Until I moved to the Spokane Valley, I had never faced something so unpredictable on the road. I am talking about something that could immediately dash your prospects of showing up to a place on time or nullifying the promise you made your wife to be home in 15 minutes. It is something that renders you powerless and frustrated. I am not talking about snow, road construction, or traffic accidents. Nah, this is something completely different…
I am talking about trains.
Since moving to the Spokane Valley three years ago, I am not exaggerating when I say I have been stopped hundreds of times by trains. Not that railroad tracks suddenly popped up when we moved west to conspire against us. Spokane is an old railroad town and tracks used to crisscross pretty much everywhere in this area, especially in the valley where we live.
With that said, it has been an adjustment as I had personally not faced the possibility of being stopped at a train crossing for well over 10 years prior to moving here. Even growing up in Spokane, it was a blue moon when a train impeded our progress. In fact, it was a novelty that gleefully attracted my attention enough to carefully count every car attached to the train. That enthusiasm has since waned.
Now, when the red flights flash and the train crossing gate goes down, I might utter a word I usually try to avoid. You might think an extra five minutes (at least) to scroll through my phone as the train passes could be a good thing but not when you have somewhere to be. Nothing is more infuriating than when you are already short of time but manage to make all the lights and avoid heavy Spokane traffic only to have a train wipe out your efforts. The simple text message comprised of just one word (train) is understood by all Spokanites that you are going to be late.
Not all train situations are equally damning. Although you are lucky if it is just your typical five-minute wait, delays can extend far beyond that. Some trains are longer. Some trains are slower. Some trains will decide to nearly pass through only to inexplicably stop…and then go in reverse. The cruelty.
Sophisticated planners will allot more time for travel or use detours but it isn’t always that simple. Our family doesn’t always have the luxury of leaving the house 10 minutes early and not all roads lead to Rome. Despite best intentions, sometimes the best we can do is to leave the house on time and cross our fingers that we won’t encounter a train on a route that is dotted with train tracks. Luck isn’t always on our side.
Of course I know this is a first world problem. Perhaps I should emphasize more with the train. It is undoubtedly delivering goods in a society crippled by supply chain issues. But it is easier said than done. Needless to say, gliding through a train crossing just as the gate begins to close is one of the sweetest feelings in the world. Don’t Blink.