee-on pedestrian--had crossed against the right of way.

Actual photo taken at the scene, minutes after the self-important, horn-happy jerk departed.

I'm not one to ever use vulgar gestures, but I really felt like showing this doofus two of my fingers (the middle one on each hand). As I made my way up the platform, he passed by in his Cab of Ultimate Power and Noise, giving me dirty looks. Here's what I wanted to tell him:

"Listen here, Mr. Grouchy-Pants. You guys like to point out that it's so important to be careful at crossings because a train weighs, like, 9000 tons and takes a mile and a half to stop. Well, guess what? It also takes a little while to get moving. Even if you stomp that throttle to the floor, it's going to be 5 or 10 seconds before you really get any speed. So, enough with the 'You stay out of my way!' attitude.

I crossed the tracks before you were even moving. I have never in my life walked/driven/bicycled/crawled/sat down for spot of tea in front of a moving train, and I wouldn't have stepped in front of your stationary one if you'd given any indication you were seriously ready to move. What's the big idea sitting there picking your nose while I wait, and then deciding to get underway as soon as I cross? Looking for justification to be the ornery cuss that you are, or an excuse to deafen someone with your horn?

I hope you get some tainted pastrami in your lunch and it makes your intestines derail five miles from the nearest stop."

For his ignorant behavior behind the wheel of that big, shiny UTA locomotive, this guy, whoever he is, wins a spot on The Bozo List.


  1. On the bright side, if you ever want to be late for work, just say you were on this guy's train...

    1. All I have to say is that my alarm didn't wake me because I'm deaf now.