Midnighting

I grew up in a house near the corner of Pleasant St. (Rte. 60) and the Concord Turnpike (Rte. 2) in Arlington, Massachusetts.  We were right about on the town line between Arlington and Belmont; Pleasant Street continued on to Belmont Center, having originated at Massachusetts Ave. in Arlington Center.  The Concord Turnpike at our house  came down a long, fairly steep hill from the west, went under Pleasant St. via an underpass, and went on along the south edge of Spy Pond toward Cambridge.  An access ramp from Pleasant St. to the Concord Turnpike westbound  went right past the back edge of our lot, separated from our yard by a sidewalk and a forsythia hedge (the hedge was better known to us kids as the center field and right field fence of our backyard baseball diamond).

My bedroom overlooked the backyard diamond, and the overpass intersection beyond it, from the second story.  The roads were always fairly busy, as they were both main arteries (though Pleasant St. was tree-lined and two-laned, and the Concord Turnpike open and a good four lanes wide).  When I couldn’t sleep at night, I would watch the traffic, and when I got bigger, I took some time exposures of the intersection at night, the streaks of light delineating the steady flow of cars, busses, and trucks.

When I was perhaps four or five, trying to figure out the logic of life (having possessed some innate conviction that there was in fact a logical order to things), I hit upon a great insight.  Watching the traffic one night, a moment came when there were no vehicles visible or audible on either road.  I had never ever seen this intersection without some vehicle in view.  Aha!  I thought, this must be it.  Midnight!  It made all kinds of sense to me that there would be such a moment just as the new day began, a kind of mystical cessation of activity for a moment before the next day’s hubbub began.  So, operating on my own set of a priori premises and orderly deductive logic, I enshrined this observation in my mental notebook of Facts.  And there it stayed for a good many years until more mature reflections dislodged it.

Flash forward more than 60 years.  I’m riding my bike on the W&OD.  I come to many road crossings, all of which require the cyclist to stop.  In Theory, I always come to a complete stop, at least for one second, just like a pitcher working from the stretch.  In Fact, I roll on through after a visual check if:

–there are no moving cars visible in any direction
–there are no cars visible that are moving in my direction
–there are no moving cars coming at me that would hit me at their current rate of speed
–there are no moving cars coming at me that I can’t beat across the intersection
–I can just close my eyes and pray

No, seriously, only conditions one and two apply.  The first condition, however, is just like the magic Midnight moment of childhood.  When I can hit an intersection that serendipitously, and even accelerate as I cross, I call it “Midnighting” an intersection.  Not to be confused with Moonlighting, that old, charming Bruce Willis / Cybill Shepherd TV show.  On Sundays and Holidays I can often Midnight many a crossing that usually gives me fits.  And every such Midnight can save me .05 to .10 mph in my ride average speed total, depending on how long the ride is.  Braking to a complete stop and then starting up again costs momentum, time, and efficiency big time.  So I’m looking to Midnight whenever I can.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.

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