Thursday, November 27, 2008

So Much for the Scary Speech

So my husband's been with a Class 1 Railroad for two and a half months. They said he'd be busy all the time. They said he'd never have free time. They said it would be horribly stressful. They said the motels he'd stay at would be terrible. So far none of it has been true. Everything has been better than the railroad said it would be. I imagine they just wanted to discourage the faint of heart and keep only the truly tough people.

So far, he has stayed at motels that are nicer than the ones we stay at on vacation. He has worked a lot. Several times he got the call to go to work in the middle of the night-- true. BUT today is Thanksgiving, and he's been home. I realize it won't always work out this way, there WILL be many special days when he won't be here, but even having him here now was not expected.

So far it is much better than his previous job as a tower climber.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Made His First Trip

So my husband's been going through all sorts of training. He's a hard worker and he hasn't been Mister-Too-Cool-To-Study at all. He's worked hard. After all that hard work he was anxious to get on the road, but pretty nervous at the same time. Sometime in the middle of his training, there was a mix-up and he was accidentally placed on the extra board. So you can imagine my surprise when one morning, while he's at the yard, I get an automated phone call telling him to report for train service!

I just about had a stroke. These railroads are big bureaucracies, and they have rules. One of the rules is that you have to be there in 90 minutes after they call you. Another rule is that they can fire you for anything in the first 120 days, with no questions asked. Another rule is that when you are a newbie you HAVE to go when they call you. Your attendance must be perfect.

SO when I got this call out of nowhere telling him he had to report for duty I did NOT know what to do. I was terrified that he'd get fired because of this mix-up. And even though we probably could get it straightened out, that wasn't the kind of stress he needed at this point of his career change process.

The message said that he could confirm his readiness to work by calling a certain number. I knew if I called that, then they would FOR SURE be expecting him to show up, which could really mess that train crew up. But I didn't want him to look like a dweeb in front of his classmates by having him paged at the freight yard (and who knows what the supervisors THERE would think of that.)

But the phone kept ringing and ringing. Every few minutes the railroad called again. I knew where he was at because I was with him when he mapped out his route on the computer. So I searched the Internet for the phone number of that freight yard (not an easy thing to find, this is not information that the railroad makes public). Somehow I found the number and I got a hold of someone at the freight yard.

I was so nervous that even calling would get him into trouble. So I explained the situation to the guy who answered the phone.

He said that sort of thing happens ALL THE TIME. "Welcome to railroad life," he said.

So a few days later, after finishing up his last class at the freight yard, my husband and his class were finally placed on the Extra Board.

My husband logged on with his company i.d. to get an idea of when his turn to work might come up.

But he wasn't on the extra board, and neither was anyone in his class!

So he waited... and waited... and then made some calls to find out if his class had been forgotten... and then finally it was all straightened out.

We expected his name to come up fairly quickly. After all-- they seemed to really need him when he was accidentally placed on the board the first time!

Slowly the names moved up the list. My husband logged on every couple of hours and watched his classmates get called to work.

"Well, John's been called," he'd say. Then he'd putter around the house. He fixed the toilet in the basement. "He's in his car right now, headed for the yard."

Then the sink broke.

He fixed that, too.

"Well, John's getting on the train about now," he said, under the sink.

A couple of hours later, he checked the board again. No movement. A couple of hours later, he popped his head in the kitchen. "Adam just got called! I'm number five now. I'm five out."

We made bets about when my husband would get the call.

He predicted midnight. I thought 3 am.

My husband tried to go to bed. By now he was two out. He looked like an expectant mother 10 days overdue. How could he sleep at a time like this?

So I dug through some boxes in the attic in search of a documentary that would lull him to sleep. My husband likes documentaries, but he can never stay awake through them. Their droning talking heads always put him to sleep. I finally offered him, "Journey to America: Pope John Paul II."

That did it.

I came to bed later that night and he was snoring.

The call came at 2:55 a.m.

I put a PBJ in his lunchbox and added a banana and and some peanut butter cups for good measure. Then I added a yogurt. One of those new kinds that you eat through a tube without a spoon. I worried he might get teased for this particular selection, but decided that I had to keep him healthy.

I snapped a picture of him on his way out. Somehow that seemed like the right thing to do.
How many people become railroad conductors at 50? It seemed kind of unceremonious. There should be some kind of a ceremony after all this work and schooling. Pilots have all sorts of traditions marking their milestones in their training.

I didn't go back to sleep. I did housework and then got my son off to school. I spent my whole day at work and then errands, and caring for my daughter, who is home-schooled. Then I had a round of evening meetings and activities for the kids. We got home at 10 pm. There was a message waiting from my husband.

I returned his call and he said that everything went well. He copied four track warrants and the conductor who was training him let him do everything, and very nicely stood right behind him, whispering directions when he got stuck.

The railroad put out a flag on the track shortly after they pulled out. A manager boarded the train for a pop inspection. They smelled their breath for alcohol. They checked their paperwork. They made sure that cellphones were turned off and in their grips (overnight bags).

They went about 160 miles with a about 130 freight cars, and it took them all day. They had to wait at one point because the rail was broken, and needed maintenance. Progress was slow and in the end they "died on the law" before they reached their destination. A taxi took them to their motel.

To his surprise, my husband found classmates at the same motel, checking in and out. They found time to chat in the lobby and share war stories about their first runs.

So, my husband is at the motel right now, waiting for his next call. I think he deserves this time away from our chaotic family life. I hope he watches a lot of t.v. and sleeps a lot, and enjoys the calm before the next run.