First world problem.

A particular railroad crossing is the bane of my drive home. There are ways around it, but it happens to be on my fastest route home, hence the temptation to roll the dice and cut down McDuff to get to I-10, then head to 95 to get home. If the train’s not there, there’s no problem. If I can tell early enough that the train is there, either via visual cue or hearing the choo-choo, there’s no problem because I can head further east on Beaver and get directly on 95 without stopping at any tracks. But on occasion, I’ll get stuck at the tracks. And then the game begins.

What will save the most time? If the train’s obviously a short one, it’s a non-issue, you just wait. But if it’s long enough that you can’t see the caboose, then do you (A) assume it’s just long enough that you can’t see the caboose and wait for the train to pass, or (B) assume it’s going to be a while, make a U-turn, head east on Beaver, and get directly on 95?

Most times I make the right guess, and I save as much time as possible. But sometimes I pick (A) and it turns out to be a really long train, and sometimes I pick (B) and make that U-turn just as the gate starts going up.

It would be nice to know exactly how long the train is. More specifically, it would be nice if there were a large countdown display at the crossing, indicating/estimating how much longer it’ll take the train to pass. Even better, the display could include the actual number of train cars left so you could get a sense of how long it’ll take to get to zero.

This’d help you shave seconds–maybe even minutes— off your drive home. And if you choose to stay at the light, you could entertain yourself by counting down the number of train cars left. If the train’s going at just the right speed, you could even make a sing-song out of the countdown. Kids would love it.

I see no possible drawbacks to my proposal and hereby demand that it be implemented immediately at taxpayer expense at all railroad crossings in the whole entire country.


Over the last two weeks I have had occasion to enjoy two firsts-in-a-long-time.

The first is school-related. For several years, I hoped to teach a particular senior course. It is primarily about the major geopolitical conflicts of the 20th century. I finally got called up to teach it this year. It’s the first time since 2004 that I’ve had a new course, so it’s the first time since then I’ve gotten to design a course. That means learning five new textbooks inside and out, designing new tests and essays, developing new pacing guides and presentations, and writing about a hundred hours’ worth of new schtick for the act. Worth it so far.

The process means much more work than usual in terms of course prep, but it’s been easier than the original prep work I’ve had to do for other courses. I’ve been blathering for a few weeks now to anyone who’ll listen about how readable these textbooks are compared to the tome we use in my other class. There’s no fluff, no sarcasm, no vague allusions to events the author presumes you already know about, no referring to several other history textbooks to figure out what on Earth the author is talking about– in short, these books are actually useful so far. And that’s made an enormous difference when it comes to course prep; it’s made the process educational and enjoyable.

The second is domestic in nature. I recently purchased a lawn, and last week I mowed it for the first time. It occurred to me whilst pushing the mower around that I haven’t mowed a new lawn since the late eighties. Hated mowing lawns at first, came to enjoy it by the early nineties. It’s loud and dirty, but it also affords a meditative opportunity. Assuming there’s not too much going on around me, like neighbors hassling me, or dogs running around, or cars zipping up and down the street just as I’m approaching that edge of the lawn, it’s an opportunity for me to spend an hour or so in solitude

There is also a bit of pride and comfort in knowing that for the first time, the grass I’m trimming is mine, at least until God, Mother Nature, or the Bank reclaims it from me. It is my grass that releases that fresh scent after I mow it, my tree that I circle around and can climb if the heart wishes and the body permits, my rut that I almost twist my ankle in and have to fill in with my dirt, my flower bed that I pull my weeds from, my bushes and plants that I hopefully won’t snuff out via neglect or accidental mowing. All mine, even if only for however many trips ’round the sun.

These weeks seem newer than usual. It is nice.

Today marks ten years since I started blogging. I bought viscariello.com in May of 2005 with the intention of somehow making it a bit easier to keep in touch with people when I moved to Chicago. In September I decided to play around with the blogging software that came with a StartLogic site, and tapped away at my old laptop on a small writing desk in my apartment in Wheaton, Illinois. Then I hit the “publish” button. It was nothing profound, but fun.