It’s been a long time since Mark Groth lived in Westport. A 1968 graduate of Staples High School — where he served as president of Staples Players’ Stage and Technical Staff — he’s now media production director at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
But — like many other expats — he’s an avid “06880” reader. A recent post noting a 5-year wait for a railroad station parking sticker piqued his interest.
He recalled a different era: a time when not every family had (at least) 2 cars. So someone had to pick up Dad every night. Mark writes:
Every night, the New Haven Railroad commuter train arrived in Westport at 6:26. A hundred mostly male workers disembarked for a ride to home, hearth and dinner. Some would have napped for an hour. Some spent convivial time in the bar car. Many wives came to pick up their husbands.
Like many others, I spent time in the back seat on this nightly exercise. But in the late ’60s I took driver’s education at Staples High School. My classmates and I could handle this mundane daily task, and free up our mothers for a few minutes before dinner was on the table.
This was also a chance to exercise our planning and driving skills. I had an older brother, so I knew the importance of leaving the uninitiated proles in the dust. Many dads willingly participated in this testosterone-pumping event.
Two good friends, Lee and Paul, were my major competitors. We would arrive early, then sit with engines running in the exit lane waiting for the hard core to exit the train before it stopped.
Hitting the ground running, assured that their ride was waiting, clutch in, our fathers slalomed between parked cars. We leaned over opened the passenger door, and they slid in.
Out the east end exit we flew. We took the 90-degree left turn (watching out for annoying late arrivals), then the 180 degrees down and under the railroad bridge, and a quick right onto Riverside.
Snowy roads and an occasional 4-wheel drift under the bridge were tricky.
But summer was swell. Paul and I had convertibles, so our fathers did not have to duck to jump into the passenger seat. That gave us a split-second lead on sedans.
There were no trophies for the evening races, just the satisfaction of a certain style for a teenage driver.
One night, I was running late. I saw the big diesel engine pull in as I zipped under the bridge. Paul and Lee were already in position. I didn’t have time to go down to the parking entrance, getting caught in the melee as I failed my father and brought shame on our family.
So as I came up under the bridge I slammed on the brakes, threw it into reverse and backed up into the exit, right in front of Paul. His mouth dropped.
I had great position. My father dodged the parked cars, and slid in. Idling in first with the clutch in, I hit it. The door slammed. We went out the exit, under the bridge and off to freedom. I have joyously relived and savored that extremely lucky night ever since.
Paul and Lee sometimes beat me. It was pretty even who got out first. But we all had a wonderful time. We turned a tedious chore into our own chariot race.
The camaraderie of that brief teenage game made it a memorable part of our adolescence. Westport had its own true Golden Age.