The Parent Trap: the view is sweet from the front seat

It would be nice if our children had the same likes and dislikes as we do. But as we all know, that is not the case. Parents have to cross over to their side, and are often surprised by the result.

I made a deal with my son during spring break – if he could keep his cool, he would earn a trip. My son loves trains and public transportation, particularly SEPTA’s Market-Frankford line. Once, we spent an afternoon at the Frankford Terminal, he with his trusty digital video camera in hand, shooting footage of the elevated train and various buses leaving the station (he also loves taking the bus).

The prospect of spending the day on public transportation without even having a destination has never held an allure for me. I have nothing against the system. In fact I was once one of the many kids from Northeast Philadelphia who commuted daily to Temple University. If you were lucky, you either had a car or a friend to drive you to school. But most kids were like me, taking the bus to the El and transferring again to another bus or the subway. On a good day, that took about 90 minutes. It wasn’t horrible, and was always a good time to catch up on studying. But I never considered it to be enjoyable.

Continue reading to see the videos Pat and his son took of their ride on the El.

But to my boy, it’s like a day at a theme park. He spends hours on the computer not only taking simulated train and subway rides, but also designing his own rail cars. He’s excited on the train, while the sound of the clicking rails usually puts me to sleep. In fact, once I nodded off on a train bound for Torresdale Station and was awakened by the conductor yelling, “Next stop Croydon!”

“What is a Croydon?” I asked the conductor, wiping the sleep from my eyes.

“Well you better find out, because you’re there,” he answered. This was before cell phones, so it was impossible to contact my mother, who was waiting for me two stations away. It was a long walk home, a longer explanation and a still continuing story in my family.

But a deal is a deal, so on Holy Thursday morning, my son and I began our trip to the Frankford Terminal. I was already dreading the ride when he told me of his plan to sit in the front seat of the El. I had to admit that I didn’t even know that you could sit in the front seat of the train, but his research showed that there was indeed a front seat – a perfect vantage point for my young enthusiast.

But when we got to the seats, they were occupied by a young couple. As a rule, I do not like to bother people and I always tell my children not to talk to strangers. But before I could break that rule and talk to the couple, my son surprised me by saying, “Excuse me, could I sit in that seat? I want to videotape the ride.”


My initial fear was erased when the couple happily obliged. “I always like to help somebody who is videotaping,” the young fellow said. I think he really meant it.

The ride was great, almost like a theme park. And I saw the route in a different way.


We rode to 34th Street and walked through the Penn campus to 30th Street Station, where we picked up pamphlets for sleeper car rides to Chicago, New Orleans and other cities. Some day, I can see my son taking one of those long rides to a new town. But for now, he was happy to get back on the El to Frankford. “This was a great day,” he told me, and I had to agree. What better way to spend a day on spring break than to ride above the city, with a front seat view.

The Parent Trap is a weekly column by Patrick P. McNally that will appear on every Tuesday. See others here. Read other NEast Philly columns here.

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