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July 10, 2006

l was early and my train to Prague was late so I sat on a bench and enjoyed a 9 a.m. 12-degree bottled Dacicky beer. Nothing unusual about that--beer here is a breakfast drink, if not a meal. Then something unusual happened--a big old blue locomotive came huffing and wheezing into the station, trailing a long plume of black smoke from its coal-burning stack. It wasn't that old, 1930s maybe, the height of steam engines, just on the cusp of the diesels that would take its place. I knew it was unusual and wasted no time going over to get closer to it. Most other commuters played it cool until a lot of train workers started coming over to investigate, looking it over as if they understood, taking pictures and laughing at the luck of seeing a museum piece in action. Then came the stars of the day, men in coveralls bearing large oil cans who knew just where to stick the spouts to pump out some lube and send it on its way. As the locomotive idled it seemed to breathe, a very regular cycle, almost human, predictable, reminder of a time when machines more closely resembled people.