By Shane Newbold
Steel rails connected the east end of the subdivision to the west, one linear mile of territory, stomping grounds. Some of us lived on one end and the rest of the cronies occupied the other end. It is strange that none of the gang lived in the middle.
If our timing was precise, sometimes we could hop a slow mover on one end and ride to the other. Increasing speed was inevitable on the downhill side and the exit from the ladder attached to the rail car usually felt more like an ejection than a jump. None of us ever sustained serious injury.
The railroad tracks were hardly resorted to during the day, but was the chosen byway after dark. The tracks were the getaway route, we never got caught.
One night we almost did. A well devised plan was formulated to borrow (steal) a kid’s Honda 70 from the back porch of his house. A kid whose dad prevented acquaintance with the rowdy teens that the whole neighborhood loathed. None of us (some products of broken homes, others from dysfunctional upbringing, most from both) had motorbikes, so why not take his?
The problem this night, the Honda had been locked in the shed. So, we stole two bicycles. We were never quiet and two squad cars unsuccessfully continued the search. Enough fun had not been had yet. The most daring (stupid) member of our entourage jumped from our hiding place and yelled until the officer’s searchlight fixed upon him dancing in someone’s front yard, most likely the homeowner who called the police.
Scattering like lead pellets from a shotgun, I was riding on the handlebars of the stolen bike, two were on the banana seat (not sure which one was steering) and the hedge at the bottom of the hill stopped all of us. Lucky for them, I hit first. As stated previously, no serious injury was sustained, just injury. The cops never stood a chance. Athletic and young, we all escaped home. Tonight, however, the east end had one representative, ‘lil ol’ me creeping in black darkness, on the tracks, so not to wake dogs whose bark would reveal my whereabouts.
Ginormous limestone boulders, impossible to hide in the black night, were the landmark where I departed the tracks through the break in the fence, then snuck between houses, crossed the street and crawled back in the bedroom window. I always wondered if mom knew about my sneaking out and just chose not to fight this specific battle. She could not do much with me.
The seven or so rocks were (and maybe still are) as big as cars. Our own personal Stonehenge. This was our altar. Only one “girly” magazine was usually available. Only one boy had access. He had the only single dad. His dad had more than one, he just was not sure how inventory-anal his dad was. Pretty sure my single mom did not have one. Cigarettes and girly magazines were hard to come by back in the day. Extinguishing campfires with our own personal firehoses ritually concluded the campouts due to the hideous, lingering odor. How could something so stupid be so much fun?
The tracks divided suburbia from freedom. Our middle class neighborhood bordered one side and a huge chunk of pasture bordered the other side of the railroad tracks. Our boulders were in the pasture with a couple of trees among them. We were trespassing to be sure, but no one ever chased us off. Maybe, when we were at the rocks, the rest of the world was safe from the terrorizing marauders. On one side, we were idiots, losers wreaking havoc on ourselves. On the other side we were bigger idiots and losers wreaking havoc on everyone else.
Drivers’ licenses and real girls (not the ones in the magazines) embarked us on a different and more complicated, teenage journey.
And then a day like no other forever changed my memories of the tracks. Not unlike me, returning home alone from a night of exploits, sleeping bag in tow, my best friend’s little brother was struck and killed by a train within sight of the rocks. Almost to the break in the fence, where you sneak between two houses, cross the street and arrive to the safety of your own yard, where the rush of relief finally settles into your bones.
Resolving tragedies of this magnitude is futile. I suppose we failed to fully educate the little brothers how to negotiate the “tracks” without sustaining serious injury.
Father to four and best friend to Becky Jane for 26 years, Shane Newbold lives life to the fullest birdwatching, fishing, motorcycling and enjoying his family.