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Times, and How We Tell Time, Change
I got stuck at a railroad crossing the other day, waiting with about a dozen other cars and trucks while a long freight train rolled by, and I was struck by something:
It’s been 20 years or more since they went out of service, but trains still don’t look right to me without cabooses. Cabeese. Whatever.
You’re sitting there, counting the freight cars (an old habit from kidhood), and all of a sudden the train just ends. It seems incomplete and abrupt and wrong, like a sentence without a period. Or when the film broke in science class, just as the narrator was about to explain photosynthesis, and the screen went blank and the lights came back on and you sat there blinking and well, on second thought it wasn’t like that at all. Let’s just go with the sentencewithout-a-period comparison.
There’s a reason trains are cabooseless these days. And while I certainly understand the railroads’ rationale for eliminating cabeese (Cabice?) as rolling dens of inefficiency that, in the modern era, tended to cause more problems than they solved, I must say they brought a certain charm to a train that you certainly don’t get from squealing gondolas or graffiti-covered boxcars.
Oh well. Things change. This was brought to mind when the FRED went by. FRED, for those who wonder about such things, is short for Flashing Rear End Device. It’s the gizmo on the back of the train that sends signals to a device in the locomotive cab known as the Wilma. Which doesn’t stand for anything, but proves that there are a few Flintstones watchers working on the railroad, presumably all the livelong day.
Anyway, I checked my wristwatch to see how much time had elapsed and was reminded that wristwatches are disappearing, too. They’ve not yet gone the way of the caboose, but they are in decline. Watch sales were off by something like 18 percent last year. The culprits are cell phones, which tell the correct time if you always keep them charged and handy. Which are two reasons why I continue to wear a wristwatch.
The main reason, though, is simply that I prefer it. I find it more convenient to glance at my watch for the time, rather than digging through my pockets to find my phone (assuming I brought it with me, and that it’s charged).
Besides, watches are multi-taskers, too. Granted, they’re not on the level of today’s phones, which also take photos, get your e-mail, play videos, remind you of appointments, do your taxes and walk the dog. But if you carry only a cell phone, you’ll never have that watchshaped band of white skin around your wrist to let you know how much sun you’re getting.
My grandfather carried a pocket watch. You don’t see a lot of men toting those around anymore, but they’re still available and will be for a while, I suspect. Same goes for the wristwatch. I think it will still be around for a good long while.
And as for cabooses and cabeeses, they’re around too. Last time I visited Connersville, the Whitewater Valley Railroad (a rolling railroad museum) was up to its caboose in cabooses. They were even running trains made up of nothing but a locomotive and a flock of cabeese -- no Freds or Wilmas.
For a guy who misses the caboose at the end of a train, that calls for a yabba-dabba-do.
© 2007 Mike Redmond. All Rights Reserved.
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