Whistle Stop

September 12, 2007

The new neighborhood that Sibylle and I have moved into is bounded on the east by a pair of railroad tracks, and on the west side by the terminus of a relatively busy state highway.

The highway is slightly noticeable at certain times of the day; the dull hum of tires on pavement can be faintly heard in the background when all else is quiet. The railroad tracks are another story entirely.

The tracks are, apparently, one of the major lines into or out of Kansas City. The parade of trains in either direction is endless. During the daytime you hear the whistle during the approach to one of the nearby crossings, but otherwise you are unaware of the train. At night, the carrying power of the whistle really shines. The distance measuring tool on Google Maps shows that we are approximately 2430 feet from the nearest crossing, and yet the train whistle at times sounds like it is in the backyard. One memorable whistle neatly mimicked the duh-DUH theme used for the shark in Jaws.

We've been in the townhouse for about 5 weeks now, and I am slowly getting used to the nightly whistle parade as one train after another makes its way north or south past our neighborhood. Most nights I sleep undisturbed by the wailing two-tone note or by the deep rumble of the engine as it dopplers past our windows. The past two nights have been slightly different, however. The temperatures have been low enough to warrant open windows at night. I have new respect for the sound insulation properties of our windows as a result. The volume of the train in the middle of the night is significantly louder without the few millimeters of glass in the way. I am still able to sleep, but when I am going to sleep, or happen to be awake in the night, the whistle is amazing loud.

To be fair, the apartment we just moved out of had the world's air circulation fan. When either the A/C or the heat was on, the start of the cycle was announced by a tremendously loud metallic crash - almost as if someone had kicked open a metal door. The fan itself was loud enough to drown out the television or stereo unless the volume was turned up. The first few weeks in that apartment, the start of the heating or cooling cycle woke me up every time. The trains only startle me occasionally.

I can't imagine what it is like for the poor souls who live mere feet from the tracks.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.