Passing My Youth With No Brakes

As a boy I hated having to apply my brakes on my bike as I raced down a steep hill.

And I always dreamed that I’d fly under the descending railway gates (and, yes, they were gates) coming down before and after the railway tracks because I had the summer wind in my lightweight coat and a crush on a local girl in my heart. But the red lights would flash and the old gates would descend. So I would have to use my brakes.

I was always tempted to give two fingers to the man in the signal box — and even to this day I’m clueless about his enigmatic profession. He sat above the lines in a glass-encased building and he was always drinking out of a Thermos. But there were numerous gadgets around him that he sometimes pulled, a far-away look in his eyes as the signals snapped up or down, depending on his whim or whether his wife would be making steak and kidney for supper or would he have to leg it to the chippy.

After coming to a stop, I’d have to wait beside the cars, being frowned on by grown-ups, tormented by kids who never had to cycle anywhere, or barked at by dogs on springs that slathered the cars’ windows with stuff that looked like spit-bug glop.

And by the time I got to the park to meet my girl, she had gone. The only evidence that she had been there, her name carved into the bench, mine rudely scratched out.


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