I was talking to a friend of mine the other night about motorcycles and it triggered a memory I had about my oldest son and trains. Yeah that is how my brain works, I talk about motorcycles with my friends and I remember trains, go figure. My son, who is now 19, had a love for them when he was very young. At three years old his world consisted of mom, dad, food, playtime and Thomas the Tank Engine. Back then Thomas came on VHS tapes and he had the entire series. If we allowed it, he could binge watch Thomas the Tank Engine to the point that it would make watching the new release of Stranger Things look like a casual glance.
He also had his wooden Thomas train set we nailed onto plywood and painted with trees and roads. It completely covered the coffee table where it became a permanent fixture. He had every train and car from the show, which numbered well over fifty. He would push his wooden trains around that track for hours, imitating the voices of his favorites, Percy, Gordon, James, Harold, Sir Topham Hat and of course Thomas.
We lived in Poway, a suburb in San Diego County where there exists a quaint, old park with a gazebo for concerts and of all things, a small train. Old Poway Park is its name and I cannot tell you how many times we frequented that place and rode that train. It was our go to weekend visit and he would never get bored of going on those rides around that tree lined park on that little steam engine. The station, where we would purchase the tickets, conveniently sold the newest Thomas the Tank Engine trains and of course we would indulge our sweet little boy at each visit.
We owned a business that allowed me to take Mondays off to watch my son while my wife worked. One Monday, I took him to Oceanside where the Coaster train station was located. The Coaster is a commuter train that runs along the coast between Downtown San Diego and Oceanside. It is a beautiful ride along the Pacific through towns like Encinitas and Del Mar. I bought tickets to take us the entire trip downtown where we would ride the Merry-Go-Round at Seaport Village and eat ice cream while watching the aircraft carriers being loaded across the bay.
He had never seen a real sized train before, so this was going to be a treat. I didn’t tell him, until we arrived, what our plans were. The look on his face when I told him we were going to ride a big train was a picture of priceless amazement.
I brought his backpack, where I stored his snacks and drink. He insisted on wearing it on the train. I paid the attendant for the tickets and we entered the station where at this time of the day, was sparse with people. I stood back from him, for just a second, to watch. I will forever have this scene framed in my mind of this empty train platform where stood alone, this little boy wearing shorts, blinking sneakers, striped t-shirt, and a blue Thomas the Tank Engine backpack, patiently waiting for a train to arrive. It was his entire life right there in all of its innocence. Grades were not a concern to him nor were student loans or his next double shift at work. His heart had not been broken yet and he had not experienced loss. The inevitable dismantling of innocence was not scheduled to start with him, for some time. His only concern was that train and the unknown, yet wonderful, adventure it would take him on and the marvelous places he would see.
It’s funny, if you ask him today, he doesn’t recall that Monday where he rode a “big” train for the first time. I, however, will be able to describe it in all its wondrous detail, for the rest of my life.