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Waiting on a Train

September 21, 2022

Last Saturday, Thomas and I decided to take a short road trip. Our National Parks pass had expired, and we thought we'd drive to the Petrified Forest and purchase a new one. From there we headed to Holbrook, Arizona, for lunch. I-40 runs through the town, and it was/is part of historic Route 66. Holbrook has character. It also has only one road that crosses what used to be the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. As we were leaving town, the railroad crossing gates came down, and we were forced to wait.

We happened to be the lead vehicle, and I stopped before the cross road, not right up against the tracks. The train, a long one, had just begun moving. We were not worried as this is a busy crossing, and we expected the delay to be fairly short. Should we count the cars as they went by? The train was moving too slowly to sustain our interest in that, but we did read some of the graffiti on the cars and try to figure out what the cars were carrying. The train did not pick up enough speed to feel the force of it's movement in the ground beneath us. And then we noticed that the train was slowing. And it stopped. Before ... the ... last ... car ... had ... cleared ... the ... crossing....

I am generally an impatient person, and normally, something like this would make me crazy, but it didn't. Thomas, often anxious, stayed calm too. This was a road trip, and adventure is part of the experience. Thomas and I were a bit incredulous and curious though. Did the conductor not know he hadn't cleared the crossing? Was there a problem? Would he back up? A few days before this, a man in line in front of me at Circle K (I seriously spend too much time in Circle K - see previous blog entitled "A Little Depressing") announced, "I hate to be a prophet of doom, but you know that the railroads are going on strike tomorrow and 80% of goods are transported by rail? I'm just saying." Was this part of the strike? Were we trapped forever? (I was going for drama there.)

We rolled down the windows, turned off the car, kept the music playing, and waited. I watched the car behind us in my review mirror. Two women. At one point, the passenger had her bare feet up in the window. They laughed. Before long, they were on their phones. Soon, the passenger's face was angry. I stopped watching. Still later, they turned out of the line and went back into Holbrook. A car on the side road drove around the car in front of him and got in line in front us, right up against the crossing gate. After a time, he turned and left also. We could see cars lined up on the other side of the track. We knew we could turn around at any time, but home was across these tracks. We could see the way, but we couldn't get there.

Thomas and I began discussing our options. "If the train hasn't moved by 1:45, we'll turn around." "How far is it to Sanders? We can get on the Interstate and come home that way, but it will add an hour to our trip." "What if the train moves a minute after we leave?" At one point, the brakes on the visible train car disengaged. That gave us hope. Eventually, the last car began to move! The crossing bars went up, the lights stopped flashing. A few cars on side roads darted in front of us, but we were all on our way. The line on the other side of the tracks was loooonnnng. We were not sure we would be able to make the left-hand turn we would need to make to get home. But we did, and as we were headed back toward the Petrified Forest entrance, we realized that we could have traveled through the Park if we had entered from the north entrance. We noticed that we were back on the road by 1:42, so we didn't have to take a longer way home.

Thomas and I now have this shared adventure from our road trip. We've made reference to it a few times in the last few days.

And so I ask, "What do we do when we can't move forward? This delay was not caused by our actions. Where was the Conductor? What was He thinking? Didn't He know we were stuck? Where were the police? Didn't anyone care we were stuck here? Were we right to wait? What might we have experienced if we had gone another way?" We were in no danger. Waiting for the train was not life-changing, but maybe it could be, or was.

Note : The image below will be printed as a postcard in the near future. If you would like one, please let me know. And if you would like to see the 4-second video that Thomas took while we were waiting, the link is here.

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