Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Confessions and Complaints (and the U.P. 844)

I'm irritated by everything right now. The rotten snow in the gutters, plowed piles lapsing and leaking in the corners of parking lots like the Wicked Witch of the West puddling in full shrieking death throes. The rotting vegetation from last fall. Every new book I pick up. The inexplicable grind of Puck's 3rd gear, which will be diagnosed next Monday. (Our tally since San Diego is over 18,000 miles. How did that happen?)

Easter was lovely, as lovely as any holiday has been in a long time. Christmas was hell; Easter was nice. It started with an unexpected phone call from one of my favorite cousins, who lives not quite two hours away (in Wyoming, we measure distance in time). He had been awakened in the night by a rare and exciting sound, the throaty moan and inimitable rhythm of a famous 1944 Union Pacific steam engine chugging and huffing through the sandstone canyon his home and his grandparents' and uncles' homes share with Interstate 80 and the Union Pacific railroad tracks. The sounds of trains echo from the rock day and night, interrupting conversations, lulling one to sleep. But this noise was different, and even in his dreams he knew it.

He met Steam Engine 844 leaving the yard in the city nearby and followed it to another railroad town farther up the line, and up the freeway beyond, when he called me and told me it was coming; he couldn't keep up. Jeff and I took up the watch from the back porch of the plant, where in just over two hours we saw it come around the bend from the south as the sun broke through the clouds, chugging along beside the river, belching a solid white cloud, and even in the distance it was obviously black, massive, and glittering. I had tipped off Morgan and Cordale (I was too early, but they were game) and didn't intend to go downtown to see it stop behind the Depot, but Jeff gave me a knowing look and sent me along. I turned onto Highway 150 just in time to race it along the river behind the State Hospital, under the freeway, catching glimpses of its black iron bulk and following the puffs of steam, and as 150 turned into Front Street I found myself right next to the hulking, barreling thing, merely 100 yards away, and I screamed.

My erratic driving attracted a carload of Utahns, who followed me to the Depot, where the train stopped with a graceful abruptness behind the Union Pacific shop; people were already gathering. I can't tell you why steam engines make me giddy. Regular diesel engines make me smile, but this wheezing behemoth, 900,000-plus pounds (that's 450 tons) and almost 115 feet long with tender, makes me crazy. It shoots flames from its sides, pours condensation from its boiling belly, sparking and hissing, and its flat, round nose is adorned with a little golden glowing lamp and a chiming brass bell that seem ridiculously dainty on that giant black mass of a train. The piston rod that turns its 80-inch driving wheels must be about ten inches in diameter, and every inch of the U.P.'s ambassador of goodwill, which lives in Cheyenne, is painted, polished, and spotless.

I was thinking afterward how much Dad would have enjoyed those few minutes basking in the shadow of that great machine -- which was lubed, watered, and panting noisily off after what seemed like just minutes, unexpectedly wailing with a force that made Morgan and I yelp and duck -- and then I remembered again (I had thought of it earlier in the week) that April 12th means he's been gone for four years already. Some days it feels like forever; others only a short while. Cordale certainly enjoyed the 844, proclaiming it the best Easter present ever. And I am so grateful that even at nearly 15 years old, he is charmingly enthusiastic about many things other teens are forced by that characteristic false apathy to pretend to ignore. Except for being an expert on everything, our boy is deliciously unaffected.

If you live nearby and want to meet the U.P. 844, it's scheduled to come through again -- and stop as briefly -- on May 11th between 10:30 and 11:00 a.m.

We had moose roast for Easter instead of ham; we're all tired of ham. Mom and June came and we toured the camper with the cool spring breeze blowing in the windows, erasing the mustiness of a winter spent shut up in the backyard, buried in snow.

I am both hostile and lonely these days, busy and yet accomplishing what seems like very little. I feel trapped and hopeless. If the plague of the day is not politics and the economy, it's work or my fellow tenants (who finally started picking up after their dogs but insist on tossing the waste loose into the dumpster). Or an unappetizing baby carrot hideously gnarled with false joints like a knobby orange finger. (Why do I eat those? They don't even taste like carrots.) Three days in San Diego felt like stolen bliss, except for the hour I spent at the hospital, but that's a story for another day. When I got home after my 13-hour drive I stepped out of the car into six inches of fresh snow. In my flip-flops. The snow was gone before I could even ski on it.

I didn't have time to get my camera, but Morgan brought hers, so I will have photos of 844 shortly. And maybe a better attitude. Or some good news. Or something. Anything but this dreary, muddy, uninspiring moment between miracles. I just have to get through today.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Taylor said...

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April 16, 2009 at 1:39 PM  
Blogger A said...

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April 16, 2009 at 5:35 PM  

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