Monday, February 25, 2019

Learning The Lessons Of Youth

Seattle's light rail trains run through downtown and points north in an underground tunnel that is shared with certain bus routes. Over the weekend I was waiting for a train to take me to the University of Washington to watch the surprising Huskies play Colorado. I've waited on this platform quite often. Across the way, as is typical, there is another platform for passengers heading south. The road dividing the two platforms is pretty much like any other road except that it is a couple feet lower than where I stood and has tracks imbedded in it.

Typically, there are always at least a couple buses pulling up to the high curbs, but on this night there was a long lull during which the tunnel station was left to those of us waiting. Then suddenly, a teenaged boy was dashing toward me from the opposite side, followed more trepidatiously by a girl. The boy attained safety, then waited for his girlfriend. They giggled as they fell into one another's arms, breathing hard from the excitement more than the exertion, they kissed the way only teenagers can before ducking around a corner where they continued their public displays of affection in a slightly less public area.

I'd never seen anyone try this maneuver at any train stop anywhere. It was a dangerous and stupid thing to do. I even considered being the one to scold them, to tell them that they could have been killed, but thought better of it. I would have looked to them like a crabby old man shaking is fist at rain clouds. The roadway had been entirely clear, it was still entirely clear, they had made it safely. The proof was in the pudding. I was surprised actually that there were no security officers on the scene. The tunnel is usually full of them, but, I figured, the kids had included that in their calculations: road clear, no yellow vests, let's go!

As they cuddled away behind me, I reflected on the times that I'd realized I was on the wrong platform and had even, briefly, contemplated the same thing. It is tempting when the alternative is one that will surly cause you to miss your train. I would never actually do it, of course, but then again I have a fully developed adult brain. Those kids have teenaged brains, which means that the part that calculates risk (i.e., executive function) is still some years away from completion. I did dangerous and stupid things when I was a teenager as well -- not this specific thing, but things equally, perhaps even more, dangerous and stupid. Most teens do.

In fact, I was even a bit envious of them, their lust for life, their lust for one another, all those giddy feelings filling them right up. Then I saw them coming. A pair of security officers were headed our way. The kids, who had hidden themselves around a corner, were oblivious. Several concerned citizens stopped the men to rat out the teens, but I could tell by the men's body language that they were already on the case. Those kids were going to get it.

In a second he was in their space, "I was just wondering which one of you is going to pay the $10,000 fine for the stupid thing you just did." (I can't imagine the fine is that high, but that's beside the point.) He went on to scold them. "Everything in this tunnel is on camera." He was firm, but didn't raise his voice. It was obvious to me from the start that he had no intention of issuing them a citation, but the kids couldn't have known that. They looked afraid. He went on for a couple minutes, a span that probably felt ten times longer to the kids who at least affected expressions of contrition.

A few minutes later, the train pulled in. The teens boarded with me, giggling again, this time, I expect, out of relief. They had, in fact, gotten away with it, although, I hope, with the lesson learned to not do it again. As we rode I tried to ignore them, the way one does with PDAs. Then it hit me: I was on the train headed in the wrong direction. At the next stop I got off. I stood looking at the platform across the way, the one I needed to be on, not contemplating a dash as much as remembering my own teenage brain, the one that might well have calculated the risk as one worth taking. Then I went the long way around, up the long escalator, across the upstairs lobby, then down the other side the way 57-year-old men do because we have already, hopefully, learned the lessons of youth.

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