Adventures in Autistic Parenthood

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Trains, Not Planes or Automobiles:

I'm pretty well used to the idea that most of the things I'm interested in as diversions aren't universally popular in our house. Long drives, biking, walking trails, getting lost in the woods, taking pictures, and 99% of the shows on the Discovery/History channels. But it seems that even a broken clock is right twice a day, and sometimes that even happens on the right day.
   I know I'm repeating myself, but David's mom bailed when it came time for Dude's visit, and just to make it more interesting, she didn't call for the preceding 3 weeks, waiting until just 3 days before she was supposed to pick him up before informing me of her decision. After that unpleasant phone call there was 4 solid days of trying to explain to Dude why he wasn't taking a plane ride this year, and how it wasn't his fault.
   With 30 extra days of Dudeness this year I decided that we should have some sort of adventure-ish things to do on the weekends. I'm not sure why this seemed like Dude would think this was such a good idea, as his favorite adventures all revolve around his game console. But, undeterred, I plowed on. The one thing that Dave was really sad about was not getting to ride in a plane, which he absolutely loves. I got out of buying a rather expensive plane ticket to aimlessly circle the city, by telling him that we would go on a train ride for his birthday. He was unexpectedly excited about the idea. I was starting to feel pretty smart when he started talking about 'Taking the train to the plane'.  I think he was remembering the tram from the terminal to the gates at the Pittsburgh airport. Even when I told him that wasn't the train we were going on he still seemed pretty interested, so I let it lie.
  Our first expedition was a scouting trip to Oil Creek State Park, the birthplace of the entire petroleum industry and home to the Titusville and Oil Creek Rail Road. On the way we stopped in a Sheets and across the street at the local DMV was a strange flower garden. There were 14 or so flowers all made out of street signs. Raine immediately knew that a photo op would ensue. She was right. I tried to get Dude excited about the signs, but he just said, 'Yeah.' and turned up the MP3 player.
   We got to the park and did a little car-scouting (which pleased my two passengers no end as the didn't have to walk anywhere) until we found a short circle-trail along the creek and through a little bit of woods. Despite complaints to the contrary we did not walk the entire Appalachian Trail (2100 miles), we walked maybe a mile on a nearly completely flat trail.
  Something I've noticed about taking David (or Raine) on any walking path; He'll hang back so far that you're afraid you'll either lose him or have to take a nap waiting for him to catch up. Then, somehow, he seems to know when we've reached the halfway point and are actually heading back to the car. Then he'll be so far ahead of you it seems as if he's running ahead for help (help for him, or us we're never too sure about). We once walked along Slippery Rock Creek to Breakneck Falls in McConnell's Mill SP and he was taking soooo much time and being so very careful climbing over the rocks I started to feel sorry for him. But as soon as we turned around and headed for the car he was suddenly leaping from rock to rock with a grace that would put shame to a mountain goat. He reached the trail head while we were still 50 feet or so down the trail, despite being repeatedly called back to walk with us.
   With our scouting trip under our belts we set out the next weekend for Dude's favorite part. I was actually afraid to tell him where we were going for fear of what I'd have to explain if the train wasn't running for some reason or another. Luckily for me when we got to Titusville not only did we find the Titusville and Oil Creek Railroad right where they said it was, but the train was already there and waiting for us to board. Unfortunately it had to wait, as we had gotten there almost an hour early. Dave, knowing nothing of train schedules wanted to board immediately. 'There's the TRAIN! ALL ABOARD!' he yelled as he headed for the platform.  'Slow down, boy.' I said, grabbing him by the collar as he whisked by, 'First we have to buy the tickets.' I skipped over the part where we had to get lunch and wait an hour, but eventually we were standing out on the platform waiting (impatiently) for the conductor to allow us on board. Dave loves waiting in line (yeah, right) and with the train right there, 30 feet away, it was almost more than he could take. 'Tickets, please. Gotta get the tickets to get on the train. ALL ABOARD!'  Then he'd take off for the roped off portion of the platform. I got more than a few indulgent smiles as I continually had to corral Dude back into line.  We were finally allowed to board, and immediately ran to the back to get to the open car. But for some 'safety' reason we weren't allowed onto that car yet. The T&OCRR was very big on safety. We must have heard 25 times throughout the trip that they'd never had an 'safety accident' (whatever the hell that is) in their history.  The... I guess he was a porter, was talking over the conductor's safety speech, telling us 'what you really need to know' instead of what the guy was trying to tell us. I guess we really needed to know some of it, because he repeated the thing about crossing between the cars about 4 times. Dave immediately broke 2 of their safety rules by banging on the window to get me to open it, and then putting his arm on the window sill with his elbow sticking out of the car. This did not make the Nazi train porter guy very happy, but it was kind of funny watching him trying to get Dude to understand how large his transgression of the rules actually was. Dude ignored him like the 'King of the Rails' he is, I told the porter that I'd 'watch him like a hawk' and life continued on, as I suspected it would.
  Once we had reached the first stop we were allowed to herd into the open car. Now that sounds really glamorous until you realise that the 'Open Car' is just a hundred year old flatbed rail car with 2x12 railings, and that the railroad itself is a bit less than diligent about clearing the right-of-way of overhanging branches. It's evidently much easier to patrol the car and warn people not to hang over the side than actually clear the dangerous brush away from the tracks. Still, enough people were smacked with leaf filled branches at random intervals to cause me to doubt the effectiveness of their technique. The whole there-and-back ride took about 2 1/2 hours. It took David about 20 minutes to get over riding the flatcar like a hobo-tourist, and once I found him sitting on the floor the second time I took him back into the passenger car with Raine. (she lasted 10 minutes) I, however was in my element and stayed on the flatcar for most of the trip. After a while the Catholic Guilt started to kick in, it seemed as if I were the only one enjoying himself on this family outing. I re-entered the passenger car and found both my fellow travellers kicked back in the seats on opposite sides of the car, far from the miserable travel wretches I imagined I'd find.
   It's kind of a funny thing. In the old train cars, rather than turning the car toward the direction of travel, the seat backs were upholstered on both sides and slid to either the front or back of the seat. This meant that if no one was in the seat ahead of you, you could just push the seat back forward and suddenly you had a padded footstool in front of you. And this is how I found my travelling companions, stretched out on either side of the aisle, feet up, enjoying the scenery and the breeze blowing through the open windows. Dave looked up at me and said with a grin, 'This is soooo COOL!' It seems I was wasting perfectly good guilt on the two of them, so after a bit I went back out on the flatcar with conscience clear.
   After we'd all piled in the car and were headed home Raine nearly unhinged my jaw with the comment, 'Next time we need to go on a train with a steam engine.' Dave piped in with, 'Go on the steam train like the choo-choo!' (I'm not sure I could translate that, but it sounded like he agreed) So it seems that not only was I wasting guilt, I completely missed the opportunity to bask in some well deserved glory. I hate when that happens. My father used to say (and might still) that 'The sun will even smile on a dog's ass someday.'  Well, I am that dog's ass, and that day I was just basking in the rays. Now excuse me, I have to go talk to a man about a steam train.

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