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Acting in my role of “Mom the Chauffeur,” I hauled my teen daughter to Grand Rapids, Iowa last week for her Rotary Youth Conference. That gave me three days to fill with my six and seven-year-olds, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that Grand Rapids offers a number of family-friendly activities. Our time there was only slightly marred by an old man so cantankerous he made Archie Bunker look like Happy Goodman.
We were excited to be on an old-timey excursion with The Coopersville and Marne Railway. Anticipation was mounting over the promised train robbery and impending shoot-out.
We settled into our seats, which the grumpy old man promptly pointed out were not authentic. “Don’t be fooled. These seats are from a 1960s school bus not a 1920s train.”
His negative observations did not cease for the entire two hours. At one point, it got so bad that I sent the kids to sit with a pleasant couple dressed in period costume, but I continued to be subjected to Grumpy’s anti-positivity campaign.
He motioned to a young volunteer acting as the conductor, “There is no way that luggage rack was installed during the 1920s. They couldn’t drill holes like that until at least 1940. I’ve been around a while. I know a thing or two. There is nothing authentic here.”
The conductor answered kindly and appropriately and continued punching tickets.
Grumpy started in on his wife. “Why is that boy texting you? If he can’t call, he don’t deserve your attention. Call him on that number and tell him I said so. You know it’s going straight to his phone. Those texts cost me 60 cents apiece. We’ve already wasted $3 since we got on this train. Monday, I’m gonna cancel the texting. There’s just no excuse for anybody to text when they got a phone right in their hands.”
The train stopped. Outlaws were sneaking through the trees guns in hand, dynamite in their back pockets. More bad guys arrived on horses. Grumpy tapped my six-year-old son on the shoulder and laughed with supposed solidarity, “Save yourself! Throw the women and money overboard.”
Suddenly, shots were fired and saloon girls began screaming. The excitement was palpable. At least a dozen bandits were shooting at the sheriff, but one by one, he gunned them down. They died dramatically, leaving the landscape littered with corpses in black hats.
Grumpy started in, “That’s not a bad guy, that’s just a little girl. Look at that pony tail. There’s another girl in man’s clothing. What’s wrong with this picture? Some of ‘em are gettin’ back up. I suppose now they’ll get Obamacare. He oughta shoot ‘em again so we don’t have to send ‘em to prison. Save the taxpayers a $120 a day with 10 cents worth of lead.”
The journey continued. We thought we were safe, but suddenly, more bad guys. And this time they were getting on the train, demanding our money and jewels.
Grumpy opined, “Oh looky there. They all magically resurrected. That sheriff is useless. He couldn’t hit the backside of a bull with a scoop shovel.”
And when Jesse James rode by with a screaming saloon girl on the back of his horse: “He got himself a hostage. Oh well. It’s just a hussy. We don’t need the hussies.”
The negativity continued even as we exited the train.
“Look at that. The PA system is on but apparently it don’t work. I thought there was gonna be snacks. I didn’t know we had to pay 50 cents for ‘em. Is that another text?”
When we finally broke free from the force field of pessimism, my seven-year-old daughter made the most profound statement of the day, “I feel sorry for that man. He must have had a really crappy childhood.”