Can it be a coincidence that we have often lived near the train?
Maybe this is why Charlie has never shown too much interest in Thomas the Tank Train: The real thing is rattling by on a real track that smells of hot metal and dust and heat and sometimes, too, he gets to get into the train and ride away.
In our former house, in a town with a small town feel and a somewhat urban setting, we were a ten-minute walk from the train station. (Though this could be cut down to five minutes if you were Jim running against the clock to catch the morning train.) “Walk to train” was the perfect way to pass those awkwardly “what do we do now” moments in the late afternoon or early evening: We would be outside, getting some exercise, and there was always something to see—cement trucks, our friend the mailman, teenagers on bikes too small for them—as we headed to the small town center. You had to walk up a platform to get to the train and Charlie loved to run its length and then stand at the very end, the better to see the white glowing light of the train coming.
The town where we live now is deep in in Garden State suburbia, with lots of trees, lots of lawn, and lots of commuters. Though my in-laws seem only to recall riding the train three times, the house they purchased 30-plus years ago is a ten-minute walk to the train (and, yes, still less again if you are Jim in a hurry). It is a blander walk—–a straight shot past houses in well-kept yards, down to the station beside a small mall with the requisite supermarket, deli, bank, UPS Store, hair salon, and pizza place. The train station is on a much lower platform, its grounds tastefully arrayed with quaint benches and pretty foliage. The trains come roaring out of the bushes and the trees atop a mound of gravel.
The black car’s odometer is nearing 45,000 (it is not quite two years old) and (as you may have gathered from the number of times I write “Charlie and I got into the black car”) we spend a lot of time in the car. But there is something comforting in knowing that the train is so nearby, that (should the car hypothetically break down, or Charlie put my car keys in some unknown place) we have a means of egress. The train station is a symbol of possibility, of how we can go and come back.
The trains are run by New Jersey Transit and primarily serve commuters during the weekdays.
And, this afternoon, one fleece-hatted and puffy-coated boy and his dad (minus the hat but with a puffless jacket).
I stayed later than usual at work to meet with students; Jim was home to take his mother to a doctor’s appointment and met Charlie at the bus. They had plans for a walk that metamorphized into a ride when, as Charlie walked the platform, up rolled the train. They boarded; they traveled past a few towns; they got off and checked out the nice café at another town’s station. They caught the next train in the opposite direction and Charlie was standing barefoot on the porch when I drove up.
“You went on a train ride, I hear,” I said as I put down my bag.
“Ridesa train,” said Charlie.
I ought also to have mentioned that we once lived right next to the train tracks—-as in Jim and I were raucously awoken one night by the all-out cacophony of a freight train rushing past our open bedroom window—when we lived in an apartment on the edge of a town outside of St. Louis, Missouri. Charlie had only lived in that apartment for but a month before we packed up and moved on to a rented house closer to the city proper—–but who knows what sounds, shaking, rattling and rolling—what railroad earth dreams—first entered his ears with promises of miles and miles still to go?