Every weekend morning, the first thing out of Jonah’s mouth is wan go see train?
Of course I want to go see the train, bunny. I am waiting with bated breath to see the train.
Thus begins our day, nearly always around 7:30am…bathing, dressing, driving to Stewart’s or Dunkin’ Donuts for a coffee & usually something to eat (the coffee’s for me but Jonah’d drink it if I let him), then heading to Voorheesville where we pull over by a randomly-open cash-only diner next to the train tracks and sit to wait for the inevitable train (there isn’t a schedule but there are plenty of early trains on the weekends).
I’m usually still pretty sleepy, whereas Jonah springs out of bed with the energy of noontime. By the time I get him buckled in his booster seat, he’ll have worked himself up to a fever pitch, sucking his thumb in eager anticipation, humming urgently, and carefully tracking our turns to ensure I do not deviate from the accustomed route. It was a bitch when they closed Krumkill Road for a few weeks and we had to take an alternate path to go-see-train.
That Way! That Way! Jonah would shout, pointing to the ROAD CLOSED sign.
Jonah, That Way is CLOSED! I’d answer, cursing the construction, putting a Guster CD in to distract him, trying not to cave in to complete exasperation with the weekend only a few hours old.
God help us if I need gas, for that requires deviation from the route as well. I can almost hear the gears of anxiety cranking into motion in Jonah’s brain. Wait! Will there not be donut?
On these days, as I head toward the gas station, his voice from the backseat calls out every three seconds or so, with increasing urgency: donut?
“Yes, yes, bunny, okay, donut. Donut is open for business! Train is open for business! Five minutes.”
Five mitt-ens, he confirms, deep suspicion in his voice. Sometimes there is a breakdown at this point: me pumping gas and muttering to myself (why didn’t I do this yesterday?) – Jonah screeching, twisting in his car seat, trying to kick the window. If the breakdown is bad, I’ll take him home for quiet time – but this is rare, as he is careful, even in his most anxious moments, not to compromise a chance at witnessing that glorious, graffiti-painted cargo train whiz by.
Some days when we arrive at the pull off area by the tracks, we see other train people. Because Jonah has adored trains for two years or so now, I’ve learned a thing or two about these colorful characters. They’re called railfanners, and they seek out the train-watching experience with an enthusiasm remarkably akin to Jonah’s.
These railfanners, some with out-of-state plates, pull over and set up tripods to capture it all on video – from the moment the train enters sight around the bend to the time it disappears in a shrinking pinpoint down the straight track at the other end. I want to ask the railfanners from Vermont and Massachusetts if they have trains in their own states, and if so, why they drive all this way to see ours. Is Voorheesville a famous hotspot among railfanner elite?
We see one teenage boy a lot who rides over on his bike; he is outfitted with a neon green volunteer safety patrol vest, cell phone, and walkie-talkie.
I ask him when the next train is coming, and he answers there’s a train leaving the Selkirk station in five minutes and another should be coming from the other direction in three minutes. I wonder if he has Asperger’s. He knows so ridiculously much about the trains – where they’ve come from, where they’re going, which ones are owned by what companies, why some trains have three engines, what the trains are carrying – and more – that my mind is blown.
Armed with this new information concerning the arrival of the next train, Jonah waits in eager anticipation, cupping his hand behind his ear as I roll down all the windows. He almost always offers running commentary. Hear it? Comin? I hear it! Hear it? Train com-in? Hear it? I hear it! Comin?
By the time the clang of the railroad crossing begins and the lights flash with the lowering of the gate, Jonah is beside himself with excitement. Sometimes he’s cool about it, betraying his eagerness only by sucking his thumb with vigor and widening his eyes, and other times he shouts yaaaaaaaaay! and bounces in the seat, grunting and humming expectantly. The train horn is always very loud, and Jonah covers his ears for that part, keen to catch the visual of the cars blurring as they pass, tilting his head to watch glinting sun reflections off shiny surfaces. Then he sucks his thumb again, rocking in time to the rhythmic lurchings and mechanical tempos of the amazing, oft-sought-after train.
Sometimes we’re lucky; I’ll drive around a bit after the train comes, and on the way back we’ll have perfect timing to see another one. When we arrive home on those extra special days, he’ll declare to his dad, in rare full sentence style, We saw two trains!
For Jonah, life doesn’t get much better than that.
For maybe five mitt-ens.
Then it’s on to the next thing on his favorites list. He scrolls through verbally until we capitulate on something.
And sometimes, even, again:
Wan go see train?