The Train Whistle

I think there's a freight train in the middle of the night. I think I have read that somewhere, maybe in the local weekly, in one of the stories about the high school kids. Because sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night and I hear the train whistle, I think it's too early for the commuter runs to have begun.

The commuter runs begin at 5 am, I think, so if I'm awake and I hear the train, but the sky is still dark, it may, I think, be 5 am, and I can go back to sleep for an hour or two. At breakfast time they come closer together. They whistle because there is a series of level crossings, a couple in each suburban town along the tracks, north to San Francisco or south to St Jose. Then they are more spaced out during the day, then around dinner time, it's almost constant train whistle for an hour or two. They whistle to warn they are there, to try and keep cars off the tracks at the level crossings, which is not always possible, even if the barriers come down, which they always do. There are also warning signs: do not stop on the tracks! But I imagine that in rush hour, when the cars are bumper to bumper heading for the highways north and south out of Silicon Valley, and the drivers are inching along, maybe reading their phones, one might get stuck. 

There is a bike path along the tracks behind the health center, the shopping center, the high school. I ride on it a couple of times a day and sometimes the trains rushes past. It is a huge dinosaur of a train, like a train from another epoch, almost science fictional, compared with the sleek trains in Europe or, I imagine, Japan.

The whistles remind me of train stations in Canada, where one got on board in Vancouver and got off one day later in the Rockies (Jasper, Banff) two days later in Saskatoon, three days later in Toronto or Montreal, having seen lots of mountains, wheat, grain elevators, but not many houses or cities or people.  Sometimes a cow got on the tracks.  Once, when I was about twenty and travelling by myself to Quebec City for a French immersion summer school, a white-haired man took an interest in me and tried to kiss me on the train. A train trip was never something you did for an hour or two as in France or England. So, still, when I hear the train whistle, I think of going on long trips. The man had very pink skin and very fine white hair, as I recall.