Sittin’ by the track of the train, wastin’ time

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 27, 2001

Do tornadoes really sound like freight trains? I hope not, because if they do, how are we in Albert Lea going to know one’s coming?&t;!—-&t;.

Sunday, May 27, 2001

Do tornadoes really sound like freight trains? I hope not, because if they do, how are we in Albert Lea going to know one’s coming?

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The sound of trains is so common around here that it’s just part of the everyday ear fodder out in the streets and neighborhoods. That’s right, we’ve got the laughter of children, the chirping of birds, and the rumble of freight trains.

It doesn’t take a newcomer long to learn that sitting in a line of cars while a train goes by is part of life in Albert Lea. Some would call this inconvenience, but that’s not the Albert Lea way. It’s better to find activities to make your train-waiting time productive and fulfilling.

First, I’ll look at ways to use your train time to get something done, instead of just letting your eyes glaze over and your tongue hang out while you wait:

— On your way back from the grocery store? Perfect! You don’t have to wait until you get home to start dinner. Store a few mixing bowls, a cutting board, knives and spatulas under your car seat, and that 10 minutes by the railroad track can give you a good jump on your cooking. Take that green pepper out of the bag and dice it up, or crack those eggs into a mixing bowl and start your cake batter.

— Busy people sometimes forget to take care of their vehicles. Why not use your train time to get out and check the tire pressure? Maybe pull out the old oil dipstick? Heck, why stop there? You may as well check all your fluids, top off the windshield washer fluid, and if it’s winter, grab a snowball and clean off your rear window. If you plan ahead and store some spark plugs and air filters in your trunk, you can get an entire tune-up done before the train passes. This will free up valuable time, which you can use to put off other chores.

— Have you been working late? Kids keeping you up at night? Well, sitting in your car is a perfect time to catch a few winks. You can bring a pillow, or just lean your head on the steering wheel and doze off. I’m sure drivers behind you would be glad to blare their horns to wake you up once the train is gone.

Besides saving time, you can do a few things you’ve always wanted to try, but have never gotten around to:

— Be a better citizen. It could be as simple as putting the car in park, getting out, and picking up some trash by the road. If you’re stuck at the tracks near Broadway and Front, you could hike up the hill to the courthouse and catch a couple hours of the county board meeting. If it’s November, you could go vote.

— Write a letter to the editor. For some reason, sitting in traffic on a 95-degree day gets people’s ire up. It’s a perfect time to vent your frustration in a letter for all to read. Drawback: If everybody took that advice, we’d need a couple extra editorial pages.

— Do something about Main Street. If you were stuck on a detour route during a recent closure, like on Front or Garfield streets, you were probably doubly frustrated about the train. Why not get out of the car and go help the nice workers finish up that Main Street bridge? If flooding is the problem, get some sandbags and start damming. Maybe if we all pitch in, we can go a couple of weeks without having that street closed.

If none of those suit you, try using technology to make your wait easier:

— We keep hearing about laws that would prohibit drivers from talking on cell phones. Well, when you’re watching boxcar after boxcar crawl by, it’s perfectly safe. Get out the Motorola and have a nice chat.

— Is the train making you late for work? With a laptop computer, you could actually telecommute from your car. From letters, to reports, to spreadsheets, to PowerPoint presentations, you can make your Buick a mobile office. Even if you don’t punch the clock at 9 a.m., you can tell the boss you were being productive on the way to work. For students, this is also a great way to finish homework assignments.

— With the advent of the mobile Internet, you could surf the Web while you wait. Look up sports scores, participate in compelling chats, order books or even check for the latest news. These days, being stuck in the car doesn’t mean being cut off from the world.

This leads me to perhaps the best suggestion of all: Use the time to ponder the quirks of technology. You can read the Bankok newspaper online from your car, but they still haven’t improved upon the train, a machine that’s been hauling stuff and blocking traffic since there was traffic to block.

Dylan Belden is the Tribune’s managing editor. His column appears Sundays. E-mail him at