A Nod to King Lear

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

FROM THE EDITOR, OCTOBER 2020 ISSUE: I am not a fan of William Shakespeare. Frankly, I find him difficult to read, though methinketh he doth said some pretty cool stuff: “This life, which had been the tomb of his virtue and of his honour, is but a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Or, “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.”

If there be anybody out there in the land of Railway Age readership who would dareth to taketh it upon himself or herself to translate this classic, complex prose into modern English (but not corporate-speak*, please), contacteth me via electronic means.

Sir David of Nahass, our esteemed Financial Editor, who is most skilled in the fine art of equipment leasing and thus is a most astute observer of that most presently troublesome market we call freight car building, has been profoundly affected by these turbulent times in which we liveth. Thus, he hast taken it upon hisself—oops! himself—to calleth as he doth see-eth the situation** (yet without seething, for he doth possess a gentle soul), and refer to B.S. (Bill Shakespeare’s) King Lear, who if he had lived in the 21st century, probably would have owned a Learjet, don’t you thinketh?

“In Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear, the eponymous character, an elderly king, is overwrought due to the loss of respect, power and love that befalls him as he recklessly discharges his kingdom to his ungrateful daughters,” Sir David writes in the 2021 Railroad Financial Desk Book. “In a last gesture to retain some portion of his former regal life, Lear demands to be attended by a company of knights. When challenged on his desire to retain his retinue, Lear screams the famous line, ‘Oh, reason not the need!’ Lear wants to know why he must explain himself and what he wants. After all, he was once the king. That moment in the play is the beginning of Lear’s shift from sanity to madness.”

The madness is the Freight Rail Assistance and Investment to Launch Coronavirus-era Activity and Recovery (RAILCAR) Act—yet another politician-derived acronym!—which Sir David equates to the U.S. government’s 2009 Cash for Clunkers program—which in my mind was dumber than GM shutting down Pontiac in favor of building Buicks for the Chinese market. Nothing against Buicks, mind you.

“Drama can be about folly,” Sir David expounds. “This is the business of North American rail. It needs a strategy for growth and expansion. It needs a strategy to make freight rail a priority in North America. To create a strategy to incentivize the building of railcars in advance of the loads that need them is madness indeed.”

I will leave you with a most favored quote from my immediate predecessor as editor of this 164-year-old publication, Luther Sigsbee Miller: “Only the mediocre are always at their best.”

Have fun figuring that one out. I’m still trying.

*Corporate-speak: That strangest of multi-syllabic languages that contains many fancy words—euphemisms—but says almost nothing of substance. For example: “We are executing best-in-class service, and are extremely confident that substantial opportunities exist to leverage our service product offering, capture growth and deliver superior financial returns. Our 360-degree view, which incorporates, where appropriate, rationalized right-sizing and/or downsizing initiatives, is focused on strategically deploying disciplined capital investments. We are working aggressively to implement a remarkable rate of positive organizational change, developing and implementing customer-centric operating strategies by engaging and communicating proactively through frequent interactions with both our internal and external stakeholders about our processes for tighter procedural coordination. In a challenging environment filled with persistent headwinds, we are fully committed to deploying the streamlined resources necessary to address our capacity constraints, while raising the bar on our customer service metrics. Safety is our top priority, followed closely by our commitment to enhancing shareholder value.”

**Not Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, that odd, Italian-stereotype wiseguy who starred in the reality-TV series Jersey Shore. “Sitch” spent time in prison for tax evasion last year. For the record, he is not from “Joisey,” but from “New Yawk.” Yo, I’m from Joisey (Newark) and I live at da Jersey Shore, but I don’t speak nuthin’ like dis guy! Fuggehdaboudit!

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