When we were 15 we hung out at a local pizza parlor on Friday nights and used up all our quarters ( coins ) to play illegal pinball in the back room.
This was ceremoniously done while playing Sticky Fingers on the juke box and sparking up a Marlboro.
It was 1972.
Socially, we were inherently backwoods. Our small Pennsylvania town was set along the banks of a river called Susquehanna. What we usually did during the day after school, and on weekends,would be to hang out on a ridiculously dangerous railroad bridge made out of black steel girders that spanned the quarter mile wide river. On the second bridge-support from the shore, what we mistakenly referred to as a “pier” ( backwoods ) is where we would do all the things ya do when your 15 and backwoods. The river was at least a 30 foot drop from the bridge and the cement pier was without railings and the drop was seriously sheer. Because of 15 year old “pier”pressure, we would fish from that height. Learn to drink and spark up a Marlboro too. There’d even be fights up there. But none suffered as much as the bottom feeders ( fish like carp & suckers ) if they were unlucky enough to be snagged. The more daring kids would take turns handing the rod to each other while dangling on the girders guiding the doomed fish to the shore where they’d blow the thing up with M-80s ( Google it ) because the river was too polluted to eat em.
One night instead of hitting the pizza parlor, Bucky and I decided to head across the river in the pitch black. Once across, we then would walk the miles on the railroad tracks that lined the river to where we would then climb up the embankment through the woods to the 2 lane hi-way that followed along above. Up there stood a chrome walled diner called The Lark, which also had a back room with illegal pin ball. And that seemed like a good idea for a Friday night to a coupla backwoods kids. Sadly.
Now those machines could win us $5 more if we played em right, which would be celebrated by ordering french fries with gravy … and another pack of Marlboros.
This was backwoods mentality. The only thinking more daft was back-mountain.
Tonight we would walk the bridge in utter darkness. There was no walkway on the bridge or construction for humans to walk upon. We’d have to walk on the wooden railroad “ties” or maybe the steel rails. In between the ties you could see the dizzying river way below with it’s maniacal current during the day. At night you could only hear it waiting to swallow you. Your leg slipping between the ties was always a concern and the rails were too close to the edge to lose your balance on that led straight down to a questionable outcome.
Tonight, however, was made more inky preposterous by the steady drizzle of rain.
We would do the things 15 year olds do when they did things that were this fucked up. Like just tell each other jokes and never own up to how idiotic this idea was.
Once we managed to make it to the other side we then would walk a long ways to get to the highway to find the diner. But that night we first stumbled upon a hidden graveyard. There was no way to get there except walking through the thick woods. There was no path leading to it and everything was overgrown. The dates on the tombstone were ancient too. Civil war maybe. We hurried back up the hill to get out of the rain and any possible haunting.
The Lark was warm and dry. We went straight to the back room and plunked our quarters in the machine to have better luck than the pizza joint far far away.
All outa coins and hungry, it was time to head back.
Outside had gotten way colder for our jean jackets, but at least it wasn’t raining anymore. When we hit the tracks below we slipped on them. Everything wet had turned to ice.
This was gonna make the bridge walk something we didn’t wanna think about.
Right when we got to the bridge a train began to come across it from the other side. We were relieved the timing was perfect to not catch us yet on the bridge.
So. We waited for it to come across. And waited. And we were freezing. But nope. The headlamp of the train wasn’t blaring its light anymore. That was weird. Maybe it went a different way ?
It was so cold. Jean jackets too thin. Freezing. We had to get home.
When we took to the bridge it was slick as fuck. And so dark. If we slid and fell off we would die 3 different ways.
But we just acted cool instead of scared and joked and never showed the other how terrible these long walk was. And most importantly, kept moving in the dense black void high above a murky black death.
Step by step. Slip by slip. And hoping the wind wouldn’t pick up like it usually does in the middle of the bridge to where ya have to lean in to it instead of being blown off.
Half way across is the most perilous spot since it takes the same distance to go in either direction if the worst shit happens.
We kept moving. Talking to each other to dispel. Then finally when we had at least gotten just passed our day time hangout pier, which meant we were almost home free, a blinding spotlight snapped on ahead of us.
What the fuck. Train dead ahead and coming fast toward the bridge. Impossible to tell how far away it was yet from the edge of the bridge. Our best chance would be to turn back to that pier however slippery it would be and wait the train out.
There was no choice. We turned to hustle.
Instead we froze in disbelief. The entire bridge was moving like a nightmare. It was a kaleidoscope of shadows caused by the steel girders and the oncoming train spotlight at our backs. The bridge was alive and moving like a death defying web.
Now there was no way to tell what was real and what wasn’t bridge. Without saying a word we looked wide eyed at each other, then tore off running towards the light.
The icy ties mattered less now running scared shitless as fast as we could. The light was getting bigger faster and the sound of heavy metal gnashing on steel rails had become the dread of monster.
I mean we couldn’t tell which what anything was. We could have just as easily been running the wrong way into the train. Our minds hypnotized to the onslaught terror like a deer frozen in a car’s headlights. Which now was a train. And we were running to meet it half way.
We hit the end of the bridge and dove down the coal embankment just as the train roared onto the bridge.
Holy fuck that was close.
We laughed that stupid laugh of surviving
and then ..
sparked up a Marlboro.
Come the summer, Hurricane Agnes rolled up the eastern seaboard and raised the river level to 6 ft. over our roof line.
When it receded we had nothing left.
And that’s how ya get to Scranton and Arizona at the same time. Mom relocated to higher ground and Dad was getting remarried in Tucson.
It sounds like bad news but it all saved my life from any more bridge hang. Probably.
My first girlfriend out west was a Navajo woman named Agnes. Just like the hurricane. It all made sense to this new desert dweller feller. The bridge did not.