Being light, agile and foolhardy enough to make the aforementioned leaps, we eventually arrived at our destination: the top of the first of a line of massive concrete pylons (see image in Part I) stretching across the Hudson River, holding up both bridge and train at a height of 135 feet. In other words, we were looking down at the river from the top of a 13-story building, and we were actually beneath the railroad tracks; they were perhaps 3 or 4 feet above our heads; we could probably touch them if we had any desire to stand on one another’s shoulders. Between the ties you could see the bright blue summer sky.
The five of us – you and I, Jacky, Teddy and farmboy/part-time daredevil, Charlie P – sat there for awhile, collecting our collective breath and chattering wildly about the ships going past underneath, when suddenly Jackie interrupted: “Shhhhhh! Train coming!” We sat there transfixed as a low and distant rumble became more and more distinct, soon turning into a ground-shaking roar. As I sat frozen to my square foot of concrete, the entire universe began to tremble; the bridge, the pylon, the ties, the rails, even the sky was turned into a roaring, thundering, rattling crescendo until the train broke forth above us and shook us to the bone. We were in an absolute fire-and-brimstone hell, sucked into a tornado that wouldn’t let go (funny how tornado survivors always say it sounds like a freight train). I was certain we would all die; there was no way out. We were being run over by a train.
Just as I dared to look up at this flying beast, I was struck by what seemed at the time to be a mortal blow. I had no idea what had happened, but it felt like my face had been attacked by a flying jellyfish. In fact, a large blob of axle grease, jettisoned from the train’s underbelly, somehow flew miraculously between the ties to find my face at the exact moment when I lifted my unsuspecting head. My head, like the prophets of old, had been anointed with oil.
After an overly long period of laughing and scraping, we were ready to move on. Back onto the catwalk to head further out over the river, presumably to get a better view of things. We were on a roll, and getting cocky. As we reached mid-river we spotted a small, single-engine plane flying downriver towards the bridge. He was awfully low, flying just above the water. As he got closer, we began to get a bit nervous. “He’s gonna hit the bridge!”, “He’s way too low; he’s gotta pull up!” This little rocket was headed right for us, and before we knew it we were standing bolt upright looking straight down at the most beautiful little plane, waving to the pilot who smiled as he flew beneath us, not more than 20 or 30 feet below. In less than an hour we had been run over by a train, and flown under by a plane. These country boys sure knew how to rock and roll, and rock and roll hadn’t even been invented yet. But the fun wasn’t over.
We managed to climb up onto the tracks at that point, and with no trains in sight, began to toss whatever odd objects we could find into the river below. As I recall, it took a disturbingly long time for those objects to hit the water. Charlie spied a very large freighter heading down toward us, probably from the Port of Albany, and instantly conceived of a brilliant plan; a plan that could only be hatched in the great, wild, lawless country we now inhabited. We would all stand on the downriver side of the bridge and wait for the ship to come through. At the moment the bow appeared, we would all start to piss down the middle of the deck and whoever could make it all the way to the stern would win.
Five very intense young boys began their masterpiece on cue, and all went considerably well until they reached midship. At that point it became clear that a good portion of the crew was taking a leisurely break on deck, sitting about smoking, laughing and talking. All of a sudden it began to rain right down the middle of their conversation, and a very strange rain it was. Five lines of precipitation streaked down their backs, legs and heads, probably even putting out a cigarette or two, but there was nothing they could do but stand up and shake their fists and curse at us in some foreign language, all to no avail. We were petering out one by one as called for by the rules, and of course, Charlie the mastermind won the challenge.
It has occurred to me that it may have been a Turkish ship we strafed that day, because many years later I was sleeping on the deck of a ferry on my way to Istanbul when I awoke to a burning sensation on my right arm. After putting out a cigarette which had burrowed itself into my coatsleeve, I looked up to find that I was surrounded by a group of Turkish soldiers, all laughing at my misfortune. I remember that one of them had a particularly intense look of satisfaction on his face. Could it be?