Trains are massive, powerful and move all kinds of stuff across this city and region. We’ve all been stuck in our vehicles while waiting for one to ramble across the road we’re traveling. Most of us complain about it because in many cases they seem to be moving at a pace slower than we can walk. Sitting on a bicycle at one of the crossings is a much different experience than waiting in a car at a crossing.
Being so close to these monsters of commerce, one of the first things I’ve noticed is the sheer size and variety of cars that make up a train. We’ve all seen them passing by, but probably haven’t looked closely at what makes up a train. There are vandal-proof stainless steel sided cars that protect the autos they are carrying, as well as cars stacked with auto parts on their way to some manufacturing facility on Mack Avenue. You’ll also see tankers on their way to a downriver refinery carrying liquids with hazardous material signs attached, rusty open top cars, brown box cars and those carrying passengers. Many have been tagged by graffiti artists, which begs the question, who tagged these cars and where? Did some artists slip into a train yard in Phoenix or Kansas City and after many hook-ups, their art finally made it to a Detroit neighborhood? Or were they tagged in a rail yard near Flint? It does make me wonder.
The sounds of a train are incredible when next to one. I noticed the variety of sounds they generate a couple of days ago when I rode my bike to the Michigan Central Railway Tunnel entrance that runs under the Detroit River to Windsor. I was able to get quite close to a freight train pulling a hundred plus cars that was making its way into the tunnel to Canada. The initial horn blasts from the lead engine was deafening. Those blasts were followed closely by the constant hum of the steel wheels riding on the steel tracks. There’s also the endless clicking noise as the wheels hit the seams where the rail sections meet each other. Mix in the rich, squeaking sounds of the shifting cars and you have a symphony built around commerce. Quite an experience.
As I Lay Dying
I just finished reading As I Lay Dying, a 1930 novel written by William Faulkner, and I’m not sure what I read. The book is relatively short and lean by Faulkner standards. It follows a family’s journey from a small Mississippi farm to the county seat where the family matriarch, Addie, wishes to be buried upon her death. The book is written from the point of view of fifteen assorted family members and acquaintances, each having dedicated chapters throughout. Faulkner describes Addie’s last days, how family members construct her casket, place her in it and load it on a wagon hooked up to mules. The loaded wagon, manned by her husband and children, strike out across the county to the county seat for her burial. The trip took about nine days and along the way they struggled with many obstacles such as a flooded river crossing where they lose the mules, a son’s broken leg and a fire in a barn where the casket was stored for a night.
Although the chapters were short, many seemed to ramble. Others seemed unrelated to the story, which was a bit confusing. I’d reread certain chapters a couple of times to help me understand what was going on, and yet I was still often perplexed. After completing the book, I did a little research and found that this book is important because it is one of the first ever written using a “stream-of-consciousness” narrative. Basically, a story written from fifteen view points. That explained a lot. I was also surprised that this book is frequently ranked among the best 20th century novels. I’m not sure I agree, but I haven’t read many stream-of-conscious novels, and I assume the ranking is based on this writing style.