I am a casual railfan and a very casual rail photographer. While I myself have had no problems with rail personnel as I sometimes stop to watch (and occasionally photograph) rail and transit equipment, I am deep enough in the hobby to hear the stories of rail photographers encountering bad apples: a small minority of security personnel with bees in their bonnet and way too much power on their hands that go so far as to confiscate cameras and harass photographers minding their own business. There are two sides in every story of course, but I’ve heard enough tales to hear that, within a fraction of the hobby and a fraction of the rail industry, there is something of a tense relationship.
Since September 11, however, the relationship between railfans and rail and transit companies has become more tense. Fears of terrorism have changed that innocent photographer standing on the rail bridge into a potential terrorist. Sad to say, the response of some of the security personnel highlights the corrupting influence of absolute power.
The terror alert levels in the United States, especially with regard to rail security, went to levels of near hysteria last week with the discovery of a mysterious infrared device beside the tracks in a major rail corridor near Philadelphia. Memories of the Madrid bombings danced on CNN and many rail photographers thought that it was probably time to hang up the cameras. It is a shame that terrorism, and our response to it, can affect such an innocent hobby so.
So, why do I want to shake someone? Well, they finally figured out what that device was for…
Authorities say the electronic motion detector found in the Powellton railyard on May 5th — setting off a flurry of investigation by anti-terrorism experts — was placed there by a SEPTA employee for his own personal use.
SEPTA received word from the FBI that it was a SEPTA worker on the midnight shift that placed the device in the railyard near 30th Street Station (right), to alert him when his supervisor approached.
SEPTA director of security James Jordan:
“We have not completed our investigation, so we cannot say with certainty, but what we know now is consistent with him sleeping on the job, and setting up this device to be awakened as his supervisor approached.”
Jordan says the worker also worked part-time for a security firm, which is how he came into possession of the motion detector.
You know, the physical damages of terrorism are terrible, but they can be repaired. The societal damages from our reaction to terrorism can last a lifetime, if we let them.
By the way, I should have put this into the above article as I was writing it, but there’s ample proof that Canadians are not immune to the sort of terrorist hysteria that’s gripped some people in the United States:
Through that link there’s also a good discussion of the growing attempts to criminalize rail photography as the war on terror goes a little too far…
Struggling with the City of Marble and Chrome
I’ve been workshopping Rosemary and Time with Erin, and we’re nearing the climax. You’ve all read this scene. It may interest you to know that, soon after I posted this scene, Erin convinced me that the sudden appearance of the train was superfluous. I had it in there primarily to have Peter and Rosemary exit the tunnel at a run, and thus come upon the city suddenly. However, coming off a chapter where Puck sacrifices himself and before the climax, Erin suggested scaling back the booms so as to give the reader a moment’s pause. Peter and Rosemary should exit the tunnel on their own, and the Rosemary’s struggle upon seeing the city should be an internal one.
The City of Marble and Chrome supposed to be the most frightening story up to that point, a combination of 1984, Metropolis, and Camazotz from A Wrinkle in Time. A few problems with this: it’s all got to hit Rosemary the moment she sees the city. However cities can be very difficult to make look creepy on the page, especially since the look I’m going for is hyper-Art Deco, City of the Future circa 1933, type thing. This is what I have so far:
As they walked, Peter shook his head and swallowed. There was a grip in his chest that felt like fear. He could hear his heart beat. Then he realized it wasn’t his heart but a deep rumble. As they approached the tunnel entrance, a new noise added itself: a regular hiss, easily mistaken for a gust of wind, but timed to that rumble that made the ground shiver beneath their feet.
Peter stopped. “What is that?”
Rosemary stopped, listening. Her shoulders tightened, then she stumbled forward to the end of the tunnel. She reached the opening and stepped outside, standing as a silhouette, staring, her arms limp in horror.
“Rosemary?” Peter started forward. “Rosemary, what is it?”
Rosemary stepped back unsteadily. She tripped on the rail and fell without a sound.
Peter caught up to her just as she was picking herself up. She didn’t bat his hands away as he hauled her to her feet. She stared. Peter followed her wide-eyed gaze and almost let her go.
They stared at a white city like the bottom of an hourglass. It filled a hollow like a crater. Chrome gleamed everywhere. The air was ozone and antiseptic. The buildings were square and alike and grouped like the rings of a tree. Marble statues lined the edge of the crater, standing on podiums, each flanked by a pair of chrome jaguars like the ones they’d seen on the forest bridge.
And the sky was full of Zeppelins.
The second last paragraph is still giving me fits, and I can’t stay on it for too long, or else it will get all pasty from overwriting. Suggestions?