The Tracks

On the street where I grew up there was one absolute rule for every child in every household: stay away from the tracks. We played there anyway (our parents’ warnings, their vehemence, just made them all the more attractive) but always in groups, never alone. We’d gather to put pennies on the tracks, play hopscotch along its wooden crosspieces, or dare each other to put an ear to the rails, listening for approaching trains. If we weren’t playing on the tracks we were crossing them to get to the open field on the other side, a dusty rectangle growing weedy wildflowers and broken bottles. Our parents were mystified. They wondered why we didn’t play at the playground, which was spanking new, like the subdivision houses we all lived in. They’d brought us here from places like Torrance and Inglewood and what’s now called South Central in the earliest wave of a phenomenon still too fresh to name. To them our Southern California suburb was the antidote to the inner-city lives they’d led. The field where we played and the tracks we crossed were reminders of the fragmentary, untidy side of life, the side they sought to protect us from.

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