Thread: Easy Question.
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Old 04-03-2008, 04:42 AM   #40
John Ryan
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Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan
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Default Ahhh, how delightful.

I was wondering when this topic would surface. I have a few pet peeves myself, but I think it is interesting to look at them in the context of the Sociology of Railfanning. We'll look at railfans themselves first.

Let's take a minute and talk about normal. Those of you I call close friends know that I'm a unique individual myself, and that I'm no poster boy for normalcy. That said, I try to present a rational and respectable personality when out railfanning. It's suspicious enough to be "loitering" by the railroad tracks with an obscenely large camera, but I can see how it wouldn't help do do anything that would help paint myself as crazy.

I think it's important to look respectable when railfanning. You're more likely to be accorded courtesy and respect when you project it yourself. Let's think about it: people viewing you from afar have only seconds to classify you as normal or "terrorist." Jumping up and down, waving your arms excitedly, or wearing overly flash clothing is a way to be classified as a potential problem. Being well-dressed and of calm demeanor encourages people to dismiss you as harmless, rather than dial 1-800-AL-QAEDA (1-800-257-2332).

What qualifies as "respectable" varies from location to location. If you're in Connecticut and you plan to evade the East-Coast-Self-Important-Gestapo, then one should take your Amtrak photos from the docks of exclusive yacht clubs. This requires khakis and some form of dress shirt. If you are waiting for SD70ACE's in Montana, try to wear some sort of solid-toe leather shoe with your worn (but not ragged) jeans. When in California, T-Shirts are certainly appropriate, and best with some ambiguous squiggly design. And if you are in Kentucky or several other Southern states, simply wearing pants at all is an improvement over the local dress code.

Things that will destroy credibility include, but are not limited to the following:

- Any sort of stained clothing. No one wants to see what you ate for breakfast on your shirt, especially if it was from last week.

- Strange open-toe shoes. Sure, they're comfortable, but totally inappropriate for walking near railroad tracks

- Choo-Choo belt buckles. These baubles were in style in the 80's, and appeared as part of many railfan outfits during that time. Unfortunately, like many other styles from that era, this item is passe. The larger the buckle, the sillier it looks.

- Parallel to the belt-buckle rule, the number of train buttons and iron-on train patches you have is inversely proportional to your credibility.

- Don't dress like a stereotypical railroader. Striped denim overalls are only to be worn if you plan to crawl under a steam locomotive. Likewise, keep that VIA conductor's uniform you bought on eBay at home. Most railroaders today dress like average people off the street but with protective eyewear.

- Suspenders are for old people. It is okay for you to wear suspenders when you get up in years, otherwise you're advertising that your excessive trips to Steak & Shake have adversely affected your waistline. (Though, I must confess, if you've gone the Steak & Shake route and your pants are about to fall down, we'll overlook your suspenders on account of them saving us from a far greater horror.)

- Train or "Choo-Choo" T-Shirts do not impress railroaders or members of law enforcement. They're like an enormous label that advertises your particular brand of train-fetish. If the shirt is dirty or worn, it's not a macho credit to your time spent foaming, just an acknowledgment of your inability to do laundry.

- Erratic behavior is another great concern. One of the things stressed by the government as a sure sign of a terrorist is erratic behavior. I've always felt that a calm and purposeful demeanor is your best ticket to avoid trackside hassles. Whatever you do, don't run. Every time I see a demented foamer squeal with delight and start tearing back and forth at the sight of a train, I want to puke. Restraint! Likewise, don't hop up and down, wave your arms, shout "Train! Train! Train's coming!" and point at the headlight. We see it too.

- Stay off railroad property. You'll command more respect if you don't run around on the tracks. When a train is moving in the area, acknowledge the train crew by looking them in the eye or giving a short wave. Don't wave a wipeout sign or the crew may dump the air. (I've seen it happen.)

- Courtesy to your fellow railfans is a must. Whoever gets to a location first has first dibs on where to shoot from. Any photographers that arrive after that must stay out of the way of the first photographer's shot. This goes both ways. If you were there first, feel free to cuss out anyone that gets in your shot.

- Courtesy Part 2. If you see another foamer with a video camera, turn down your scanner, put your cell on vibrate, and keep your mouth shut. If they were there first, stand where you won't be in the way if they swing their camera around for a follow-through shot.

- Courtesy Part 3. Don't be a pig. If you are throwing trash everywhere, the next photographer will have to spend time picking it up.

If you're a messy railfan with funny clothing who gets in front of other photographers and talks loudly, you won't impress the other railfans. If you run around the tracks with no safety gear, point and gesture wildly, and flap your arms in the air, you run the risk of the train crews calling law enforcement.

I've seen so many poorly-behaved railfans that I've lost count. Anytime you get more than five railfans together, you're bound to turn up someone who will fit several of the above categories. Unfortunately, though it's their way of enjoying the hobby, these individuals give railfanning a bad name from the public's and the railroad's perspective.
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