Sunday, February 18, 2007

When (Nerd) Worlds Collide

This weekend, the wife and I took Little X. to a train show. He’s 2, and (at least in his mind) the more wheels a machine has and the more noise it makes, the better. Trains are kind of his thing at present. I found the event interesting not so much for the displays – which were, to tell the truth, inspiringly intricate – but for the overall “train guy” dynamic.

These were a bunch of cats that had devoted the better part of their lives and the vast majority of their disposable income to purchasing, modifying, and assembling model trains and idyllic little (properly scaled!) hamlets through which they could run.

Now, I don’t know shit about trains, but I couldn’t help but get the feeling that I could kind of get the gist of their incredibly specialized language, their railspeak, as they bantered back and forth across the hall. After walking around for a half-hour or so, it finally dawned on me why: they were speaking nerd!

How did I not figure it out sooner?

It’s as if I’d arrived at Heathrow and then stumbled off my plane only to be surprised that the populace of the Boroughs of London spoke English.

Of course they were geeks; they were fuckin’ train guys!

I spend a lot of my time here talking about the multifaceted splendor of nerd culture, but sometimes, I reckon, I forget just how broad a scope there truly is. When you get down to it, the nerd is defined less by the nature of his interest and more by the careful and ceaseless attention that he devotes to it. In that regard, comic book guys and music nerds and Trekkies and gamer geeks and train enthusiasts are all the same; they all share that same fiery passion for their respective hobbies.

And so, train guys, though your love for the rails is not entirely akin to my love of the GBA, Chynna Clugston, and the d20 system, I salute you none-the-less. The dedication you show your craft may be laughable to some, but I have to say that I find it inspiring. Nerdly inspiring, at that.

Snake on a muthafuckin’ train!


Matt S said...

Oh you may be surprised what you owe to the train geeks.

Steven Levy's legendary book on the history of the computer industry, Hackers: Hereos of the Computer Revolution, actually opens with the MIT model train club. It seems the club was split into two groups. One group was focused on the trains and the model towns while the other group was focused on the tracks and the controls for the trains.

The latter group became a gateway for a number of people who ended up hanging outside the MIT computer lab waiting for unclaimed computer time to work on their unsanctioned projects.

The modern computer culture owes at least a small debt to train geeks.

Antisocial said...

Yeah, model trains can be a very obsessive hobby. You don't have to own a computer to be a geek. That's the beauty of it. It's not what you have... it's a lifestyle choice.

also, is that a cthulhu plushie?!?!

Z. said...

I had heard there was a hacker/MIT train club link before, Matt, but I’d never gotten the full story. Very illuminating! Its’ like YT says, “We’re all family.”

Yup, Soc, that’s my very own huggable, loveable, world-devouring Cthulhu. I found a lady on the ol’ Intertubes that hand-made ‘em back eight or ten years ago, and I had to pick one up. You could choose from a myriad of skin and eye color, but I went classic. You can buy a mass-produced model at a lot of gamer hobby stores now, but I like that my Great Old One was made with TLC! ;)

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!

ChurchHatesTucker said...

Damn. Matt beat me to it, but yeah, the TMRC is one of the fonts of geek culture. Shame on you for not knowing that, Z!

You're spot on about geekhood. It's not a matter of where you put your focus, it's the degree. My GF, for example, is a political geek par excellence—she can draw voting district maps for key states from memory.

(OT: what changed on Blogger? It now offers to log me in as "Church," but I don't have a Blogger acct.)

Z. said...

Hey now, Church, I said I knew there was a link, I just didn’t know the WHOLE story! You can’t expect me to remember things like facts and details! ;)

And to answer your question, last night I changed over to the new version of Blogger. It appears to actually be functional, which was kind of a surprise for me, and there are all sorts of weird little tweaks that I’m only now beginning to notice.

Rai said...

Hehehe, we have lots of Train Geeks in Japans, but it's good to know they're in the US as well~

Z. said...

No doubt! Those Japanese train nerds keep the Railfan series alive. :D