Daily Post: Underground

I grew up in a house across the street from train tracks. At one time they carried passenger trains, but during my childhood and still today, the trains carried cars or fuel or freight. As children we were able to cross over the tracks- always looking both ways for the headlight of a train, and occasionally seeing it in the distance but running across anyway. Sometimes we would stand and feel the air rushing by as the train passed and wave to the man who sat in the last car as we watched the train disappear down the tracks. Sometimes the train would idle on the tracks for hours, leaving us no choice but to use the tunnel or “underpass” that ran underground beneath the tracks.

It was dimly lit and dirty, empty liquor bottles strewn around or broken, and it stunk to high heaven. We would scream as we ran through as the echo was the only good thing about it, and somehow it made us feel safer, the sound reverberating off the walls and filling the empty space. After a young boy was killed trying to jump onto the train as it passed by, a fence was erected to prevent anyone from crossing the tracks. Now we had no choice but to use the underpass. Over the years it has been cleaned up and painted, but it is still a dank and unpleasant place to enter, and as I still live in my childhood neighborhood I sometimes do have to use it. I no longer scream as I run through, but I do still run. Something about being underground and not being able to see the staircase to exit as you enter from one side still unnerves me.1

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Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Train on the Tracks

I took this photo standing on an overpass over the train tracks near my home. The early morning sun caught the reflection of the fog still in the air. There is something surreal about standing over a train as it runs underneath you. I waved to the conductor who saw me and waved back.

Another view from the overpass, facing the other direction at a different time of daytracks

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Cee’s Which Way Challenge

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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.

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In Transit-Daily Prompt

The Daily Prompt: Train stations, airport terminals, subway stops: soulless spaces full of distracted, stressed zombies, or magical sets for fleeting, interlocking human stories?

I commuted for 30 years into New York City. I stood on line every morning at the bus stop usually with the same people. We would nod a hello to one another, some would not look up from their phones, others engrossed in their paper. There was the occasional person who would strike up a conversation, looking to be friendly, but they were a rare exception. I often wondered where people were headed, what they did for a living, what was on their minds.

Then the evening rush came, some familiar faces, but most not, together on the crosstown bus which chugged along slowly, people tired out from the day, expressionless. Sometimes stuck in traffic the passengers would bond over their predicament of wanting to get home but being stuck on a city bus, for many just the first leg of that journey. We complained to one another, agreeing about the necessary evil this bus was, but how the service was unreliable, the  bus not clean. Finding validation in our mutual agreement. In real life none of us would most likely have anything to do with one another, but here we had this ride in common.

A mad dash through the Port Authority Bus Terminal, taking the stairs because the escalator moved at a snails pace, none of the commuters making eye contact now, all focused on making that 5:20 bus, and then as we reached the top of that escalator, the dreaded sight: the line to the bus platform, snaking down the up escalator, onto the concourse and winding around out of sight. We all would groan in unison, once again united in our plight. What else to do but stand in line and grouse to one another, share what we were going to be missing by arriving home late, complaining that this was happening way too often.

Upon finally reaching the bus, boarding and embarking, all were silent, many sleeping, some reading, but all silent. Once again each unto himself, until the next time we would be united by our commute.

 

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