This is the underpass in town that allows you to cross the train tracks by going under them. I grew up in a house across the street from here, but back then there was no fence so we would just look both ways and run across those tracks. Once across my friends and I would run to the candy store up the block, Murphy’s, where we could buy Matchbox cars and comic books and order egg creams or milkshakes at the soda fountain counter spinning on the round seats that turned as you pushed your hand against the counter to get momentum. We tried to always be polite as Mrs. Murphy seemed to be in a perpetual bad mood no matter what day we came in. She was the skinniest person I had ever seen and was never without a cigarette hanging from her mouth. She was plain as anything, and on the rare occasion she smiled, you could see all those nicotine stained yellow teeth she had. On the way home we’d stop in at the bakery next door, it was called “Home Made Bakery” and we’d buy a few cookies from Ethel, the owner and baker, and she would always give us one for free. Sometimes as we looked both ways before crossing the tracks on the way home, we would see the headlight of the train in the distance and would take out a penny to put on one of the rails. We’d stand back, but still pretty close, as the train whooshed past, feeling the strong wind it made blowing in our faces. Once the caboose passed we’d run onto the tracks to wave at the man sitting in back. Then we’d look for the penny, now flattened by those powerful wheels, and still hot from the friction of wheel upon rail. We never went into the underpass, it was dirty and smelly and dank- who knew what or who could be lurking in the shadows.
10 years ago there was an incident with someone trying to hop onto the train which did not end well for the child. The trains are not commuter trains, but large freight trains. After the accident the fence went up so no one could access those tracks, and the underpass was cleaned up, painted and lights were put in. So these days I find myself using the underpass, though I admit I run through it, still fearful of what creature might have found its way in, and though cleaner, it is still not a place you would want to linger. Murphy’s and the Home Made Bakery are long gone, replaced with upscale restaurants. But I find myself still standing near the fence to watch as a train goes by, closing my eyes, feeling that whoosh of wind on my face, and allowing me to feel like I’m 12 once again.