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I was on the road in the dark the other morning, something I do less and less as the years go by.

I drove by a neighbor’s house. She’s a teacher and I saw the light was on in the garage, although she hadn’t yet left. Not a bad time to leave for work this time of year, but it’s going to get darker and colder from here on out. My mom was a teacher, too, and made a 30-minute drive each school day for twenty-three years. My wife had a shorter commute, but a longer run. As for me, for most of my life my workday started, and still does, a minute after my feet hit the floor, with about a ten-foot commute.

I drove ten miles before I saw another set of headlights. I checked the time and direction, and figured it was someone hurrying to punch in before the shift change at a local manufacturing plant. Soon there was a widely scattered stream of cars headed the same direction. Recently, I read the average commute in the United States is now about thirty minutes. Where we live, thirty minutes is thirty miles, or more, which leads to a lot of headlights in the dark, headed in different directions.

At 6:55, I met a school bus headed for its first pickup. That seems early for getting kids up and about, but they cover a lot of miles between households where children live, so it can take a while. The first year after our daughter and her family moved back to the area, they lived with us while they were house hunting. The kids were pretty good about getting up for the bus, but the littlest guy often had to be carried off the bus, sound asleep, in the evening.

It was a foggy morning. About an hour north of our farm are ten giant wind turbines. On this morning, the fog completely obscured the supports, so all I could see were the massive blades, gently turning, hanging in midair. I imagine if they were directly outside my living room window, I might tire of the view, but in the misty fog, they were a strange and lovely sight.

Up ahead I saw a long train blocking the road. Just before the crossing was a convenience store, so I decided to run in for a cup of coffee and a doughnut instead of waiting in line. A strategic use of time, I thought, but when I came back out the crossing was blocked by a train chugging along in the opposite direction. This time, I was first in line and entertained myself by reading the graffiti and labels on the train cars. A few were loaded with liquified natural gas, and I smiled when I remembered another train crossing where there was a long sequence of cars loaded with sulfuric acid and chlorine. To kill time, I called my sister, a public health nurse who’d worked in the Department of Emergency Management, and asked her how much trouble I’d be in if the train derailed.

She said, “Oh baby, if that train derails, your problems are over.” Not exactly the answer I wanted to hear, but solid information, nonetheless.

The train cleared the crossing and I pulled into conference center parking lot five minutes before my first meeting. The trains kept me from getting there as quickly as I wanted, but I was ahead by a cup of coffee and a doughnut.

I’m calling it a win.

Copyright 2022 Brent Olson


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