A misplaced boyhood adventure could have meant not only the final Summer of elementary school for myself and my best friend. It could, theoretically, have resulted in the last summer on this earth for both of us.
Sure, we had bent the rules many times in the past--like the time we stole Old Man Pinto’s grapes and escaped serious injuries after scaling his fence just ahead of the guard dogs in his backyard vineyard. Seldom, however, had we actually put our lives on the line with this little escapade and a number of others stretching throughout our pre-teen years
This particular summer, however, really had registered near the top--or the bottom--of the boredom scale--depending which way you looked at it. So it didn’t take alot of persuading to get me involved when my lifelong best friend, Tommy, mapped out his plans for “the great adventure” the August before we had to drag our sorry asses back to begin our last year of elementary school before entering the esteemed ranks of high school freshmen.
“I know we haven’t seen the kind of action that I expected this year,” I replied when I heard the ‘plan.’ “The constant boredom actually has made me almost look forward to having our days taken up with studying and putting up with teachers, the so-called food they serve in school lunches and the little free time we get during gym and recess--not.”
Tommy shot back, “I don’t look forward to the Days of the Dungeon anymore than you do. That’s why I really wish we had something to write about--or at least hide about writing about--when Miss Crabtree tells us to scribble a homework assignment about ‘What I Did During My Summer Vacation.’”
“You’re right about one thing, though, if any summer adventure rates on the Top Ten it can’t be something you would want the school authorities--or the cops--to get involved in.”
In any event, my blood brother and I began looking for some type of mischief to get into along Court Street in our boyhood neighborhood of Elizabethport, NJ. Besides the excitement factor, we had to prove that we could get away with something and that we didn't totally lack imagination.
Finally, the answer to our prayer loomed ahead of us--about five city blocks from our home, a huge railroad bridge--or at least it seemed huge to our just-developing pre-teen eyes--stretched across the local freightyard tracks.
Tommy said, “It will take us an extra 10 minutes to walk around the bridge if we stick to the slow-poke ‘legal route’ along the sidewalk on either side of the bridge--why don’t we take a shortcut?”
“It sounds like you are bucking for a ticket to the insane asylum. Do you really want to cross the tracks? We could get run over by a freight train--or at the very least--get some serious hurt both from the authorities and our parents.”
“That’s the adventure part,” he yelled as we climbed the embankment. “Besides, if we run fast enough neither the train nor the authorities will even suspect that we took this alternate route. Almost all the guys at our school do it.”
Fortunately--or so we thought--when we got to the top of the bridge we found no signs of swift-moving caravans of freight, “Deputy-Dog-type” railroad police or the city cops.
“I think we made it,” Tommy yelled, as we ran along the tracks and began hauling our bodies as fast as we could down the other side of the bridge.
Oh! Oh! Not quite as easy as we thought--just as we got to the end of the bridge and ran down to the other side of Court Street I thought I saw someone about 20 yards behind us and closing fast.
“Don’t worry. Just some hobo looking for a place to have a few snorts of booze and sleep off a hangover in one of the boxcars. He’s nobody to worry about,” Tommy screamed.
Nevertheless, we ran even faster, just in case Tommy's theory was completely wrong.
Turns out my esteemed blood brother came out on the low end of the intelligence scale again. Waiting on the street below was a railroad detective, who quickly rounded us up and put us into the back seat of his car--locking the doors from the outside with a gadget next to his steering wheel.
After loudly holding forth with a two-minute lecture on the hazards and regulation violations of crossing the railroad tracks--it seemed like almost an hour--he took down our names and addresses and deposited each of us into the custodies of our not-too-happy parents.
Tommy’s parents had called mine and the four of them had gathered at my house--and not for a neighborhood barbeque. Luckily, after our arrival after school stretched into an hour of lateness approaching dark, our parents spent a great deal more time worrying about our safety than about potential punishments. When the railroad detective brought us home to family dinners now cold, awaiting our arrival, they greeted us more with hugs and open arms than with scornful revenge in their eyes.
They also convinced the railroad detective “to let us take care of this in our own way,” and he agreed not to take it further.
Of course, our safe return did not not completely let us off the hook. The two of us earned some major grounding time from our respective parents, and they scheduled alot more time for catching up on our studies during our last few days of vacation than allowing us to create new “adventures”--but we figured we still got off easy.
Needless to say, on strict orders for our parents, little word of our late-Summer exploration managed to work its way into school compositions or the local rumor mill.
Our parents didn’t feel like dealing with disapproving gossip about their disciplinary methods coming from our much-too-nosy neighbors. They also didn’t want our ventures into Tom Sawyer-land serving as guidelines to future delinquency for the other youngsters in our area.
The exploration, therefore, has remained locked in the annals of our respective families until now.