There was a genre of films that seemed to be very popular in the eighties and nineties that focused on the central character or characters taking to the road and we followed their journey comfortably from our seat in the movie theatre munching popcorn and dreaming of our own escape. Road movies, I think they were called, Thelma and Louise was a block buster in this genre although the outcome of that movie, as I recall, was not so happy. I am sure this is still a popular genre to this day but I don’t see many movies that don’t involve animation so I’m a little out of the loop.
My son Cooper owns an orange BMX bike and has a penchant for travel. Now, one might argue that in this day and age letting your high functioning autistic son take to the streets creating his own road films is not the best choice, but I want a chance to defend our position before I go on. Cooper has been riding a two-wheeler bicycle since he was three-years old; by the time he was four he and I would go for bike rides together and by the time he was five those rides could go on for eight or nine miles through towns bordering ours. Cooper also loves to travel on the New Jersey Transit. We stick to our local train line for the most part but have been known to transfer to more exotic places like Gladstone, New Jersey. Long story short, our Coop likes to travel and is always on the move. He knows not to go near a strangers house or car… so we contently let Cooper live his dream in our town.
Cooper is well known in the village of our town where he is friendly with the owners of the Maplewood Stationary Store, the Maple Leaf Diner and the Maplewood barber as well as a few local haunts nearer our house such as the hobby shop, the skateboard park which is housed behind the police station in a neighboring park, the Seven-Eleven and recently the Burger King and Dunkin’ Donuts. Any given Saturday when Doreen doles out his allowance Coop will board his bike and live his life with three bucks burning a hole in his pocket. He has even been known to show up at the homes of our friends and hang out for a while or invite them for dinner.
We are generally aware of Coop’s path and he’s never gone to long but one recent Sunday Cooper took off to make his own indy road flick. He burst into our room bright and early and leaned over me pressing his face into mine and asked if I wanted to go for a train ride. I with blurry vision I saw six am on the clock and begged for a half-hour reprieve. Doreen mumbled something indecipherable to Cooper about my working late and let Mommy sleep and then she rolled over and re-visited the backs of her eye lids. I started back in for my thirty minutes for good behavior and was just fading off when coop asked if he could go for a bike ride. I told him of course he could and we would go to the train when he came home. I did manage to sleep peacefully for the next forty-five minutes but as soon as Cooper walked back in the door it was game over, 6:45 AM and time to get dressed for a quick trip on the NJ Transit to Summit with my boy. Doreen and I were awake but in an effort to stall a little longer we suggested to Cooper he should eat first. Cooper informed us that he was not hungry because he had ridden his bike to the Parkwood Diner and had, “pancakes and sausage for breakfast.” I asked Cooper how he paid for this and he said he had money from Grandma (which is true, my mom did send him money recently) but he didn’t need to use it because some man had bought his breakfast. Stifling laughter and horror we further inquired about this act of generosity of a stranger in the Park-Wood and he went on to let us know how very nice it was of that man to buy him breakfast. We of course told Cooper that we were very impressed by his resourcefulness but not to do that again. Coop and I then made the short trip West to Summit train station, picked up some green bagels in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day and returned home on the next Eastbound train. It was a brief but satisfying journey. The week before he and I had made a three-hour round trip journey so we kept this week simple and short.
We got home and both of the girls, Olivia and Ruby, were awake so I was looking forward to spending time with the two of them since I had a rare Sunday off of work. I decided I would hang and watch a movie with the girls and then the three of us would go for a bike ride. My girls were not as confident as Coop on the bike yet despite Olivia’s ten and a half years. Ruby at six seemed much more stable than her sister but still needed loads of attention on the bike, so our ride turned into me running and getting the girls re-started every 100 yards. It was fairly pleasant weather outside which was a huge welcome surprise given the stronghold winter had on all of us East of the Mississippi. Cooper rode circles around us for a while and eventually became weary of the pace his sisters and marathon mommy kept so he took off on his own. About an hour later Olivia and Ruby finally had mercy on me and we all came home. The girls immediately grabbed up the neighbor girls and were off to their room to play and Doreen’s phone rang. With a too calm voice Doreen said, “thank you, I’ll be right there.” It seems Cooper decided to ride the rails on his own. He rode his bike to the Maplewood train station, purchase a ticket from the vending machine with the money from his Grandma and boarded a train to head back to Summit where he was fortunately recognized by a conductor who we had met the week before. The conductor asked where his mom was and when Cooper couldn’t produce said mother he decided to take care of Cooper rather than call the police, which is what transit is told to do when minors are on the train. Cooper complied with this very friendly conductors request for a phone number and the conductor agreed to wait with Cooper in the neighboring town of South Orange until Doreen could come get him. The conductor went on to explain that he had a nine-year-old son who was “very busy” so he understood. We, however, did use New Jersey’s finest to let Cooper know that joy riding was not an option in the future.
Cooper is a boy with adventure hard wired into his soul and I never want to squash that, but I certainly don’t mind relying on “the kindness of strangers” to keep an eye on my God given treasure.