We had heard that there was this train museum in our local mall, but it seemed so improbable that we hadn't followed up until one cold day this week sent me there in desperation.
And not only was there a museum (which was tiny and kind of sad, really), there was the meeting place of the local model train association. And by "meeting place," I mean huge space where they have all these trains set up all the time and where they all congregate for a few evenings a week and show them off to, as far as I can tell, a clientele that consists exclusively of little boys and their moms and other siblings dragged along for the ride (hello, Baby E!).
This place was amazing for so many reasons. One, the train spreads are quite elaborate, with the trains running on very long tracks, of course, but also trolley cars and regular cars and even circus/midway rides that actually move. The little old members of the club (almost exclusively male and retirees) wear matching chambray shirts and engineer hats and are positively giddy about showing off their little villages. There are also different sized trains and villages, all helpfully labeled so you know the difference between O and N tracks (bigger and smaller, as far as I can tell--the labels weren't really THAT helpful). One village had a midway, as I said, and another was a seasonal Santa's village with a Polar express (and a random Amtrak) zipping through.
Two, they've rigged the tables with buttons (think old school buzzers) that control all sorts of things, from the movement of trolleys and midway rides to horns and whistles to some of the little people in the towns through which the trains are rushing to some of the trains themselves. Some can be operated by kids and some need to be pressed longer by moms to get the full effect, but the little old men were quick to tell me which were which, fairly vibrating with glee as they encouraged J to push as many as he could, as many times as he wanted. The tables are a bit tall, tall enough that J could see into them but not over them, but they have also installed stools throughout the place to make viewing and pushing the buttons easier.
Three, it's free! Oh happy day; free outings in Charleston are few and far between, let me tell you. Southern culture doesn't come cheap!
Four, the train museum and club hangout are open in the evening, so we went there to while away some of those "Daddy is out of town" hours and had a great time. All right, J really had a great time, E was entertaining himself by endlessly tossing a book out of the stroller for me to retrieve, and I was jumping back and forth between stroller and button pushing, but we all were occupied!
All in all, it was a fun evening, followed by a quick trip to Target (I FINALLY found a black pencil skirt that actually fits!) and dinner at the mall (though Baby E almost choked to death in Target, which was NOT fun, what with all the vomit on the floor and turning blue and all. Oh reflux, how I long to be rid of thee!).