Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Coincidence?

I'm convinced that there is something or someone other-worldly guiding my connection to the Dr. Stanley Milgram's 1961/1962  "Obedience to Authority Experiments."  Perhaps my father's spirit is leading me...whatever or whoever it is, it's starting to weird me out. Here are some examples:

Back in 2006,  I wrote a post on this blog called "Shocking" about my father's involvement, acting as the Learner/Victim in Dr. Stanley Milgram's  infamous behavioral psychology experiments done at Yale University. In the post I explained that my father had died of a heart attack in January 1965,  just before my third birthday and two and a half years after these experiments were completed. I further explained that the only record I have of how my father moved or sounded is through watching a documentary of the experiments titled "Obedience to Authority."

Coincidentally, on the opposite side of the globe, around the same time I had written my blog post,  an Australian Psychologist named Gina Perry was doing a radio documentary about Milgram's experiments, and she wanted to talk to anyone connected to them in any way.  She found my above mentioned blog post while searching on Google and she emailed me and asked for an interview.

Some months later, Perry flew to the U.S. and interviewed me at an inn in the heart of Yale. During the interview,  she recorded me retelling the story of my family rediscovering my father's involvement through a 1974 segment on 60 Minutes titled "Following Orders".  During the course of the interview, I gave her some leads of people to talk to, namely the names of Harold Clifford's children (he was one of the subjects in the Milgram experiment) who Coincidentally had lived across the street from me growing up.  I also gave her the name of Bobby Tracy, my coworker, whose father coincidentally happened to fill in for my father in a few of the experiments.

Perry then asked if I knew the where-abouts of John Williams, the other main actor in the experiments (the instructor in the white lab coat).  She mainly wanted to know if he was still alive.  I told her I didn't know.

Perry spent the next year scouring the entire U.S. looking for John Williams (kind of like finding a needle in a haystack), and she finally found Williams' son living in Florida. Williams' son told Perry that she was unfortunately too late, his father had died the previous year.  He also told her that he didn't know much about the experiments but that his uncle, Mark Williams (his father's brother) would know more. 

Mark Williams?  That's a familiar name...

Coincidentally, this same Mark Williams was my daughter's high school Social Studies teacher.  I immediately called Mark and said, "You're John Williams brother?"  I would later invite him out to lunch to meet Perry along with Bobby Tracy and Judi Lampner, the daughter of the late Aaron Aronow, a former New Haven Alderman, who was  one of the subjects of a variation of the experiments and vocal critic of  Milgram's professional ethics.  Judi COINCIDENTALLY teaches school alongside a friend of mine.

By this time, Perry had turned her award winning radio documentary into a book titled "Behind the Shock Machine." and was visiting the U.S. on a press junket.  I connected her to Sandi Kahn Shelton, a journalist friend of mine who writes for The New Haven Register. Shelton wrote a wonderful front page article about Perry's book, the experiment and of me discovering my father through it.  Along with the article was a spooky photo taken of me
by Arnold Gold, the newspaper photographer.  In the photo, I'm standing in the basement of Yale's  Linsley -Chittenden Hall in the area where the experiments were originally conducted.  I'm looking up into the light with eerie green shadows behind me.

On the day the newspaper article was published, I ran into retired Metro North photographer Frank English on my train.  Frank lives in Manhattan and had been visiting friends in Connecticut.  I hadn't seen him in a long time, so we chatted and caught up on each other's lives.  I wanted  Frank's opinion on the picture that ran in that day's newspaper, so I showed him the front page and Gold's eerie color photo of me.  Frank was impressed with the shot and asked me what the article was about.  I told him he'd probably never heard of Milgram or the experiments but... Frank smiled and let me continue...then he said that he knew the experiments and Dr. Milgram very well.  COINCIDENTALLY his brother Ed English produced and directed the original "Obedience to Authority" documentary back in 1962.  He immediately called his brother and told him my story.

Fast forward to three weeks ago, and Gina Perry emailed me and said they're making a movie about the Milgram experiments titled "Experimenter."  I told Perry I'd love to get a part as an extra in the film since I have become somewhat of a "Zelig" to this experiment. 

I looked up the IMDB page on the movie and found it's written and directed by Michael Almereyda.  I Googled "Almereyda" and discovered he's also a professor at the Tisch Film School at New York University.  I sent him an email and asked him for a cameo part in the film.  I waited a week and didn't get a reply.  I decided to call NYU and COINCIDENTALLY Almereyda picked up the phone.  He told me that he got my email, but it was too late, he had already wrapped up filming and was now editing the film.

About a week later Almereyda, emailed me again, saying that by some odd COINCIDENCE,  he had to re-shoot a scene, and asked if I'd like to come to New York and film a cameo.

 Of course I would.

On Sunday, I went to New York for my film debut. I was seated in a small room waiting along costar Sasha Milgram, Dr. Milgram's widow. She kept staring at me and telling me that I look just like my father.   Almeryeda then entered the room, introduced himself, and we spent the next 20 minutes making small talk.  I told him about all the weird coincidences, Gina Perry's documentary/book, The Cliffords, Mark Williams being my daughters teacher, retired railroad photographer Frank  English and Ed, his movie directing brother, Etc.

Amereyda told me that he'd love to talk to Ed English and ask him some questions about the original documentary.  I told him that I'd try to get him in touch with Frank, but that I hadn't seen him in a couple of years.

Coincidentally, guess who was on my train last night??? Yep, Frank English.  Too weird!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Backwards-thinking

On my train home tonight, a middle-aged man startled from a drunken slumber and hazily looked around in a panic. He spotted me from the corner of his eye and yelled, "YO CONDUCTOR...WHY IS THIS TRAIN GOING BACKWARDS?" I walked over to where he was seated and patiently explained that the train wasn't going backward, he was, in fact, sitting backward. I guess my explanation was too difficult for h...is pickled brain to grasp, as evidenced by him poking his sleeping wife who was seated next to him and yelling "HONEY THE TRAIN IS GOING BACKWARDS!" His wife was leaning forward with her face plastered to the pleather headrest in front of her. She managed to slowly unpeel it, then rolled her blotchy red face toward me, one eye open, drool running down her chafed chin, then slurring, "Why the train going backwards mister?" I again tried to explain, now pointing, that we weren't going backward, it was just that they were facing opposite the direction of travel. The husband looked at me expressionless, sat silent for a moment, then asked, "Did you pull some kind of trick on us or something?" At this point, I threw my hands up in the air and said, "Yes, yes I did. I'm a very tricky guy." Then I walked away.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Stress is...

Stress is...

Being a conductor on a six car train full of drunk and disorderly passengers at 2am...then discovering there's an electrical problem and the doors on your train won't open when you reach the first station.


When we got to Stamford, I ran through the train trying different door panels while calling my engineer on my radio to see if he had the "door override" button pushed. Then I call the Rail Traffic Controller and tell him the problem. Large piles of Passengers are standing at the doors looking at me like I am an idiot, so I try... to make an announcement to tell them what is going on, but the volume is too high and all they hear is the high pitched squeal of feedback. My engineer calls, telling me to check all the circuit breakers, the RTC calls to tell me to check all the door panels. I finally find a single door that will open and a mob of drunken college kids stampede toward that one door. Just as they try to get off, another pile of drunks try to pile on...both lots tell me I'm an "F-ing idiot" and want to know why I don't simply open the doors. The MTA police are now on the scene and they want the train number, my name and employee number. Simultaneously, pods of people gather, wanting to know; "how long will we be here? Should I call a cab? Hey conductor, why don't you open the F-in' doors already? " I try to make another announcement, but all they hear is "SQUEACK!" Luckily, the RTC tells me there's an empty train 10 minutes away. We eventually key 3 doors open and transfer passengers to that train.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Lost and Found II: Koala goes "Down Under."

On Saturday, I came upon a sobbing, heart broken, 5 year old girl while collecting tickets. Her father explained that his daughter dropped her favorite stuffed animal, a koala bear named GG, while switching cars just as the train was pulling out of New Haven Station. Apparently the little girl sleeps with "GG" every night, and dad feared a sleepless night in NYC. I took the dad's number and promised the little girl that I'd do my best to find GG when I returned home.

That night, as we pulled into New Haven, I discovered GG laying face down in the gauge of track 12. I took this picture of the bear, and texted it to the dad. Father and daughter were both greatly relieved. Turns out "GG" originally belonged to dad when he was a child.

I made arrangements for the family to pick GG up at the New Haven Ticket Office on Sunday, and I'm glad to report that the little girl and Koala are happily reunited.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

An open letter to my passengers


Dear Passengers,

Please put the pitchfork and lanterns down.
 I come in peace

First, let me explain that the train crews are on your side.  We are not the enemy… We really do want your trains to be on time…really we do.  But there are these things called signals, speed limits and speed restrictions, and we have to adhere to them…it’s the law.  And now we have these pesky Federal Railroad Administration agents looking over our shoulders, and they’re in “Deep Dive” and there’s no sign of them coming up for air.  Besides, we hate to be late for our coffee breaks…  It makes us cranky.
They say the foundation of every great railroad starts at the track bed, and ours has fallen into disrepair.  Some years back, someone thought it would be a great idea to replace wooden railroad ties, which had been in place since the Lincoln Administration, with newfangled concrete ties.  The idea was that concrete would last forever and would be virtually maintenance free.  Well, as it turns out, forever meant 10 years. Without proper drainage concrete ties dissolve like Alka Seltzer tablets in a 10 ounce glass of water, and before you can say “plop, plop, fizz, fizz” the concrete melted into mud holes.  Soon the ride into Grand Central became more frightening than “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”...and this is the basis of our current problems. 

 You can’t blame train crews for the bad track bed… can you? 
You want to talk train cleanliness?  Yep, we’re all for that too, especially when we have cockroaches the size of Smart Cars crawling into our railroad bags.  “They” say they can’t dump the toilets or give the trains a thorough cleaning since the turn times are too tight.  Yeah…we’re not buying that excuse either.  If Jet Blue can clean a jumbo jet on tarmac in Newark, I’m pretty sure a car cleaner can spot mop an M8 car in Grand Central.

Communication?  I know this has always been a big point of contention, but your conductor can only inform you if he/she has been informed…and with the advent of Twitter and social media, the riding public is way ahead of us.  For instance, I learned about the derailment in Bridgeport from a passenger a good five minutes before I heard about it on the railroad radio. But communication is a two way street...and sometimes you folks just don’t listen.  Here is a transcript of a conversation I had with a passenger last Thursday night just after I finished making announcements that the whole railroad had been shut down and that there would be an indefinite delay:
Passenger: Conductor, can I get on another train?
Me: No, sorry the whole railroad is shut down.

Passenger: Then can I get on a train going in the opposite direction?

Me: No, sorry, no trains moving, indefinite delay.

Passenger: So... how long will it be?

Me: Indefinite delay...meaning we don't know how long.

Passenger: I KNOW what indefinite means.

So, as enjoyable as it is to verbally berate your conductor, or however thrilling it is to give the finger to your engineer when he pulls into your station 15 minutes late, remember…WE’RE NOT THE PROBLEM!  Could we apologize for the delays a little more frequently?  Sure we could!  Could we be a little more pleasant? Certainly!  But remember, we’re human too folks, and you are far from the first or last person that day to growl at us…call us hurtful names… or refuse to pay for this “terrible service.”  In addition to this, we have our regular cast of drunks, fare beaters, and deviants (some are even fellow employees).  As humans, we may get defensive or become apathetic and shut down.  We need to work on that.

Here’s what I propose for incoming Metro North President Joe Giulietti:

Dear Joe,
I know we don’t know each other very well, but you always struck me as a very nice guy.  I remember that your cat and my cat came from the same litter, so that means we’re practically related, so I hope you listen to the following suggestions:

First, I would like you to propose a “Quality of Life Initiative" like Rudy Giuliani did in NYC.  A lot of our problems have to deal with perception, so treat the trains like 42nd Street AND CLEAN THEM UP! I'm far from a neat nick, but even I'm disgusted by the condition of our trains. The floors are filthy, the bathrooms haven't been dumped and they're without toilet paper. Too many cars have roaches crawling around, so treat the roaches like Rudy treated the peep shows...make them disappear.
Second, with all these new cars...why are there still seating shortages? Even Bloomberg put seating in Time Square....and that's "The crossroads of the world."

Third: Communicate-Communicate-Communicate! It's like pulling teeth to get information out of the RTC's sometimes (i.e. Where is our connection?') How can we do our "Community Policing," if we're not informed? Even the passengers know more than we do...at least they have Twitter to tip them off.
Fourth: Whatever happened to car inspectors actually inspecting trains before departure? I know they used to do it...doesn't seem like it happens anymore. Like they say...if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.
Yours truly,

Bobby
So you see commuters, we train crew members really do care.  Now if you’d only put the pitchforks down!!!
 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Full Moon Fever 10/18/2013


Train 1575: My train is held in Fairfield because the traffic is stopped ahead due to a trespasser walking in front of an Amtrak train. He refuses to get off the tracks. MTA PD have to remove him.

 Train 1572: I plug my iphone in to charge and hide it under a seat across from my cab. Someone steals it (yes...again). Thanks to the "Find my iphone" app, and the MTA PD, phone is found sitting in a garbage can at Stratford train station later last evening. I guess an iphone4 is too passé.

 Train 1988: A woman gets on the train and seems to have misplaced her 21 year old schizophrenic daughter. I spend the better part of the ride calling the rail traffic controller with a description, hoping they find her in Bridgeport (they didn't).

I realize that my hand-held radio is missing, and go to use the radio in the engineer's cab.  Up ahead I see three guys sitting on a bridge abutment drinking beer.   I yell "Watch out!", and the engineer blows the horn, and throws the emergency brake on.  The men scurry to solid ground and we narrowly miss them.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Metro North Derailment and Collision 5/17/2013







Lest we think that train collisions on the New Haven Line are something new; here's a picture I pulled out of the family archive. My grandmother Bridget "Bessie" Linehan McKernan was injured in this wreck in Milford, CT, Feb 1916. Nine people were killed, and the injured were treated at Laurleton Hall High School, which was set up as a make-shift triage center. It is rumored that Bessie's hair turned white overnight.