Monday, July 9, 2012

Trainspotting in the Gloamin'**

Andis spent a rare Friday evening at home with his wife, and son and so he wondered what to do to make the most of it.  Usually, he was teaching English on a Friday evening and wouldn't get home till past ten p.m.  But he had secured some leave from his school on account of his father having died during his vacation.  With the weather being so humid this Friday, Andis was tempted to stay home.  However, he would have none of this and decided he was going to take his son Tony for an e-bike ride in the area near his home.

Andis and his family lived in a suburb of a small Chinese city that was being built up by the local government.  Whether the local government was that of the city of which the suburb was a part or the local government was that of the suburb itself, Andis couldn't determine.  Whoever the authority was, the area around Andis's apartment was seeing lots of construction.  Andis reckoned he had seen a hundred apartment buildings and scores of office buildings being built.  And there was also a finished high-speed train line and a subway route under construction.  

Not but ten years before, the area in which Andis lived was very rural, or so he was told by a local he knew who could speak decent English.  Andis liked looking at and exploring the rural parts of the area in which he lived, but he noticed that in the few years he had lived in the area, the old and rural parts were disappearing, being torn down and replaced by more apartment and office buildings.

Andis had no trouble convincing his son Tony to go out of their apartment building and do some exploring.  Tony, when asked, said yes immediately.  So, off father and son went, down the stairs from their apartment to the e-bike that was parked in the lobby.

The e-bike was a beat-up thing.  It's back carrying case's lid was held on with tape which as also used to keep other parts of the e-bike's body together.  An accumulation of collisions and being parked in crowded places had contributed to its dilapidation.  The e-bike was still a keeper, however, because its main frame was solid, its tires were not flat, and its battery was new.

As Andis pulled the e-bike out of the apartment lobby, he had no place in particular that he wanted to go.  He drove the e-bike, with Tony sitting on the floorboard between his legs, in the direction of a local park where he was planning not to go because he had taken Tony there two consecutive days already.  Nearing the local park, Andis decided to ride to the O-park building, the most modern looking office building near his apartment.  

The O-Park Building, all plastic-surfaced and curvy, was the anchor building of an office building complex built by the local government to attract software companies.  The grounds in and around the park were worth exploring.  On either side of a nearby canal, there were walkways, stairs, promenades, pools, monuments, and piers which were ideal for strolling about and were e-bike friendly.  Andis thought to go to the building and then slowly work his and Tony's way back to their apartment along the canal.

Andis and Tony rode the bike path along a wide boulevard which lead to the O-Park.  They passed many other e-bikers, some of whom were carrying swimming floats.  Andis knew that these e-bikers were going to go to the park that he and Tony had been to the past two evenings.  This park had a small lake  which seemed an ideal place to swim in the very humid weather and so the place was crowded.  Andis wanted to avoid the crowds and explore an area more appealing to his eccentric tastes, so he continued along the boulevard to the "big O."

The boulevard had traffic signals.  Stopped at a red light at an intersection that was but a block from the O-Park building, Tony told Andis that he wanted to look at trains.  Ever seeking to please Tony, Andis instead of going straight as he was planning, almost immediately made a left turn.  Whether Tony knew it or not, he chose the right time and place to tell Dad of his desire to look at trains.  Making a left turn, Andis had only to go straight down another boulevard to get to their favorite spot to do some train spotting.

Andis and Tony happily rode their e-bike along the long, straight boulevard and eventually reached a  kilometer long bridge.  The bridge, accommodating four lanes of auto-traffic, had wide walking and cycling areas on both its sides.  It spanned over a river and some flat adjacent land.  Andis often took Tony here because it was a great place to throw stones and watch train traffic.  At the other end of the bridge, opposite from where Tony and Andis arrived, there was high-speed rail track which towered above the bridge.  The track was built on support columns that were easily one hundred feet tall.  From the bridge deck, one had a magnificent panorama of rail track to observe.  From left to right, one could watch trains ride for three or four kilometers.  Enough trains came by on the tracks to make train-spotting worthwhile.  Andis, estimated that in an hour, ten trains would pass.  And the area around the bridge had other interesting sights to pass the time between train ride-bys.

As their e-bike rode up an incline to get on the bridge, Andis noticed that the e-bike was needing to be re-charged.  With visions of himself having to ride the bike home with the power of his foot pushing against the pavement, Andis parked the e-bike in the center of the bridge, and coaxed Tony into walking on the deck to get closer to the rail tracks.

As they drove to the bridge, they were able to see, from a distance, a train passing by.  This meant that they would have to wait a bit for another train to come.  So they occupied their time by looking over the bridge's side barriers onto the river.  Standing at a position on the bridge that was over a bank, they saw a boat floating against a concrete-reinforced  and sloped bank.  The boat looked to be moored there permanently.  It was lit inside and its residents were tending to fields and ducks on land near the bank.  Ducks were swimming in the water.  Andis also observed a rat swimming to the boat's mooring ropes.  The rat got onto the rope and scurried to a spot under the boat where it could not be seen.

Usually, Andis and Tony came to the bridge in the afternoon.  This was the first time, they had come to it in the evening and and at a time of increasing darkness.  In the gloaming, Andis was at an advantage over Tony when it came to first spotting the train because he knew what to look for:  a headlight following the path of the track.  In the daytime, Tony could spot trains at a distance many seconds before his father could. 

So this evening, Andis spotted the first train coming.  He noticed that from a distance, the train was nothing but its headlights, the glare of which obscured the cabin lights. These lights for the passengers couldn't be seen until the cars came directly into view, which meant for Tony and Andis, the train was right over the bridge.

Seeing the train, Tony's first reaction was to say "I want to see one more!"  This was in fact what Tony said every time he had seen a train, and so Andis took it as Tony saying he liked what he had just seen.  This evening, Andis complied with Tony's request six times.

As they watched the trains pass by, they walked closer towards the tracks, looking at what was beneath the bridge to pass the time.  They saw lots and lots of ducks, for the bridge went over what seemed to be a duck range.  So Andis and Tony saw, right below, a herd of about a hundred ducks go beneath the bridge to another large open area on the other side of the bridge.

They also watched traffic pass on the bridge, including a lot of private cars, trucks, motorcycles, and e-bikes. Andis assumed that many of the e-bikes, carrying swim floats, were going to and from the park with the lake.

When the sixth train passed, Andis did 1-2-3 with his son which meant putting Tony on his shoulders and carrying him back to their e-bike which Andis hoped had enough power to get home.  Andis put the key in the bike and turned the accelerator and initially had lots of power, but as they got closer to their apartment, the bike slowed to a crawl.  Back at their apartment complex, Andis had to look for a spot to recharge.

Thankfully, a spot was easily found.  Father and son returned home after a pleasant night out.

**The Homer in the Gloamin' is one of the most famous walk-off home runs in baseball folklore, hit by Gabby Hartnett of the Chicago Cubs near the end of the 1938 Major League Baseball season.  That's the allusion in this entry's title.

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