his is a sad story.
Recently I was at the La Mesa Club housed in the San Diego Model Railroad museum. I was there for one of their operations events, where they run their massive layout under 1950s methods, with written orders and manned stations. It’s not for the faint of heart or the impatient of mind – you can wait for hours and hours for a train, or even find yourself standing in a siding for an eternity.
Also, I get cell phones and why they are so cool and convenient to have. My friend I went out there with rode my ass all weekend about my flip phone. And yes, Uber was damned easy and saved us a lot of car rental charges. And no parking problems. We just rode from the hotel to the hall and back. Easy.
However, it was the kid that was sobering.
One of the thirty people attending the event brought his thirteen (or so) year old son along. My friend took the kid on his first run up the hill, more of a training run than anything else. My friend is an actual engineer and did it for his career. And he understands Time Table & Train Order (TT&TO) operations. This is where you run your train based on your place in the timetable, as well as written orders received at passing stations. It’s very complex and rather a logic game for the conductor of each train, making him figure out where he should meet other trains. The dispatcher doesn’t tell you directly what to do. You figure it out on your own, and damn your eyes if you are wrong.
So Steve patently explained to the kid how it worked, and pretty much gave him a vote in how far they would go safely. But the kid would have none of it. His input was unenthusiastic. It didn’t sink in at all. It was like he was refusing to learn. And when they’d be rolling, he’d pull out his cell phone and scroll through whatever caught his fancy. He liked things. He followed things. But he couldn’t be bothered to pay fucking attention to running a freight train safely in the Tehachapi Mountains. He was numb to the scale and size of one of the biggest model train layouts in the world. He turned his back on reality.
I saw him during the course of the weekend, numbing along with his phone in his hand, shrugging off all human communications and outside events. What broke my heart was the second day when he got posted to his dad’s train. Even having worked several trains over the hill, he simply didn’t understand the basics of what he was doing. His father tried to put him into the conductor’s role, tried to engage him, ever begged him to pay attention. All he’d get is a grunt, and the image of his son’s face in the glow of his phone.
It’s a real addiction.
This kid has crippled himself – as much as if he’d done cocaine. He can’t function. He can’t engage. He can’t imagine. He will never be anything, do anything. His life will be a series of minimal-engagement service jobs until he dies in some walk-up crummy apartment somewhere. All because he liked to click and type and exist in the cyberworld.
Remember those optimists telling us how much smarter the next generation would be, their young minds coupled to the world wide web? Remember all that stuff? Now look at the world we’ve made. And all the people lost and alone and isolated and crippled by it.
It really did bother me.