It’s kind of like being in the shower for eight hours a day…

May 16, 2022, 8:16 PM

It’s interesting how jobs work sometimes.  As many of you know, I work as a train operator, operating a subway train in passenger service.  This is a job that I had imagined myself doing for a long time, and it still amazes me that I actually get to do it.  But no one ever tells you what the experience is like when you’re in the train cab all by yourself in a tunnel underneath the city.

When I was in class learning how to be a train operator, our instructor told us that it was an easy job, but that it was also a boring job.  However, all throughout training, an experienced operator is always in the cab with you, and as such, you’re never alone with your thoughts.  There is always someone nearby to interact with, plus, since you’re just learning the job, you’re thinking about the mechanics of the job a lot because it has not yet become second nature.  So that “boring” aspect never really comes into play.  Even in my case, where one of my instructors said that I was a natural in regards to my ability to operate the train, I still had to think a lot about what I was doing because I had not yet internalized it all.  It wasn’t just a matter of sitting down and going to town like it is for me now, six years later.  The mechanics of the job are pretty simple: fire up the train, move the master controller to control your speed, monitor the radio, scan the tracks for any hazards, make good announcements to the passengers, and open and close the doors at the stations.  It’s really not a hard job by any means.

Once you get comfortable in the job, and the movements come more naturally, that’s when you really get to experience what it’s like to operate a subway train.  And it’s also when you learn what your mind is capable of doing when it is left alone for long periods of time with minimal distractions.  It’s kind of like being in the shower, in that you are alone with a task to accomplish, and that task is all that there is to do while you’re in there.

It’s funny what I end up thinking about in that train cab.  Running through the list of presidents to pick out similarities between them is a favorite one of mine.  For what it’s worth, while “James” is the most common first name for US presidents, with Madison, Monroe, Polk, Buchanan, Garfield, and Carter’s all being named James (though Carter went by “Jimmy”), the second most common first name is a tie between “John” and “William” with four each (Adams, Quincy Adams, Tyler, and Kennedy for John, and Harrison, McKinley, Taft, and Clinton for William).  There’s also the question of whether to count two presidents as “Thomas” or just one, as Woodrow Wilson’s actual first name was Thomas, and Woodrow was his middle name.  Similarly, I have come to realize that I can’t name that many vice presidents that served prior to 1948.

I have also been known to sing songs in there, or mentally listen to music, playing out the tunes in my mind.  The Stokowski interpretation of “Night on Bald Mountain” (i.e. the version from Fantasia) is a favorite there, along with the Stokowski interpretation of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (also from Fantasia).  I also mentally play out a wide variety of show tunes in there, mostly from Today’s Special, but also from various other television shows and movies from the 1980s and 1990s.  The songs from the various Care Bears movies from the 1980s are another popular bunch with my brain.  I’ve also mentally played out some episodes of Today’s Special in my head.  I discovered 20 years ago that I had seen both “Our Story” episodes enough times that I actually have them memorized, and could conceivably do a one-man performance of both episodes if I really wanted to.

On the subject of music, though, one thing is torturous: getting a song stuck in your head in the train cab.  With no other distractions due to the environment of deep solitude in a train cab, a song stuck in your head has nothing to push it out.  So it will end up knocking around your head for hours. Imagine having “Forever Young” from Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation stuck in your head all day.  It happened.  Even worse when it’s a song that you don’t know all of the words to.  Then, I’m trying to figure out what the missing lyrics are in order to properly complete the song, but can’t look it up, so it ends up driving me up the wall.  And then when I have the opportunity to look it up once I’m off the train, I don’t, because then I’m distracted by other things.  Of course, not like I’d necessarily remember the missing lyrics anyway, so even if I looked it up, I’d likely be back to square one regardless.  It’s like how I discovered last week that I had been singing the Eastern Motors jingle wrong for the past seventeen years.  I thought it went, “Ford, Hyundai, Chevy, Beemers, and minivans,” but it actually goes, “Ford, Hondas, Chevy, Beemers, and minivans.”  Mind.  Blown.

The train is also where I do some of my best thinking.  The extended time alone with your thoughts allows time to sort through your feelings and such.  Sometimes it makes things worse, amplifying bad feelings, but other times it helps, such as helping me make peace with a situation, or working out a plan for a trip or something.  The train has a way of helping me mentally talk my way through things, and hopefully I can leave the cab in a better place than I was when I entered it (and I don’t mean New Carrollton).

Sometimes I end up mentally writing Journal entries and such while I’m on the train.  The “Crossing the line from punishment to just plain mean…” Journal entry originated as shower thoughts on the train, and then I realized that I needed to write it all out in order to make peace with it, which worked out pretty well.  My mother now understands exactly how awful that punishment was, and will probably never bring it up again – especially not with the misplaced sense of pride that she had about the whole affair.  That whole thought process came about innocently enough, and then got very deep.  I remember it was my first day doing a new line, and I was mentally recounting my old Lego buildings from childhood.  Growing up, my Lego creations were not so much specific things.  They were more of a continuous evolution, as I would constantly modify and change things.  I’d build something, reconfigure it, change it, expand it, modify it, and so on as my mood changed, or if I had gotten additional Legos to use.  It was always a work in progress.  I’d had the same Lego building in some form for a few years in elementary school.  It was a Ship of Theseus, really, since I had completely demolished and rebuilt the entire thing at various points in time, but since I never completely took it down and rebuilt it from scratch, I still considered it to be the same building, even though all of it had been redone at various points in time.  Then I got to the point in the timeline where Mom cleared out my room after she found a reason to carry out the punishment that she had been fantasizing over, which, when executed, included completely dismantling my Lego building.  As I recounted in the original entry, no two pieces were left connected when Mom was finished destroying all of my hard work.  That constituted a gap in the Lego timeline.  Recognizing that gap as I was going down the line brought back memories of that punishment and that time in my life, and I soon realized that I had a lot that I needed to say about certain things in order to work through it.  As far as the Lego timeline went, though, after mentally exploring the punishment and the fallout from that, as well as the circumstances in life that led to it, I went back to my mental recounting of my Lego creations, beginning with the new building that I built after I got my stuff back.  I had a few other gaps in my Lego timeline later on, but those were voluntary, such as when we moved to Virginia and I had to take my building apart because it couldn’t be transported whole by the movers, and there were a few complete demolitions and rebuilds when I decided that I needed to start fresh with a new design because I couldn’t do anything else with what I had.  The Lego timeline eventually did come to an end, because I found other ways to satisfy my creative needs, such as this website and then photography, and I eventually demolished my last Lego building because I no longer had any interest in Legos, and needed the space for something else.  But I’m still salty about that one gap in my Lego timeline, because it was done against my will, and was incredibly mean-spirited.

All in all, my mind never ceases to astonish me when it is left to its own devices.  Sometimes that’s a good thing, but sometimes it makes me crazy or causes me some level of distress.  But all in all, I don’t mind it, because I feel that I ultimately benefit from it.

Categories: Myself, Schumin Web meta, Work