Trying to Stay on Track

Hearing the kerfuffle about Mitt Romney’s comments at a supposedly private fundraiser about the freeloading 47%, I was reminded of this ballad about a train wreck. The Wreck of the Old 97 is something that really happened back in late September of 1903. An engineer, Steve Broady, was urged by his superiors to get the mail delivered on time even though he was well behind schedule. The results were disastrous.

Every political candidate who has handlers is constantly under pressure to stay “on message”, even if it means following a rather narrow track. I can only imagine how tempting it is to simply push the throttle forward and feel the wind tousle your beautiful hair!

Here’s the original version of The Wreck of the Old 97.

Well they fed him the numbers for his target percentage
sayin’ “don’t speak this out loud.”
But you can never appeal to the frail 47
They’re a whiney liberal crowd.

So he turned around and said to his hoity toity funders
“We can win it with 53
If we pick up every voter between Lynchburg and Danville
that’s including you and me”

There was someone in the crowd taking pictures with a camera
of the whole off-record speech.
Then he posted it online just to cause a lot of trouble
What a lazy, shiftless leech!

So they backpedaled all day. Every interview on cable
started with that thing he said.
About victims and entitlements and living on the dole
and how cheesecake is not like bread.

So now all you politicians better keep on your message
’til your eyeballs start to burn.
Never say another word about the pampered 47
or your older tax returns.

When have you become completely derailed?

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76 thoughts on “Trying to Stay on Track”

  1. This post might be uncomfortably candid for some folks, but probably not. I’ve told some of this story before. And I hope this story might offer a little hope for some folks whose lives have been derailed.

    My life was derailed in 1999 when–within a few weeks–I lost my job, my father and my marriage. Since I hadn’t seen the divorce coming, it messed me up pretty badly. I learned that my marriage was about the only thing in my life in which I took pride, so losing it meant losing my identity and what was left of my self-esteem. Working with Dale’s railway metaphor, when you don’t know who your are or why you should do on living, you are derailed . . . a train that suddenly has no tracks.

    Flailing about in a world of pain and confusion, I decided I had to leave the house, so I attended a meeting of neighbors on my block who were concerned about such issues as curbs and street lamps. Before the meeting started, I chatted with a little woman who lived down the block. I barely knew Mary Ellen, The community organizer showed up and the meeting started. Mary Ellen’s hand shot up. “Before the meeting,” she said, “Steve and I were talking about just that topic. Steve had something interesting to say about that.”

    At that point, a weird animal groan came out of me . . . a totally unintentional moan of distress. I was able to cut it off before the noise got loud enough for anyone else to notice. As I sat there on that blanket, I began shaking with fear. What was going on with me? Was I losing my mind?

    Then I heard the voice of my interior dialogue. “Hey Steve,” it said, “someone just said you had something interesting to say, and that was so shocking to you that you groaned.” I processed that for a moment. The voice spoke again: “Actually, a woman said you had something interesting to say, and you almost made a spectacle of yourself. Oh, buddy, do you have a lot of work to do!”

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    1. That was one hell of a train wreak, Steve. Job lost, father lost, and marriage lost all at the same time? That’s too much for anyone to have to deal with.

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      1. I hope people understand–and I think you do–that my post is not a bleat intended to attract sympathy. That’s all in the past. I’m more interested in the stuff that happened after that night on the blanket. And I hope anyone here who is living through a nasty time or who might do so in the future will take heart from the post. When a woman now says, “Steve has something interesting to say about that,” I grin and say, “Geez, lady, you are very discerning!”

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  2. Good morning. I have been more or less of off track most of my life. Well I guess I got way off track a few times, but lets not go there. There have been times when I was sort of on track. I have been lucky to have people around me who can put up with my failure to keep myself on track. Maybe as a retired person I am not too far off track.

    Today I am trying to get my gardening on track. If we get a freeze Saturday there will be some things that will go to waste in the garden because I haven’t been planning ahead and taking care of them. I still have a few days to get the garden in shape so it might not be a complete train wreak. I narrowly missed a major train wreak in the garden when it came close to freezing and didn’t freeze on the night before last.

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  3. I’ve been sort of chronically derailed all my life, too – the track never seems to be going anywhere I want to go, so there’s not a lot of incentive to stay on it. I’m just waiting for someone to build a track I like. Maybe someday.

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    1. Linda, you strike me as a person who is reasonably content blazing your own trail. From the outside looking in, it looks to me like you’re on a track that will get you where you want to go. Perhaps not in the style in which you’d like to get there, but getting there all the same.

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  4. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    As graduated from college, I wanted to go to the Peace Corps or Vista. This was a life dream for me. But then my mother and my uncle put intense pressure on me to get my “MRS” degree. I caved and married my wasbund who was a nice guy with no particular need to be responsible or earn a living. And there I derailed. Many good things arose from this, on particular a beautiful son who I would never trade for anyone. The Baptist mother-in-law, however, was a heavy load. I as a Methodist who was not open to her Baptist theology (or the shunning, the control, the judgements) became “the Problem.”. This must have been a relief to her husband who had born the problem label before me.

    Ten years later I divorced him and got back on track. A very good decision.

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    1. Good for you, getting back on track after only ten years. My friend who is trying to make the same kind of change has been on the same track for 35 years. Change is never easy. Change after all of that is harder.

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  5. 1986 was a good time for me. i had a new car a new wife and my business was flying. 1988 i got a phone call from my main company that i was fired and i was licking my wounds as the second phone call was about 10 days later say the number 2 company thought making a change would be a good idea too. part of my business is to realize the world works is less than ideal ways. i sell stuff to get paid and the company i sell for thinks that i dont make enough difference to keep paying me for the business i bring to them so they give it to some guy who they are paying to help me and more than cover his salary. when the number 1 and number 2 companies went south 80% of my income went with them. i remember collecting pop bottles and emptying penny jars to make the bills come out right. my wife did not enjoy this at all. her view of how the world worked was pretty concrete and pop bottles were not such big contributor in her vision. she had her 2 kids and had completed her master in counseling so she was prepared to take the house the children and her paycheck to make her way in the world. i hate it when that happens.

    i got through the crap and have learned to roll with the punches and the track being less than a perfectly well oiled path. i am not saying it is fun or comfortable but it is familiar.

    i think campaign 2012 will be a lesson to us all as to how we should do it. more likely is that the lesson will be how not to do it. the difference is soooo obvious that the black and white choice is there for us to weigh in on.

    i can never believe that others do stuff that goes against the way i think it ought to be but that too is getting familar. off the rails is a topsy turvey way to go through life but america has to do what it has to do. i am so glad not to be president this time around as the people you are supposed to be working hand in hand with are so far out of sync with the way we should be acting it is hard to ever see as part of the deal again. i feel like i am listening to the jocks and the freaks in the 70’s where the basis for the way we come at the world is so different that the sight of the other side is enough to get the blood boiling.

    the ugly side of us all is apt to pop up from time to time but t make it a platform is scary. i hope we figure out what the grover nordquist karl rove approach is doing to our ability to lead. i got mine and to hell with you is one way to do it but its not familiar. i hope we get back on track soon

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    1. I agree, tim. The political train is way off track and at a bad time in our history when we need a lot of real change.

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    2. Gee, I’m WAY more hopeful than you guys. I think the past several weeks have been extremely heartening for those who dreaded a Romney presidency. His campaign looks like it was scripted for the Keystone Kops.

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      1. It would be a very big train wreak if Romney gets elected, but Obama and the Democrats are also leading us way off the track. Look at what Rahm Emanuel, one of Obama’s main advisors, is trying to do to the teachers and the school system in Chicago.

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    1. Made me login, but here I am.
      I was only going to say that my sleep gets derailed every night.
      But I got derailed when at the U of Chi in several ways at once, too, but not loss of a wife or girlfriend. Mostly met and had to compete for grades with people who really were smart and vastly better educated in life and academics. Learned of a whole vast world in the arts that I did not know, which changed how I saw everything.
      Moved to Mpls on January 1, The U would not let me in, took a scrub lab tech job to see if I wanted to finish my biochem degree. Had to occasionally bring paperwork to a secretary named Sandy in a different building. We started writing joke poetry to each other. Went on a date on June 6 and 5 days later decided to get married in a year when my life sorted out. But two days later we decided to get married on August 7. The U admitted me for the fall quarter. Back on track.

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  6. This quotation may have been all over the place by now, but it only entered my field of vision today, so thought I’d pass it on. Apologies if it’s been around the block a few times.

    “To blame the poor for subsisting on welfare has no justice unless we are also willing to judge every rich member of society by how productive he or she is. Taken individual by individual, it is likely that there’s more idleness and abuse of government favors among the economically privileged than among the ranks of the disadvantaged.” -Norman Mailer, author (1923-2007)

    AND, avast ye scurvy dogs, today be International Talk Like a Pirate Day and I be wonderin’ the whereabouts o’ Cap’n Billy and the Muskellunge boys on a such a day. http://www.talklikeapirate.com/about.html

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    1. Stumbled on this today. Jane Austen was, despite efforts of Women’s Study programs to tell you otherwise, a staunch Tory, which somehow seems to matter when thinking of this right now.
      A Prayer by Jane Austen Written Shortly Before Her Death
      “Incline us, Oh, God: to think humbly of ourselves, to be saved only in the examination of our own conduct, to consider our fellow-creatures with kindness, and to judge all they say and do with the charity which we desire for ourselves.”

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  7. D.I.V.O.R.C.E. felt like a train wreck to me, and I was completely taken aback at how painful the experience was. And yet, looking back, ours was reasonably amicable; we had no assets to fight over and no children. Considering how rotten I felt for a full two years following the separations and divorce, I’m not so sure I could have pulled off being a good mom.

    Unlike Steve, I did see it coming, and I was the one who walked out, but it was a decision I was forced to make. I knew I couldn’t live with a person I couldn’t trust, and he had demonstrated, beyond reasonable doubt, that he couldn’t be trusted. But giving up on the belief, that two people who love each other, and have made a commitment to each other, can make it through tough times, was incredibly difficult. Another illusion I had wanted so desperately to believe in shattered! In retrospect, I think that’s what becoming a grown up is: Living through experiences that are painful and realizing that life is full of pitfalls, and yet remain hopeful, and go on living life to the fullest. Some people, like the Elie, the old dancer BiB spoke about on yesterday’s blog has probably seen unspeakable horrors, yet continues to dance. Now that I think of it, the people we admire the most are NOT the people who haven’t been derailed or experienced any train wrecks, it’s the people who have made it through those tough times and have remained positive that inspire us.

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  8. Another good parody, Dale. :)

    I was raised by two teachers who, because of a college education, were able to rise above the poverty they grew up in during The Depression. I was, basically, supposed to be a teacher. I tried it out for 4 years, and then that train left the station and I was not on it. For the first time I displeased my dad, but he got over it. Spent much of the next decade doing odd (some of it very odd!) office work and misc. things like being produce coordinator at the Wedge Co-op, and having a child. THEN I FOUND BOOKSELLING – my calling! That, too, was eventually derailed, though I would go back to it in a minute if I found the right place. Ummm, what was the question?

    OT: out of town the next couple of days – see you Friday some time.

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  9. Afternoon.
    I have one incident of getting off track that I’m not proud of. Still hard to explain or figure out what was going on; why I was ‘out of sorts’ and Kelly and I simply refer to it as “that time”.
    Oh, there’s always the unexpected things in life. Remember the Baz Luhrmann song about wearing sunscreen and he says ‘…The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that
    never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday…’

    Or like the toilet tank that cracks at midnight on a Sunday… Waiting for a plumber today… he said he was busy and would call… hope he calls. At least we’re not using the outhouse.

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      1. When I was in trouble, Ben showed up at my house with a chainsaw. Should I show up at his now with a toilet plunger? And what flavor of KoolAid would be appropriate for an impromptu porta potty party? I see us jointing hands and singing, in four part harmony, “Call RotoRooter, that’s the name, away go troubles down the drain!”

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  10. I don’t feel that I’ve ever been on a track. More like free-floating above the earth, letting the wind blow where it may. What happens happens and I have not often WORKED to force a direction change. Moving to Minnesota and initiating divorce #2 are the most pro-active things I have done. I’ve been in the same house 37 years and have held onto jobs (not always the best) for 18, 9 and 10 years. I’ve been lucky to have son#2 fall into services that have helped him become more independent. No thanks to any little engine that could.

    Harking back to question a while ago about being an adult/grown up, these are reasons I don’t feel I’ve made it. Pure, dumb luck has kept me floating.

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      1. BiB, it’s Arlo Guthrie singing The City of New Orleans. Can’t find the right video which features a lot of trains and railroad tracks.

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    1. I prefer a bowling lane with bumpers where I can knock back and forth and still get generally where I need to be (though where I get a strike or not, that’s another question).

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  11. Today was a day of many derailments. It reached a point this afternoon where my cube buddy started laughing at me because every time I sat down or turned back to my computer to work on the task I had up there, someone else would ask a question. About the time I thought I was really done answering everyone around me…the phone rang. That was when cube buddy really got to giggling. I think I managed to get the big important stuff done today, but i can’t be sure that something didn’t go bouncing off the caboose while I wasn’t watching…

    Getting laid off about 4 years ago was not so much getting derailed as it was being put off in a siding for awhile. Got myself hooked onto a different engine, and have been putting along (days like today not withstanding) fine since. Starting Monday, I will be moving to a different part of the train – same engineer driving, conductor may change at some point, but a new car to sit in that is slightly more posh. (Which is perhaps a convoluted way of saying I start on Monday with my same team at work in a new position that is a regular full-time, not-contractor, position doing cool new things involving data and which tracks the data follows and do we have the right cars on the data train…should we have more cars, are the cars in the right order…you get the idea…)

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    1. GREAT news, Anna. Congratulations. I had wanted to ask whether or not you got the job you had applied for, but was afraid that it might be bad news. This is terrific new. All the best.

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  12. thanks to all the wordies we have here on the trail. kerfuffle is a great one. i love the love of the language . i enjoyed facund mind the other day.

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    1. Fetid, patina, pendulous, dearth, posh, kerfuffle…part of the fun is that the words just feel so good in the mouth – and describe so much more elegantly than just “stinky,” “lightly colored,” or “fancy”…

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