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 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,

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.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Aaahoo!!! Werewolves of Norwalk


Somewhere around South Norwalk *Sheila, my assistant conductor, entered the head car of the train to collect tickets.  Just as she entered, a well dressed male in a business suit quickly darted into the lavatory.  Once the man was safely locked inside the bathroom, frightened passengers began complaining to her that he was "a crazy man".  They said that before she entered the car,  he'd been pacing wildly, screaming nonsensically, spitting and punching the head rests and kicking the seats.

After waiting several minutes, Sheila knocked on the lavatory door.  The door swung open violently, and a sweating, glowering man howled;


I was in the back of the train collecting tickets when all of this transpired, and I didn't learn about it till my engineer called me on my radio.

Me: What's up?

Engineer:  Bobby, I just had two woman knock on my cab door and they said there's a crazy guy up here, screaming and swearing and they seem pretty scared. 

After hearing this,  I immediately attempted to call the Rail Traffic Controller, but my hand-held radio is fickle, and it suddenly decided to stop transmitting.  I tried another radio in the cab, but that wasn't working any better than my hand-held.  I walked back a car and tried another radio, and that wasn't working great either.  I finally asked my engineer to call for police assistance.  The Rail Traffic Controller (RTC) said that the police would be waiting for us in Stamford, some 10 minutes away from where we were.  Ten very looonnnggg minutes away from where we were.

I walked forward to evaluate the situation, and in the distance, I saw a crazed man leaving the lavatory.  I could see him prowling the aisle, waving his arms frantically, and howling in the air at no one in particular.  He burst open the barrel end door and charged right at me. He was clearly enraged and sweating profusely....almost cartoonishly...kind of like Ted Striker in the movie "Airplane."

I stood in the aisle to block the path of this charging wild beast.

"May I help you?"  I asked in my best non-panicked professional voice. 


He pushed past me and leapt into a seat. He again began violently punching and kicking the seat in front of him.

I finally found a radio that worked and called the RTC and updated him on the situation.  I  explained that the man was acting violently and that he had reportedly spit on some of the passengers.  The RTC instructed me to hold the train in Darien and wait for police assistance.

A few minutes later (it seemed like an eternity), a Darien police officer arrived.  I explained the situation to the officer and warned him that the man was wild, and dangerous and that he should proceed with great caution.  The cop waited for backup (good move on his part).  Two more officers arrived. 

I escorted the three officers to the seat where the man had previously been sitting.  Surrounding passengers pointed to the lavatory, then said in unison... "HE'S IN THERE!"

Sheila and I evacuated the passengers from the area surrounding the lavatory while the officers pounded on the door.

 Again the lavatory door swung open violently and the officers reached in and grabbed for the crazed beast and tried to pull him from his den..  The suspect growled and pounced out of the lavatory, swinging wildly and fighting back with all his might.  The officers now had him in their grips, but he flipped and flopped and tried to break free from their clutches. All four of them tumbled into a seat across from the cab. 

"Stop fighting, or we're gonna tase you man," warned one police officer.

 This seemed to enrage the wild man even more. 

One of the cops, a female officer, pulled out her taser gun....

CLICK-CLICK-CLICK-CLICK, the taser shouted.

 "YOU BITCH!!!"  The wild man shouted back.

 CLICK-CLICK-CLICK-CLICK!!!  The taser howled again.

 "YOU FUCKIN' BITCH!!! The crazed man howled back.

Two MTA cops arrived and they quickly jumped into the fray.  The five officers finally subdued the man, and carried him out to the platform where they wrestled handcuffs onto to his paws...I mean wrists.

Two MTA detectives boarded the train and took statements from witnesses. Most were cooperative, some were apathetic.  One guy pulled out his iPhone and stealthily recorded Sheila and I as we checked in on one another.

After several minutes, the detectives released the train and we were back on our way. We made it to Grand Central on time (thank you very much).

I think a lot of passengers were shaken up by what they just witnessed.   A few stopped Sheila and I and said they were sorry that we had to deal with the situation.  Others thanked us for getting the him off of the train.  I think a lot of them had the previous week's event in Boston in the back of their minds.

 "Imagine a man acting that way after what went on in Boston last week." said an elderly woman.

Another guy groused; "What's going on with Metro North?  Last week I was delayed on a train while the FBI looked for Boston bombers.  This week I'm delayed by a lunatic."

Later, I told some of the passengers in the rear of train what had transpired in the front of the train.  One of these commuters is an NYPD officer and he said that it sounded like the guy was in a "PCP rage."  He said that's what drove Rodney King to behave the way he did. 

I still don't know what transformed this seemingly normal businessman into a beast.  His  actions were totally unprovoked. But I'm working on a theory...

Tonight, I looked up into the sky and noticed that the moon was full. "That explains a lot." I said to my engineer.  "I'm thinking that maybe that guy was a werewolf."

I flashback and watch him pace the aisle of the train like a caged animal. The sweat pouring down his face, the foam gathering in the corners of his mouth...the deepening five o'clock shadow.

I climb up into the engine,  I howl at the moon and begin to sing to the tune of "Werewolves of London." 

AAAHOO!!  Werewolves of Norwalk.

*name changed to protect the innocent

Sunday, March 17, 2013


Ahhhh...St. Paddy's Day.  Nothing makes me prouder of me Irish heritage than puddles of green vomit, and a good ol' donnybrook on a commuter train.  St. Patrick would be so proud.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"Geronimo!!!" A Roller Coaster week in review.

October 16th:  A guy boards my train in New Haven and when he opens his wallet, I see a yellow "Post It" note glued to his credit cards.  It reads; "New Haven Taxi 777-7777".  I find this funny. I don't always remember phone numbers...but I'm pretty sure I could remember this one.

On my go- home train, the emergency window in the "quiet car" is making a racket.  The weatherstripping around the glass is loose and the pane is rattling like crazy.  My passengers look annoyed.  Like MacGyver, I quickly grab seat checks out of my pocket and shim the small pieces of cardboard between the glass and the rubber gasket that surrounds it.  The window goes silent and the passengers cheer. I'm the hero of quiet car.

October 17th:  I meet up with author/journalist Sandi Kahn Shelton at Starbucks.  She is interviewing me for an article in The New Haven Register .  The story is about my father's participation in the famous "Obedience to Authority" experiments by Dr. Stanley Milgram.  Milgram conducted these experiments at Yale in 1961-1962 to observe how obedient people were when following orders from an authority figure.

Between sips of her iced tea and my Grande Vanilla Chai Latte, Sandi tells me how much she loves my blog and writing style.  She is one of my favorite writers, so this is a HUGE compliment.  It's a wonder that my big head fits through the door of the coffee shop. We agree to meet at Yale's Linsley-Chittenden Hall (where the experiments were conducted) the next day for a photo shoot to accompany the newspaper article.

Wednesday evening- October 17: My train hits a trespasser and I have to go out and search for the body... And that's all I have to say about that.

October 18th:  I wake up with a knot in my stomach, remembering the previous evening's activities.  I get a call from a counselor from the railroad's employee assistance program.  She says she's sorry that I had to go through the trauma and asks if I want to come in and discuss my feelings.  I thank her for the offer, but tell her that this is my third fatality in my 26 years on the railroad...and that I think I'll be okay.  She encourages me to take three days off (regular procedure whenever crews are involved in a fatality) and I tell her that I will. 

They say that railroaders average three fatalities in their career.  This was my third and hopefully last fatality. I'm done.

After breakfast, I drive to New Haven and get stuck behind a Connecticut Transit Bus, then spend the next 10 minutes staring into the eyes of Attorney Jonathan Perkins, a personal injury lawyer whose giant face is plastered on the back of the bus in an advertisement for his law firm.

Attorney Perkins was on my train one day this past summer, and I told him that his head was much smaller than the buses advertise.  He laughed...well he kind of laughed.

I search for Linsley-Chittenden Hall and find it right smack dab in the middle of Yale's old campus.  It's a beautiful Gothic looking building, all brownstone, decorative spires and Tiffany windows.  I've never been here before, but know that my father's experiment was done somewhere in the basement of the building.  I walk down a set of dimly lit steps to the basement which befits a medieval castle.  I open heavy wooden doors but can't find a room that looks like the experiment lab.  There are no plaques on the wall  designating it as the site of the Milgram experiments (due to the unethical nature of the experiments, Yale is not exceedingly proud of it). I find an office upstairs and ask a secretary if she knows exactly where the experiments were conducted.  She says she thinks they were done "at Berkeley...out in California".  I tell her that, "no...the experiments were done somewhere right beneath your desk."

  "Really?" She says.

I go back outside to wait for Sandi and the Register photographer and I hear someone shouting "GERONIMO!!!.....GERONIMO!!!"  I instinctively start looking up at the tops of nearby buildings waiting for someone to jump (when I was a kid, we always yelled "Geronimo!" before jumping off of something...I'm not sure why.)

 "GERONIMO!!!"  I look across the street toward the sound of the shouts and notice a drunken Native American standing in front of a brownstone building that I recognize to be "The Skull and Bones" tomb. "GERONIMO!!!" he shouts again, now shaking his fists.

 I recently read that the notorious Skull and Bones Society (a secret Yale fraternity that counts several U.S. presidents and Supreme Court justices among its members),  has the famous Native American warrior's skull deposited somewhere inside this tomb.  Understandably, Native Americans want the skull back to give it a proper burial.  

I meet Sandi and Arnie (The Register photographer) and Arnie takes several shots of me somewhere near where the experiment was conducted (I never found the exact location). He keeps having me look up toward the ceiling light and I don't understand why. A few days later, I see this spooky...but very cool picture plastered on the cover of The New Haven Register. Photography is all about shadows and light.

October 19:   I drive up to the Connecticut State Library in Hartford to do genealogy research.  One of those big car carrier trucks catches fire just ahead of me on I-91, and I see giant plumes of smoke about a quarter mile up the road.  The conflagration shuts down the highway and I sit in traffic for 90 minutes.  I finally make it to the library, and find that keeping busy takes my mind off of the Wednesday evening's activities.  Searching for dead people in files, microfilm, and computers is fun.  Searching for real dead people is not.  The irony isn't lost on me.

October 21Sandi's article appears on the front page of The New Haven Register.  I'm exceedingly pleased with how it turned out, so I link the article to my facebook page.  I then spend the better part of the day checking my status updates waiting for people to comment.  I laugh at how narcissistic this behavior is...and ask my wife if she thinks me a narcissist.

 "You think?" She answers sarcastically.

October 21:  I'm finally back to work, and they have me covering the 1:15AM train out of Grand Central.  This train is always entertaining...and so dysfunctional that it should have its own blog.

When I start collecting tickets, I notice a 20-something African American couple making out in the middle of the train.  By the time I approach to get their tickets, the man is standing in front of his girlfriend and his belt is unbuckled.  His pants are riding down around his thighs and they're about to commence a sex act.

"WHOA!!!" I say. "Pull those pants up...You can't do that here."

The guy pulls his pants up and buckles his belt.  He and his mate apologize and they assure me it won't happen again, but as soon as I turn my back, I hear the belt unbuckle and he's standing up in front of her again.

"What did I just tell you?" I shout.  "Pull your pants up or I'm going to have you arrested." 

Now the woman apologizes, saying they just got engaged and they can't help themselves.  By now the surrounding passengers are shaking their heads in disbelief.  

Halfway through the ride, I notice the amorous couple have moved their seats to the head car of the train, which is now devoid of passengers.  I contemplate confronting them again (I assume they were back at it)...but it's 2AM, and there's no one else around. It's been a tough week, so I decide a "don't ask-don't tell" policy is the best way to go.

Ahhh!....Young love.