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Trains, car trips and mind games

From my house I could hear the train moving. By the time I got to Pryor Avenue, I could see it was parked, and it was a long one. But I figured by the time I walked another four blocks to Union Avenue, it would be through the stop signals and all would be open.
On my daily walks, it has become a mind game to see if I can get to the Union Avenue crossing before the Twin Cities & Western Railroad crew bottles up the crossing with the coupling and uncoupling of boxcars in the switch yard. That switch yard often extends into the Union Avenue crossing, tying up traffic for five to 10 minutes just as drivers and bus passengers are attempting to get to school or work on time.
This particular morning, however, the train tied up traffic for over 20 minutes as it slowly moved forward, and then backward, sorting out rail cars on the east side of Glencoe.
Frustrated motorists did u-turns in the street as the train tantalizingly moved forward, stopped, moved backward and stopped … numerous times. The impatient sought other crossings further west.
I was getting frustrated as well until I realized, where do I have to be in such a hurry? I’m retired.
Racing the train each morning on my walks is a mind game I play. I was trained to play mind games by my mother. It was her way of keeping me and my older brothers entertained while we made an occasional long trip from International Falls to Duluth or, if it was really something special, all the way to Minneapolis.
My father, who always drove, had the classic saying when the three of us, packed like sardines into the backseat, got a little rambunctious. He’d shout: “Do I have to stop this car?”
I always wanted to say, “Yes. I have to pee.” But I didn’t dare.
I didn’t have to worry, however, because my mother had a 50-mile bladder that could only get her from the Falls to Orr on Highway 53. Of course, once we stopped, my mother had to have a cup of coffee and a roll. So, we didn’t mind at all.
My dad had a 100-mile bladder and could have made it all the way to Virginia, but his smoking habit required a pit stop at Orr, too.
There was no Interstate 35 in those days. Going to Minneapolis, we had to travel through the Iron Range and get on to Highway 65. That took a lot longer because of all the towns we passed through along the way.
That is where my mind-game habit was born. When us three boys got restless, we’d pick on each other. There was no “You’re touching me!” because we were all sandwiched together in that back seat. I, being the youngest, was the cushion in the middle between my brothers Peter and Brian.
When my father had enough, my mother got involved.
“Why don’t you boys see how many different license plates you can find.” she would say. Or “count all the station wagons on the road, or all the Chevy station wagons, or Fords, or Ramblers …” The list was endless.
It was when she mentioned the Volkswagens, or “slug bugs,” that things got out of hand again. The slug bugs required the smacking of someone in the arm … and that someone was usually me.
But these mindless mind games were effective … for awhile. Thank goodness for small bladders. We got to stop often, and my dad didn’t have to beat us once.
You also have to understand the 1950s were simpler times. No TV, only the AM radio (which Dad controlled), and most vehicles didn’t even have air conditioning! And definitely none of today’s modern conveniences like iPads or iTunes or iPhones were available.
All we had back then were eyeballs.
All that mind-game training came in handy as I watched the train move ahead and then back up at least five times in the 20 minutes I was stuck in traffic … while walking.
They say patience is a virtue. It is especially true now that I’m retired with no particular place to go and all day to get there.
Rich Glennie was the editor of The Chronicle for 23 years. He retired Aug. 1, but plans to submit an occasional column.