When I was in my early twenties, I worked two full time jobs while awaiting trial for a crime I did not commit. I would arrive at South Shore Bank at 7:30 AM to work my shift as a customer service representative, leave at 5:00 PM, arrive at McDonald’s at 6:00 PM and work until 1:00 AM. I also worked on Saturday mornings at the bank and some Saturday nights at the restaurant.
During these two long years, I dated a girl named Christine who was attending Massasoit Community College during the day and working at a McDonald's restaurant across town at night. She would leave work about the same time I would and return to school the next day around noon, making her schedule similar to my own.
As a result, Christine and I spent an inordinate amount of time together between the hours of midnight and 3:00 AM, eating in diners, hanging around at the 24-hour bowling alley, driving around in my car and parking in various parking lots and make-out spots around town. She was nineteen and living with her parents, and I was sharing a room with a goat and a guy named Rick in the home of a family of Jehovah Witnesses, so we didn’t have many other choices.
One of our favorite ways to spend those early morning hours together was following fire engines to house fires.
We would park in the lot across from the fire station, and when the fire engines took off for a late night fire (and there seemed to be many of them in Brockton, Massachusetts during those days), we would follow closely behind, acquiring the ideal vantage point upon arriving at the scene.
We were witness to some spectacular pyrotechnic displays during that year, and some of the firefighters even got to know us by name. Parking across the street and out of the way, we would sit on the hood of my car, watching the real life drama unfold before our eyes:
Fires shooting out through rooftops, collapsing chimneys, windows exploding, homeowners and (more often) pets being rescued in the arms of sooty firefighters.
I didn’t own or watch television during those two years, but those dramas were far better than anything on TV.
Yes, it was at least a little exploitative in terms of a homeowner's suffering and the potential for serious injury or even death, but we were young and stupid.
Christine and I eventually broke up. She was about four years younger than me, and while that difference doesn't mean much later on in life, it’s a lot more to overcome in your early twenties.
With the end of the relationship came the end of my fire engine chasing days. Shortly thereafter I was found not guilty in a courtroom and was free to leave the state for bigger and better things.
But every time I see a fire engine fly by, sirens blaring and lights flashing, I experience an instinctual need to turn around and begin chasing it. It's probably a feeling closely akin to a dog’s need to chase cars.
While I refrain from following the fire engines of today, I hope to someday find myself sitting on the hood of my car just one more time, bathed in the orange glow of a fire, watching firefighters battle the flames, with my daughter and son sitting beside me, slowly acquiring the same animal-like instinct for following fire engines that her father still possesses.