Bench warmer

A few days before our first son, Jonah, was born, my cousin Danny died of cancer at 52. So when it came time to give Jonah his Hebrew name, with the consent of my cousin Diane — Danny’s widow — we named him in part after Danny.

Danny was an Amtrak employee and a lifelong lover of trains. What we didn’t know when we chose his name for Jonah was that his favorite place in the whole world to watch trains was Horseshoe Curve in Altoona, Pennsylvania — just minutes from where my wife grew up and where my in-laws still live. He loved it so well that he wrote online articles about his love of trains under the pseudonym Al Tuner. After Danny died, a bench was dedicated in his memory in the spot where (we only recently learned) he would sometimes sit all through the night, waiting for trains to trundle by, brakes asqueal, jotting down their engine numbers in a notebook.

Last week, during our trip to see Andrea’s family, we finally taught Jonah and Archer the significance of their Hebrew names and visited Horseshoe Curve and Danny’s bench. Fittingly, a train trundled by, brakes asqueal, as this picture was taken.


First meeting of the things-named-for-Danny club

One Reply to “Bench warmer”

  1. My dad was writing a story for the Globe a couple of years ago about an author who lived in western Massachusetts, so he and my mother drove out there to meet and interview him. On the way they stopped at the west portal of the Hoosac tunnel, which is a 4 3/4 mile rail tunnel that was once the longest in the US. Now it only sees a handful of trains a week I think. So when they got near, they came upon four old guys sitting in lawn chairs near the tracks. My dad asked what they were doing, and they said, “Oh we’re the Western Massachusetts Foreign Power Association.” He said, “What the HELL is a Foreign Power Association??” Well it turns out they are a particularly weird and rare breed of railroad nerd who really groove on the unusual circumstance of locomotives (“power” in rail nerd parlance) that belong to one railroad riding on the tracks of another. Apparently they had foreknowledge that some “foreign power” was coming to this section of track, so they were waiting for it. I think he even waited for it with them, it wasn’t long off, and reported that they were _very_ excited when it finally came along.

    Trains have always had a bit of mystique for me too, though not to a huge degree. I think it’s the romantic notion of them going long distances, carrying goods and so on. Plus just “infrastructure porn” as they say. For awhile I entertained the idea of trying to hop a freight train, and I’ve read some books on modern hoboing, but I don’t think I’ll ever put that knowledge to use. I’m much more of an airplane nerd though. I’ve been plane spotting on the roof of the parking garage at Logan airport a couple of times, with scanner and binoculars in hand.

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