"Does that freight train come through at 5 a.m. every morning?" an exhausted Vinny asks in "My Cousin Vinny."
"No, sir. It's very unusual," the hotel clerk responds.
My dad is a storyteller — the very best one I've ever had the pleasure of listening to, and I've had the pleasure of listening to some of the greats. His stories are always hilarious and self-depreciating, starring him as the fool. The stories are also told as if on a loop. If you've heard the story once, you've heard it a thousand times.
One of the classics comes from a time when he and my mom were dating. They'd gone camping and set up their tent near old abandoned train tracks. In the early hours of the morning, a train came roaring down the tracks. My dad, woken by the thundering noise and shaking ground but still half asleep, assumed they were camped on top of the tracks. He proceeded to jump up and run for his life. Unfortunately for him in the moment, the tent was all zipped up. But in reality, it was a fortunate thing. Because the tent was zipped up, he just ran against the nylon fabric, essentially running in place with all his might like a character in a Looney Tunes episode. Had the tent been open, he might have sleep-run right onto the tracks. Instead, my dad is around to reenact the scene every year in the living room, arms flailing and eyes closed as he runs against the side of the couch.
This is where my mom typically joins in the story to say that she tried to wake my dad as he ran but had a hard time doing so because she was laughing so hard.
As a youngster, I loved the reenactment but always was confused by the story. How could you think you were asleep on the tracks? My mom would tell me that when you first wake up, especially in a startling way, your brain can be jumbled. Dad was just confused, she would say. But it never made sense to me.
Two nights ago, my family finally arrived in Southern California. We pulled in to the campground late, well after dark, and parked in the only available spot, next to the train tracks.
At 2 in the morning, a loud train horn blared over and over. I jumped out of my bed in the back of the RV and headed toward the driver's seat. I had to drive us away before we were hit, completely convinced we had parked the RV on the tracks. About halfway to the front of my RV, I heard the small train pass, and I got my bearings.
Oh, so that's how Dad felt.
My heart didn't stop racing for a good hour, and it took about another hour after that to finally get back to sleep. In the morning, I asked a worker at the campground whether the little commuter train always wakes everyone up in the middle of the night.
"Nope" was all I got.
OK, great. We decided to move a few spots away in the morning just to be extra sure and give some additional space between us and the tracks in case the train came again. Then, tired, we rented a car and went out for the day, running errands and seeing old friends in our old neighborhood. We didn't get back into the campground and our parked RV until after 10 p.m. and promptly hit the sack — all four of us sleeping soundly.
In "My Cousin Vinny," Vinny is awoken by the freight train again the very next night. In the morning, exhausted, he approaches the hotel clerk again, annoyed.
"Yesterday you told me that freight train hardly ever comes through here at 5 a.m. in the morning."
"I know," the hotel clerk responds. "She's supposed to come through at 10 after 4."
I don't know what woke us up first, the ground shaking violently or the loud blasting horn from what must've been the world's longest and largest train plowing through our campground in the middle of the night. This time, I didn't have an instinct to run; I had an instinct to cower.
When I saw the worker this morning, I asked incredulously, "The train doesn't wake people up, huh?"
"I said the commuter train doesn't," he said, laughing. "That beast of a freight train will get you every time."
Katiedid Langrock is author of the book "Stop Farting in the Pyramids," available at http://www.creators.com/books/stop-farting-in-the-pyramids. Follow Katiedid Langrock on Instagram, at http://www.instagram.com/writeinthewild. To find out more about her and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.