Saturday, September 20, 2008

All Aboard! Cog Railway

With the dawning of a second picture perfect (not a cloud in the sky) day, we headed off to do the one thing in New England that you never ever want to do on a bad weather day - climb Mount Washington. I’m talking Cog Railway here, not a boot camp hike up a rocky trail or anything like that. To tell you how truly magnificent a day it was, the temperature at the top was nearly the same as at the base, and it usually is some 20 to 40 degrees colder- which would have put it in the 20’s at the top on this day. Brrrrr. And 50 mile an hour winds at the top are reasonably common place and on this day it would not have been windy enough up there even to fly a small kite. My kind of day.

So. OK. Cog Railway. “She” will not be coming ‘round the mountain when she comes! No. She will be headed straight up. Up inclines so steep that they reach a whoppingly steep 37 degrees at the steepest. How steep is that? The front of the passenger car is 15 feet higher than the back of the car as it travels upward. Since the train is kept in place on the tracks by a single gear wheel called a cog wheel- one hopes and prays that none of the teeth on that wheel have been recently damaged. Yes, there is a brake on the single passenger car being pushed up the hill in front of that engine, but were anything to go wrong, the normal hour or so run to the summit could become a 2 minute roller coaster ride to the bottom.

I expected to be a bit apprehensive about the height and the incline and the rumbling, rocking and rolling of that little old steam engine in whose hands our lives were entrusted. No way are you getting me on a roller coaster! So I was surprised to find that the majesty and awe of the trip replaced any fear long before it could settle in. The trip up was great. Heading down was a bit weird especially when everyone in the train car put their hands up in the air like you would do if you were a thrill seeker in the front of that proverbial roller coaster and about to take that first hair raising, breath sucking initial plunge down the first hill in your path. But again, the engineer and fireman and two brakemen did a super job of controlling the descent and, even though we were now looking down instead of up- it really was not a bad gig at all. I rather liked it. For sure it was beautiful. And for certain, the good lord could not have offered up a better day in any way.

At the train station at the foot of Mount Washington, where you hop aboard the train, there is a gift shop and snack bar and a museum. The train ride is the attraction and not the museum, but I did find something that caught my undivided attention and begged for a photo- a May 1958 LIFE magazine cover featuring an article about the Cog Railway. However, it was the headlines on the issue, not the photo of the Cog Train that caught my fancy and I thought it might bear mentioning in light of what the current events are as I write this post. Housing Market (“The Bubble“) is broken and in certain recession, the economy is weak, we’ve had a crisis in confidence in the financial system of serious magnitude and our beloved stock market has headed south for the winter. I’m a political guy and so are many of my friends. Some set up their tent in the same camp as I do and others stay on the left bank of the river, if you get my drift. I find politics fascinating and economics even more so and I try to think things through to the point where what I think should and shouldn’t be is really what I think and not what someone I may or may not be associated with thinks. Anyway, the Life magazine headlines talk about signals in the housing market, the recession, and what you can do about it NOW. Sound familiar? So I Googled the chronological list of presidents of the US just to make sure I hadn’t slept through anyone’s term- and lo and behold- in 1958, with headlines reading nearly the same as they do today, there was absolutely, positively no one named Bush in the White House at that time. Point being, the economy in general - including the housing market, the financial market, the real estate market, the stock market itself - all travel round and round in a cycle. News Flash: NO ONE is to blame! Not a Republican. Not a Democrat. Although no doubt we will continue to play those games. Life itself and everything within life travels in a cycle. If you must see things in black and white and in two dimensions rather than three, then just remember: The pendulum always swings back in the direction from which it came. But eventually, it too makes a circle.

Mount Washington. Up the mountain. Down the mountain. It’s a good place and a good way to think things through.

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