The Importance of Finding a Park Beside a Railroad Track

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I’m sure things like having an important job and fancy cars and a lot of money are nice, but they certainly pale in comparison to finding a park that is right next to a railroad track.

It took us a few years, but my kids and I finally found the park we’d been waiting for. Sure, we’ve frequented the park with the big yellow slide for years, which is technically adjacent to the train track, but the actual playground is a good three hundred yards or so from the tracks and when trains chug by, the baseball fields and associated buildings obstruct the view. So, you can imagine our delight when we found an old, classic looking playground tucked away behind some modern-looking townhouses and a few shops and restaurants that was no more than a couple first downs away from the train track where the commuter train passes every thirty to sixty minutes on weekdays.

The park isn’t spectacular at first glance. It’s relatively small and the equipment is basic, but just like in real estate, when it comes to parks it’s all about location, location, location. Specifically, proximity to train tracks.

When the trains aren’t passing by, the children play on the weathered, wooden equipment with the fairly nice climbing tower and super cool swinging bridge or scamper around the horizontal tire swing and small, replica train. It seems like a normal playground. However, the moment the train whistle creases the air and the railroad crossing alarm begins to ring, all bets are off. There are simultaneous shouts of “TRAIN!” from all corners of the small enclosure, and tiny people rush toward the corner of the park closest to the train tracks like a bunch of miniature Black Friday shoppers rushing to secure a particularly enticing doorbuster deal.

Fortunately, there is a small arrangement of rocks in the corner of the park where the kids gather. You have to make sure you get there fast to get the best position. Alternatively, some children choose to linger even when the trains aren’t passing by to hold their position, but frankly, this technique is frowned upon by purists. Sharp hearing and reaction time is supposed to mean something in the train spotting game.

But, in all seriousness, it’s pretty heartwarming to see a playground full of children go running to a small outcropping of rocks every few minutes just so they can wave and shout at a train passing by. The ability of children to find wonder and joy in the smallest, most mundane things is one of their most endearing qualities. Those little weirdos are just so darn adorable sometimes.

It's crazy to think how that sense of joy and awe can slip away faster than a speeding train. If only there was some way to slow it down. It’s something I think about a lot, particularly at this time of year. How fast things move. How quickly children change and grow. I guess the only thing to do is hold on and enjoy the ride. And make sure you find a park with good train access and clean sight lines. Because one thing is certain, The Childhood Express moves at a relentless pace.

If you love this post, I have some good news. My book, Fatherhood: Dispatches From the Early Years, is available on Amazon. And while you’re here, check out some recent stories about domestic life in central Florida…

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