The mysterious open gate

I need to start recording these moments. Before I know it Jacob and Natalie will be all grown-up and my memory will not serve me well. So I better hold on tight to things like today.

This afternoon I picked up Jacob at 1:15 from his elective classes through DVIA. He had chess, art and spanish. Off we drove to fill up the van at Costco. $86 for a tank of gas! Man oh man. Okay, so as we drove away from the pump and I was still mentally freaking out at how much money I had just spent on gas, Jacob started excitedly pointing out to me that a train was stopped on the other side of the chain link fence of the Costco parking lot. Now, mind you, this is not the first time we’ve seen a train at Costco. To me they seem to be there quite frequently. But nonetheless he acted as though it was as special of a moment as the first time we had seen one. I love that kind of unbridled joy and sweet excitement that hasn’t yet met the Law of Diminishing Returns. I love that. He asked, pleaded, if we could pleeeeeeeeeease go see the train at the fence. Okay. Sure. On my agenda I wanted to do grocery shopping, go home to put all the groceries away and start cleaning our tornado-stricken house before needing to go pick up Natalie from school. But, hey, kids are only kids for a short while right? I’ve had so many people encourage me to hold onto these years with them. So it felt like a perfect moment to hold onto and set my agenda aside.

We parked close to the fence, got out and went walking up to the chain link fence. Interesting-very interesting-the engine of the train was on. The window of the engine train was open. But there was no sight of the conductor- or should I say engineer? So we waited thinking perhaps he was ducking down or perhaps out of view. Nope. No sight of him. So then we started speculating where he might be. Jacob thought he perhaps was in the other engine train that was attached to that one. So we walked down along the coarse gravel pathway to go get a closer look of the 2nd engine train. Nope. No conductor. So curious- and yet the engine was clearly on and making noises. Hmmm. It turned into a little mystery for us.  I took notice that there was a gate in the fence- and look! The gate was ajar. Someone had unlocked that gate and walked through. Perhaps- just perhaps- the engineer decided to stop the train, leave it running, and real quick go run to the Costco Food Court to get some pizza. Hmmm…..could that be the case? So we talked about how if we happened to be the type of person who didn’t make terrific decisions, how easy it would be to walk through that open gate, climb up the ladder at the front of the engine and go make ourselves comfortable inside! Jacob’s eyes grew wide in awe at the thought of how easy it would be for someone to just climb onboard and drive away with this train! There was truly not a soul in sight. Where was this engineer? At this point we had been there discussing 10-15 minutes. Hmmm. The mystery continued. Jacob predicted that perhaps the engineer was out of sight because he was busy coupling or uncoupling some of the cargo trains that were attached. So, we continued walking down the gravel pathway the length of the 5 or 6 tanker cars. Nope. Nope. Nope. No sight of the engineer. Hmmmm.

Then all of a sudden I spotted 3 men walking from Costco towards the part of the parking lot we were at. They came bearing food court soda cups. Hmmm. One of them had a bright orange jumper on. Maybe you don’t call them jumpers- but kind of like a CalTrans orange overalls- where all of his clothes are inside and he’s stepped into this work jump suit. I nudged Jacob- maybe, just maybe, he was the engineer! So, we quickly started trodding over the coarse gravel rocks (crunch, crunch, crunch underfoot) to get back to that open gate at the same time hoping to intersect their path before they passed through. Jacob started RUNNING. He didn’t want to miss this opportunity if it was really the engineer!!!!

I arrived just at the moment the 3 men were about to walk through the gate. “Hi!!!” I exclaimed. “We’d love to say hi! Do you have a moment?!” They kindly stopped. “So by any chance are one of you the engineer of the train?” Yup! But it was not the guy in the bright orange jumpsuit. He was one of the conductors. The engineer stretched out his hand and shook Jacob’s hand. That moment was priceless. Jacob was stoked beyond stoked. Words can’t even express the look that was on his face. So of course I had to ask what’s the difference between a conductor and an engineer. In my mind they were synonyms. No, not so much. The guys started bantering back and forth taking jabs at each other. The engineer saying you need to have more education to become the engineer. The conductor saying you need to have more physical strength to be the conductor. The engineer is the one who officially drives the train with one hand. The conductor uses both hands- pressing lots of buttons- to make the train do what it needs to do. The conductor is also the one who couples and uncouples the train cars. Little did I know that all trains have a 3-man crew: 1 engineer + 2 conductors. Except those trains that go across the country; they only have a 2-man crew: 1 engineer + 1 conductor. These guys haul the tanker cars to/from the refineries here in L.A. Fascinating stuff!!!

So we had to ask if in fact they stopped at Costco for lunch. Yes they did. One of them had pizza, another one had two hot dogs and I can’t remember what the third guy had. I was doing all the talking and Jacob was just standing there gawking at these guys. Truly- his jaw had dropped and he stood there open-mouth as though he couldn’t believe this was all for real happening! He did ask them a question at one point about who couples the cars- they seemed really impressive that this young boy knew the term “couple” for that action of connecting the train cars.

They asked if we frequent this Coscto often- we said yes and I explained that Jacob is always looking to see if there’s a train there or not. They pointed to my flip flops and Jacob’s green Crocs and said “next time, if you guys have closed toe shoes on, we’ll let you climb up into the engine!” WHOA! WOW!!!!! Are you serious!?!??!?!?! Tonight as I tucked Jacob into bed he said “Mama, I’m never ever going to wear my Crocs again. I’m going to wear my tennis shoes from now on.” I clarified “you mean when we go to Costco?” “No, never, ever again. I will never know what cool chance will come up. Can you imagine if today I would have had my tennis shoes on?!?! They would have invited me up into the engine!!! That would have been sooooooooooooo cool!!!! We missed out on that super super cool chance Mama!!!” I told him we would just need to try to come back to Costco on a Thursday around 1:30pm again. “But Mama I don’t think they have a regular route”. “Well, Buddy, that’s what we’ll need to figure out. Perhaps they do.”

So that’s where you’ll find Jacob and I on some future Thursdays around 1:30. He’ll be waiting expectantly for that crew of 3 to invite him up into the engine train. I just looooooove this. In two months Jacob will be 7 years old. His love of trains started when he was 1 year old. The fact that he is still SOOOOOO mesmerized and excited by the sight of trains, tracks, junctions, signals… name it……is just precious beyond words to me. Today was a happy day. Today was one of those moments I was glad we were able to part ways with the to-do list and just let the love of learning and the pursuit of the spontaneous occur.


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