Monday, September 19, 2005


I write this morning from the basement of Paul and Helen's house in a Chicago suburb. It will be my last morning in the eastern U.S. for quite some time. That's Paul in the photo at left, waiving to a westbound BNSF intermodal train crossing the Des Plaines River on the Santa Fe mainline yesterday evening. I suppose Paul is the first person to blame for this trip I'm taking. He introduced me to railroad photography -- and photography in general -- when we met almost seven years ago as mechanical engineering students at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Paul and I had signed up for the same computer-aided engineering elective class and a mutual friend, Dan, accosted us for the three-person design teams required for the class. One afternoon in the computer lab, I noticed an orange "BNSF" tag on Paul's backpack.

"Say, Paul, that tag wouldn't happen to stand for Burlington Northern Santa Fe, would it?" He just smiled. Much to Dan's chagrin, we didn't accomplish much more on our design project that afternoon.

Dan and I were part of a wider circle of friends at Case, a circle that still re-forms and grows once or twice every year at the weddings of its members. That happened again on Saturday, when two Case grads, and two of my good friends, Zach and Sarah, were married in western Ohio. The reunions that occur at these weddings always involve some reminiscing and remembering of the times we shared together in college, which is always good for some laughs, lots of smiles and a few tears. There's some danger in that, too, though. As our lives move ever-forward, those memories become more and more distant and farther removed from our current selves. Keeping friendships only through those memories is like drawing down on the capital in a bank account. Without any new investment, eventually you run out.

I think Brian found the best way to combat that issue. A few weddings ago, he began the "marriage poll," a very long and drawn out, bantering discussion/debate of who would be the next happy couple to tie the knot. The number of potential couples has dwindled with each marriage and engagement, so this wedding's poll theme was instead "where do you see yourself in five years?" Brian gave each of us a chance to say where we'd be, what we'd be doing, whether we'd be married and whether we'd have kids, five years from now. Then he gave everybody else a chance to argue with each self-asserted claim (the "Lightning Round"), and finally each person had a chance to rebut the disputes.

Needless to say, these polls take an awfully long time to complete, especially as the conversations wander far and wide from the original topics. But eventually, Brian always brings them back around to complete the circle. And I think that's what they do for our friendships, too. They bring us all full circle, from remembering our pasts to sharing the plans, hopes and dreams of our futures.

I'm glad for that. I'm glad the memories. I'm glad for the futures, and I'm glad for sharing them with each other. I'm glad for Zach and Sarah, and the future they are beginning together. I'm glad for Paul and his wife Helen and their five month old son, Peter, and the futures they hope for. I'm glad for the start Paul gave me on photography and traveling far and wide to search for trains, and I'm glad for the way he continues to challenge me and my views on the world. We don't always see eye to eye, but we always have good discussions.

Even now, as I look to my own future in China and Japan and with Maureen, I look forward to the next time my life and those my friends will come full circle again, and we can share those parts of our futures that will have become our pasts, and the new hopes and dreams that have taken form.


C said...

Hey Scott. i saw your bit on boing. I spent a couple of months in China about 15 years ago - and I was fascinated by the use of steam trains.

I've got a number of photos of trains across the country. if you ever have the interest - and the bandwidth - let me know and I'll drop a few in the email to you. Happy travels - cchoward, Seattle. craighoward at

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