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When time is short, take the train

I have only so many days, hours and minutes left to live.

I am at an age where I am increasingly conscious of my limitations, and none more than this: I am moving rapidly to the top of the last hill on the roller coaster. It’s not the biggest hill on the ride, but it is the final one before my car hits the station.

As in: The Station.

We‘re all on this ride. We can’t get out of the car … no matter how much we want to believe otherwise.

Unlike some of my peers, I will not disguise or avoid recognition of my plight with a feeble attempt to convince myself and others of my potency, my place in the world, my inevitable transition to another, more perfect state. Neither am I, in desperation, going to court college coeds, take a seat on a property owners association board of directors, or attend meetings and stand up and yell. I will not take up golf, nor will I write fiery letters to the editor, buy a tri-corner hat and a cheap Revolutionary War army getup and take to a rally, there to posture and screech about my freedom and my taxes while my stomach falls over the elastic waistband of my cheesy breeches and my colostomy bag leaks for all to enjoy.

Nope, I intend instead to be increasingly mindful of where I am and whom I am with, and to attempt to savor what is there for me, should I choose to dive in.

Sometimes this works, and I think I am getting the hang of it.

So, on a recent Saturday, I find myself sitting in an open train car, swaying back and forth on a poorly padded seat, watching the sights in downtown Durango pass by. There is goofy music playing on a loud speaker and a hammerhead dressed as a Gilded Age conductor — muttonchops, stop watch and chain, gold-rimmed specs and all — is ho-ho-ho’ing his way down the aisle.

I am on the Thomas the Tank Engine train ride with Bonz, my 2 1/2-year-old grandson. The train is packed with kids and their parents and/or grandparents. Kids are sniffling, snorfing and hacking. It is like a Petri dish on rails.

Thomas the Tank Engine is a big deal to these kids and they are having the time of their lives on this special excursion. It is the final leg of an experience that has included a petting zoo with a couple mangy goats, a stick-on tattoo concession (Bonz has me check out his tattoo every couple of minutes), a train museum, and a gift shop with Thomas souvenirs, all of which are extraordinarily overpriced and all of which, of course, captivate the lad.

Thomas the Tank Engine is pretty darned special — a big deal in Kidville.

Having never heard of the cartoon character before Bonz got his first Thomas book, I underwent a rapid education. Many have been the times when Bonz has carted his Thomas books to the living room, directed me to sit in the chair, and plopped in my lap, ready to read about Thomas and his friend Percy (for the umpteenth time). To summarize: Thomas and Percy go back and forth on tracks. Trains do that, you know.

I have managed to mitigate the situation: Bonz has yet to realize that, once fueled by a sturdy gin and tonic, his grandfather has a way of turning three to four pages of a book at a time. Bonz is so obsessed with Percy, in particular, that he is simply thrilled to encounter a new image, not realizing there are oh-so-many more he could enjoy if his grandfather played the game by the rules.

I am also fortunate that, like his grandfather, Bonz is easily distracted. The slightest movement outside the large windows at the front of the room causes him to rush to the deck in search of hummingbirds, foxes or deer. A sound in the distance diverts his attention. The mention (by someone sitting in the same chair) that there are grapes in the refrigerator, sends him dashing to the kitchen.

When all else fails, wrestling does the trick.

But, this day, no distraction is possible. I am on the train, listening to Thomas the Tank Engine Train music.

“Thomas, the train, rollin’ down the track

“Choo choo choo, up and back…

“Thomas makes friends wherever he goes…”

It’s driving me nuts.

Bonz, on the other hand, is lit up like a casino sign on the Las Vegas Strip. He is intent on waving at everyone and everything as the train passes – kids, adults, dogs, cars, traffic signals. It is a major part of the process.

The conductor comes through the car again.

“Hey kids, are we having a great time?”

“Yay!”

“Hey kids, I can’t hear you. Are we having a great time?”

I want to pound the geek and hurl his limp carcass from the train.

But, Bonz likes him. He is, after all, a friend of Thomas, and Thomas, after all, is a friend of Percy.

“Thomas the train, chuggin’ down the rail

“Bringing friends treats, bringing them the mail …”

Dear lord!

To be honest, with my new carpe diem outlook on life, I am not entirely dismayed. There are two aspects of the experience I cherish. First, the joy of children. Bonz and the other little ones are ecstatic.

Second, the trip takes just thirty minutes.

After we disembark at the station, we see Bonz’s best friend Koen and his dad, KP, and his grandma, Tutu. They are taking the next trip. Tutu and I exchange meaningful glances.

With Bonz in tow, we make a cursory pass at the mangy goats, wheel through the tattoo booth, and make a beeline to the museum so Kathy can purchase a grossly overpriced Thomas the Tank Engine Train souvenir for Bonz.

That infernal music is playing in the background. It is driving me crazy.

Then, at last, we are out on the streets and on the hunt for lunch.

Ahhh … lunch. One of the details of life that is definitely worth the attention.

Lunch without music. No waving. No pinheads in conductor outfits. No train whistles. No music featuring a Farfisa organ.

We end up at a favorite Middle Eastern restaurant, at a table on the patio, seated beneath a huge umbrella.

What will do the trick?

Well, certainly a glass of chilled rosé. It’s been a trying journey on Thomas, and I’m hot.

Next, something zippy (“picey,” according to Bonz), but not too heavy. There is an hour’s journey by car before we are home, and I don’t want to nod off behind the wheel.

The choice is easy: falafel.

What arrives at the table is not the falafel one finds in a dry form at the market — a powdery, overly-spiced sawdust-like product waiting to drink up water and form a thick paste.

Nope, this is homemade falafel — chopped and mashed chickpeas, light, delicately spiced with cumin, coriander, parsley, garlic, the bean taking precedence. Two good-size patties, crispy and brown, are put on a large, grilled pita. A glob of freshly-made hummus and slices of tomato join the patties and the mess is topped off with a great tzaziki – a garlicky, yogurt sauce loaded with finely diced cucumber, kissed with some mint. There are thin slices of red onion and a stack of greens on the plate. I load the onions on the pita, fold the bread over and dive in.

Mmmmm. if it weren’t for the train whistle and the music wafting up from downtown, I’d think I was in Beirut.

Everything is in focus. The depth is there, things are clear, I am present.

Bonz is plowing through some pieces of gyro and playing with his Thomas toy. Kathy, Ivy and Jon are enjoying their meals. Koen, KP and Tutu show up and take the table next to ours. Bonz and Koey hug each other and zip around the patio either captivating or irritating nearby diners.

A good way to spend some of those minutes that are left, eh?

But, I still want to clobber the conductor.

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