Farther Down the Line
Autumn. Even the word itself is the prettiest among those of the seasons: winter, spring, summer, autumn. And it’s the only season with two names. So it’s special. The chill in the air, the smell of chimney smoke and burning rice fields, glowing yellow lights peeking through bright orange pumpkins next to haystacks on porches at dusk. All of the golds, browns, greens, rubies and yellows…the scent of cloves and nutmeg coming from the kitchen, and the mounting excitement of another holiday season waiting in the wings. It’s practically the perfect storm.
When I was in college, we had this…tradition. It was frowned upon by the local authorities and, I’m told, still is. It was the kind of thing you find in every small town – some spooky, daring or otherwise incorrigible activity that goes on in a place known only to the locals for reasons that are a mix of legend and history. For those of us who were fortunate enough to spend our days at Dear Old Mother Williams, we call this the Bono Bridge.
Now, you could go to Bono Bridge any time of the year, but late autumn is absolutely the best time to go. It needs to be chilly, but not freezing. And it needs to be scary. What better way to get the adrenaline going than to pick a time when there’s a nip in the air and ghost stories are on everyone’s minds?
Bono Bridge isn’t a place you approach casually. In fact, unless you’re from around those parts, it’s not a place you approach at all. See, someone has to let you in on the secret. There’s no sign posted by Parks and Tourism. And you’d better not ask the cashier at Dollar General to point you in the right direction. Typically, folks don’t go around talking about this sort of thing. I’m kind of breaking a rule or two by even bringing it up. But if you are fortunate enough to have a proper introduction to Bono Bridge, you will thank every single one of your lucky stars.
First, you drive down an old County Road. It’s gravel. It’s dark. It goes on forever. You turn your high beams on, hoping to not only illuminate the path but frighten away any creatures who may be lurking in the shadows. Just when you think you can’t drive anymore, you’ll see it, up a bit and to the left – an old wooden bridge. To what I’m sure is the dismay of the Bono Police Department, the gravel road widens ever so slightly at this point, leaving just enough space to pull your car off to the side and stand a decent shot at going unnoticed in the dark.
As you pile out of the car, you realize just how dark it is without street lamps or headlights. If the moon is high and full, you’ll also realize just how little you need either of those things as you and your friends stand in a huddle on the bridge, giggling and shivering and straining to hear that first chuga-chuga-chuga-chuga in the distance, silvery moonlight lining your faces and twisting stray pieces of your hair into wiry, ethereal halos.
And then, you hear it. First, it’s faint. Inaudible almost. But as the sound grows louder, it’s obvious: the train is coming. Everyone takes their places on the bridge. You get as close to the edge as possible, toes barely hanging off of the worn wooden slats. You hold onto each other and the rusty wire connecting the bridge posts as you see the engine light flickering in the distance. Finally, the train comes into view. You just know that this is going to be the best one ever. You take one last breath of sharp, frosty air and close your eyes as the train screams down the track and barrels under the rickety bridge. A rush of hot air from the engine billows upward and into your faces, dissipating before you can catch your breath long enough to get a lung-full.
The girls giggle. The guys hoot and high-five. The five-o rolls up. Everyone scampers to the car, breathless and wide-eyed. What good fortune, what amazing fate! A d-stack and the PD all in one visit. You have officially arrived, and bragging rights are issued forthwith.
When you finally make it back to campus, you tip-toe past the Security desk (they’ve been known to interpret jurisdiction broadly, after all) and wink knowingly at each other before going up the stairs and climbing into bed, exhausted from the thrill of it all.
So when the leaves start to change, and the air turns colder, it’s no wonder that I get homesick for the college days, when standing on a bridge, waiting for a train to pass was full of magic. When the moments were enough and neither the future nor the past weighed more than an ounce on our minds. We didn’t talk politics, and if we had any bills, our parents paid them. We simply stood and breathed in the chilly autumn air.