Tuesday, January 8, 2008

On Chasing Unicorns

If there's anything I've learned while chasing trains hither and yon for just that perfect photo it's that Things Don't Always Go The Way You Want.

It's as simple as that. Fact of life. Stone cold reality.

When you're standing in just the right place in that perfect curve with the camera ready and the sun off your shoulder at the perfect height and you hear that airhorn sound, well, chances are pretty fair that the switch will click and that huge lumbering GEVO still in it's sea blue and grass green "Green Tech" paint scheme will be going down the track away from you and your perfect spot and your careful planning.

There'll come a day when you've got perfect weather, the perfect bridge to shoot and all you need is a train to come rumbling up the incline to the huge rusty red steel trusses...and you wait all day shooting birds flying over and the grass around your feet and the bridge span, which spends the entire day being tantalizingly empty.

Then there's the day when you're off, the weather has turned unaccountably perfect, and you've been monitoring the trainspotter email group you compulsively check for news of something cool, and you find it. Your unicorn. The set of engines that you desperately wanted to photograph at the Meridian Rail Fest last November, but couldn't afford to attend. The KCS Southern Belle F-units that haul the KCS VIPs around in those beautiful black passenger cars. The F-units that everyone else took beautiful photos of, and video footage of, and went on and on about.

The KCS Business Train, you read on the email group, is going to pass right through your neck of the woods. Half an hour away at Latanier yard the VIP express, pulled by those beautiful old F-units is going to stop for a recrew en route to New Orleans for the LSU game. The email group is telling you that the crew is supposed to meet the train there at 1 o'clock in the afternoon, and that there's usually an hour change-over time, no rush. You get your gear ready, hop on your bike and drive down there to meet it. Arriving at 12:30, in plenty of time you think, you look--and no train. You wait a few minutes, looking up and down the tracks--no lights, no traffic. So, you cruise gently into the yard to ask someone there at dispatch where it is, and you meet a really nice brakeman in the yard who tells you with a glowing smile that it left not ten minutes ago, but he really wants to show you the photos he took of it on his Treo' phone.

After he's done telling you how beautiful it is and how it glowed in the sun you tell him thank you and go haring off after it, pushing the speed limit hard, hoping desperately to catch a glimpse of that last passenger car, the one with the huge back glass window.

But you don't see it.

That evening the group goes on and on about how beautiful it was, how phone calls were made so most of the 300 person email group could meet in New Orleans to photograph and video and watch it pass, and how beautiful it was, and all you can do is grit your teeth and grumble over the gorgeous photos and videos everyone else is posting.

But patience is a virtue, and sometimes, sometimes things work out right.

Sometimes you call in sick to the job you've grown to hate so you can go job hunting and you find out it's a waste of time; you could have done it all from home. But you're a big boy, and the deceitful email group is telling you that the business train is headed back your way, that it left Baton Rouge at 10 am. Being you, and even though it's a dark and overcast day you buck up and decide to try and catch the unicorn again. To keep from having your hopes dashed again you decide that this time you'll be happy if you simply manage to clap eyes on it, because it's certainly not going to be a good photography day, what with a 60% chance of rain.

Funny, it was raining the last time you saw the Business Train's cars; that time it was pulled by a new diesel SD70ACe in the right colours, but no, somehow it's not nearly the same. You wonder about your luck.

Sometimes you find out that you're not late for the meeting at Latanier but most of an hour early. So, you find a nice place up the road and you wait and smoke a pipe and wonder what it must have been like to travel that way; rolling along in comfort, the clack of the steel wheels on rails and the soft murmur of conversation in your ears, the light of the day shining down from the huge glass dome of the observation car.

And then...you see it. You really see it. It turns the last curve in the track and it's bearing down on you, three V-16 diesels rumbling through the suddenly not-so dark day.

You see your unicorn and you chase it through the lightly blowing rain like a grinning madman who went out in the sun without his hat once too often. You exceed the speed limit in a desperate attempt to catch up to it again and you take photos out of the car window as it gracefully runs along it's track, and you ignore the mere mortals behind you who are wondering why you're pacing a fifty year old train at 40 miles an hour on an otherwise wide-open highway.

And even though you lose your 'perfect' shot because the rain finally DOES arrive you still get five or six that make your heart feel tight behind your ribs and it makes you want to shout and laugh and leap around because the unicorn is just




And the wait just makes it better.

post scriptum: The full set of photos will be on Flickr hopefully tomorrow evening, with a guest pass linked here for your viewing enjoyment. I posted this now because I wanted to capture my own glow. *g*

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Blogger Nancy Dancehall said...

Here's to unicorns. :-)

January 10, 2008 at 5:18 PM  
Blogger Irrelephant said...

Hear hear!

January 11, 2008 at 4:47 PM  
Blogger Clowncar said...

Nice. Just discovered your second blog today.

Love how you intercut the narrative and the pix there at the end.

And, yes, the unicorn references rock! With 2 small daughters in the house, we have quite the unicorn cult going on in our house.

January 16, 2008 at 3:11 PM  

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