No, this isn’t the title of the new Big Bang Theory episode (although it would be an excellent Sheldon-centered episode title). Rather, it’s the presentation of my newest personality scale. Some of you may remember The Sidewalk Penny Personality Test from last February. (Some of you have even contacted me to say that you’ve tried it. I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you that gluing the penny to the sidewalk, while funny, is also sadistic in these trying economic times. You know who you are.)
This week, I’m unveiling a scale that will help determine the level of apathy in your neighborhood freight train engineer. This scale comes from two and a half months of exhaustive research (literally, as I live 200 yards from a 24-hour active train track). Somewhere in the second month, I made an interesting discovery. There exists a wide range of train horn blowing behaviors, but along this continuum are five discreet spots. The noises of all passing trains can be associated with one of these types, implying that train engineers are somewhat more predictable than I previously assumed (you know, from my previously vast stores of train-related knowledge). Those who live near a train track will hopefully enjoy this new personality tool, while those who do not live near a train track will at least enjoy the knowledge that their ears are safer than mine.
Without further ado: The Freight Train Engineer Horn Continuum
- The Early Warner- This an anxious sort of engineer. He’ll hit the horn at every crossing, but he’ll also let you know that the train is approaching from 2 miles out, 1 mile out, ¾ mile out, ½ mile out, ¼ mile out, at each intersection, and then at the same intervals as the train is receding into the distance, just in case you were planning to jump out in front of the last few cars. Most often heard during the pre-dawn hours, this engineer makes most residents of my complex want to hurl Prozac tablets at the tracks.
- The Safety First- Related to the Early Warner, but with slightly higher levels of serotonin, this engineer is either new on the job or swallowed the rule book. He blows the horn at every intersection at precisely the right interval for precisely the right number of seconds. With four crossings within a half mile of my dwelling, this means four insistent blasts, plus the three or four extra blasts thrown in for good measure. After all, better safe than sorry, and no one should really be sleeping past 8 am on a Saturday anyway.
- The Doppler- This engineer hits the horn 500 yards from the first intersection and doesn’t let go until the train is out of sight of the last one. This provides a prime example of the Doppler Effect, as everyone within a half mile gets to hear the sound waves approach, reach maximum volume, and recede. The Doppler engineers seem to favor the mid-day routes, which means that from 10 am to 3 pm, it’s science time.
- The Every Man For Himself- This engineer is just a few routes past the point of caring. He’s been on the job for too many years and seen too many crossing jumpers. He hits the horn once at the proper distance, and then you’d better not ignore the flashing crossing lights because you’re not going to get a second warning. This engineer often has the night routes, when anyone stupid enough ignore a crossing sign and be on the tracks probably deserves a near-death experience.
- The Menace- Once the Every Man For Himself engineer, this engineer has been stuck on the midnight route for far too long. Inhabited areas at 3 am are his delight, and nothing brings him more joy than hitting the horn at just the right moment so that the sound waves reverberate all along the building. If he can startle more than 50 residents out of a sound sleep with a single horn blast, it’s a good night.
And there you have it- a five-point scale of freight train engineer personalities. Feel free to reference this guide the next time you find yourself near a train track. If you’re unfortunate enough to live near an active track, let me know which types of engineers frequent your area. In the meantime, I’ll be researching noise cancelling headphones.