May 16, 2008

One Man's Rock Star is Another Man's Literary Train.

Sitting at my mother's feet, legs crossed with my elbows on my knees and my hands pressed eagerly against my cheeks, countless nights of my childhood were spent listening to my mother reflect upon her teenage infatuation with Elvis. I absorbed her memories of the lost icon, of how she went to see him at some place called the Myriad that she explained to my wild disbelief held more people than lived in our entire town. As the news broke of the King's untimely death spilled through the radio on her work desk, her boss Doug Haught, now our district judge, had to send my grief-striken mother home from her job at the unemployment office. Long before I started school, maybe even before I knew the alphabet, I could ramble off volumes upon volumes of Elvis trivia.
While I continue to love the hip-shakin' rocker, through the years, my interest has certainly mellowed. I traded in the dancing Elvis clock for adulthood, a family and a mountain of responsibility. Somewhere along the way, I would guess a year ago, my oldest son Ridge discovered his rock star. No, not the dead musician of his mother's quirky youth and his nana's American Bandstand teen years. Ridge, who is almost 3, is to Thomas the Train and PBS as crying, screaming, fainting teenage girls were to Elvis and the Ed Sullivan Show. Thanks to the spectacular innovation, the DVR, Thomas is virtually a finger away at all times. Turns out, the fictional island of Sodor, home to Thomas, also housing about 50 other trains. Hell, they even have helicopters and Farmer Cole and double-decker buses and portly old man, Sir Topham Hat, who runs the island's railway system. Now, to me, most of the trains look pretty damn similar. Sure, I can tell some of them apart because they are totally different colors, but that is not true for all of them. By far and large, most of the trains are red, blue or green. There are exceptions, but for the most part, they are one of these three colors. The series seems to revolve around about five or six engines, but there are dozens of trains that appear periodically in the Sodor fleet. Decoding which train is train depends on the shape of the train's face or how long his whistle is, if he has a whistle, or how many wheels he has or some other detail I am just not smart enough to notice. Ridge, however, knows them all!
Because raising cattle is our chosen profession, Rowdy and I seldom venture too far from the ranch. Even when we attempt to make plans, it is normally a coin toss situation as to whether something will arise that prevents us from getting to do them. (Now, there are a lot of upsides to our jobs. Our kids, for example, are able to a small degree to be apart of our work, but that is another story for another time.)
Anyways, a few months ago, we found out Thomas would be "visiting" the Oklahoma Railway Museum, located very near the Zoo and my very favorite place on Earth, the drive-you-to-drinking Department of Human Services. Rowdy and I agreed this was something we just couldn't allow Ridge to miss out on. He was scheduled to be in OKC the last weekend in September and the first weekend in October. We watched the calender as the event drew near, still trying to tie down the best time to go. Just a few weeks ago, we decided September 28, two days ago, would be the best time. My brother-in-law Chad and his wife and kids decided they would meet us there. And, we still hadn't seen Rowdy's dad since the latest of his neck surgery. A whole covey of birds with one stone, right?
Like just about every time Rowdy and I try to steal a day from the farm, our feet hit the ground running Saturday morning. While I was trying to load the car and dress the boys, Rowdy called and said he desperately needed me to help him run a load of cattle through, which is cowboy lingo for doctoring a few hundred head. As the two of us hustled cattle down the lane and through the shoot, my two clean boys gleefully threw dirt at one another, thus undoing the before-mentioned cleanliness. We quickly completed the task, threw kids and suitcases into the Explorer and headed 'er East. In spite of frequent potty breaks for me and the oldest toddler, we arrived at the Thomas extravaganza with time to burn.
As we unloaded the boys, two parents drug their two tear-soaked kids through Autumn grass to their parked vehicles. Rowdy and I exchanged psychic glances and headed toward the Railway Museum's entrance. The closer we got to the front, the more upset children we passed on their way out of the event. The percentage of crying children was nearly perfect. No one was excited about leaving their darling Thomas. Running toward his life-sized idol, Ridge paid no attention to all the uproar. Thomas, which is actually a caboose decorated in the cartoon's image, was pulling into the station just as we arrived. Though offered pizza and given the extremely rare opportunity to drink soda pop, Ridge could only think of one thing -- riding Thomas. Of course, our ride was scheduled for an hour after we arrived, so Ridge faced a lenghty wait, a century in toddler years. He spent his free time absorbing the Thomas signs and merchandise until it was time to board. This, naturally, is designed to force tired parents into purchasing over-priced Thomas items, but is rendered basically useless for Ridge due to his cheap mother. A lover of all equipment, especially a ficitional trains, Ridge explored with bewildered amazement.
The 20 minute ride on Thomas, subsequently through the projects, made an electrified Ridge point our Thomas information and tidbits to our fellow passengers. After a few moments, I realized the look of the other adults' faces seemed familar. Over twenty years ago, my parents and their friends would quiz me over Elvis almost for entertainment. Though many of their other children on Thomas knew quite a bit about the PBS series, they either did not know as much as Ridge did or weren't nearly as joyfully overwhelmed about seeing them in real life. Not only did Ridge and a less excited Rolan get to ride Thomas through the alleys of gang members, but they also got to see a Disney-isque Sir Topham Hat, play with a million dollar train set and adorn their arms with Thomas tattoos. Smiles were in abundance, that is, until our departure time drew near.
Ridge quickly realized we weren't taking him to another portion of the Thomas blow-out. I don't know if it was instinct or the recollection of the red-faced children stretching their arms back toward Thomas and the museum, as though the combination of screaming and pointing would better plead their case to their parents. Ridge began first by telling his father that he needed to stay there, but promptly intensified his protest by going limp throughout his body, flopping about like a freshly snagged fish bouncing aimlessly to find water. Other parents were facing similar opposition, though not nearly as obnoxious as Ridge's. Rowdy picked up the heaving child and Ridge arched his head toward the ground like a high diver. We both considered putting a little coal in his caboose. However, country parents are almost always cautious when dispensing our brand of corporal punishment while in the big cities. Plus, we know our son. We knew as we booked the tickets leaving would be a touch dramatic. Thankfully, we were parked close to the exit. The scrapbooker in me took hold, so of course, I took tons of pictures, including the meltdown heard 'round the world. The black-and-white video archives ran through my mind of young girls, poodle skirts and all, making themselves almost sick while they watched Elvis perform. Ridge probably won't the third generation of Elvis fanatics, but I can really see that he is capable of being someone's fanatic.
The Littles had a great time on our weekend away, thanks in part to Thomas and Friends. We dined at Red Lobster, where I feasted upon snow crab and lobster. We listened to the audiobook Real Money by Jim Cramer, my favorite market analyst. Periodically, we would pause the CD so Rowdy and I could discuss Jim's rules and methodology for trading the market, as Ridge stared at 12 x 12 Thomas the Train paper I bought at Michael's. While Ridge pointed out his beloved trains on the paper, the whole rock star concept and its truths came to me in a different light. We all have our own superstar(s). And, as we perpetually morph into different and less glamorous adults, the celebrities we'd travel great lengths and pay inflated prices to see changes, too. One mans Elvis (or Thomas, for that matter) is another man's money manager.

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