A walk to work (2007-01-19)

I’m going to go out for drinks after work, and then who knows what, so I decide to walk rather than bike — I don’t want to have to worry about the bike’s whereabouts. The wind is also 20-25 miles per hour, with gusts of up to 45. I’d rather not be knocked over while riding. Rather than my usual mountain bike shoes with cleats, I lace up my running shoes. My walking shoes live at work, you see.

It’s getting rather cold here, and I’m afraid that combined with the wind, the temperatures might make my ears hurt, so I bring my headband. I put on my jacket, slip my iPod on the pocket, and step out the front door, locking it behind me.

I look south, to the people waiting for the bus along North Avenue, to the KFC that’s still closed at this hour. Morning commuters rush down St.Paul in front of me, mostly cars with the occasional bicyclist interloper. Typically my bike ride takes me up Charles Street, but there’s a clinic there where I’ve gathered that people go for free psychiatric treatment. At this time of the morning, there will be a lot of them on the sidewalk. I decide to walk up St.Paul instead, at least until I get to 25th street, beyond the clinic.

The walk up is uneventful. Once I pass Safeway and reach 25th street, I turn toward Charles. Reaching it, I cross 25th and then continue to head north toward campus.

I hear a loud rumble and the earth shakes.

This has happened to me before. The first time, I thought it was a stampede of people (from where?) or a huge truck coming up the road. However, by this time I know that it’s a train passing underneath the street. When I’m racing down St.Paul on my bicycle, I never have more than a few seconds to look over at it before I’m past, and I should watch traffic anyway. However, today I am on foot, so I amble over through an overgrown parking lot full of litter, and look through the wrought iron fence.

The train runs beneath the streets for several hundred feet in either direction, but here I am able to peer down into a one-block-long skylight, a gap where the train can breathe, only about three times its width. Car after car rolls directly beneath me, and some part of me entertains the (self-destructive) thought of trying to hop the fence and catch a ride on the train.

I’d probably break my leg falling, just before my head smacked into the top of the tunnel.

Instead, I just watch. Many of the cars are refrigerated. I wonder how they are powered? I look for indications that they draw from dynamos on the wheels, but am unable to see from my perspective. Perhaps they carry gasoline and generators. Regardless, they have “Satellite controlled module” written on them, and I imagine these cars rolling across the western plains, open to the sky and able to receive commands from someone in a far-off control center. They don’t seem to have dishes of any kind. I wonder how they get the signal.

I watch, and watch, and recall that trains can be as long as three miles. I wonder if I have enough time to watch three miles of train roll through at that speed. I don’t wonder long, because shortly thereafter the last car rolled away, and I carried on toward lab.

On reaching campus, my road forks. There is a building, called Garland Hall around which I must walk. We also walk around one side or the other of this building every day on the way to lunch. It has a raised, walled off apron around it with an opening on either end. These openings are not in the middle on either side, and so I’ve always wondered whether it’s the same distance around either way.

I start pacing from one entrance around using my marching band steps (consistently eight steps to five yards). I don’t count the sides of the building, because the path is the same length on either side. In the end, I find out that one way is 15 yards longer. Now, if I’m in a hurry, I take the shorter way.

Sometimes, though, it’s nice to take the long way to work.