Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Yale Glee Club Brings Holiday Cheer To Train

There was a shampoo commercial back in the 80's in which a freshly showered Heather Locklear holds a bottle of Faberge Organics Shampoo.  She says that it was so good that she told two friends about it...and they told two friends, and they told two friends...and so on, and so on...

I know the feeling.  In December of 2015, I posted a silly video of me while working as a railroad conductor, musically "conducting " The Yale Glee Club aboard my train.  This video went viral and at this writing has over views on 3,348,126 Views on Facebook, and 52,321 people shared the video with their Facebook friends.  These numbers don't account for the thousands that watched/shared it on YouTube, or those who saw it on their nightly news programs across the globe.  Not bad for a silly video that I just wanted to post to a few Facebook friends.

Here's how it happened:

On December 4th, 2015, I was the conductor on the 2:45 PM Metro North train from New Haven to Grand Central Terminal in New York City.  A few minutes before leaving time, a swarm of college  kids headed toward the back of the train.  The rear two cars were closed, so I quickly opened them to accommodate the extra crowd.  We pulled out of  New Haven Station and I began collecting tickets.  I soon learned that the 80 students were on a single group ticket. I was directed to a gentleman who looked not unlike a professor.

"What group is this?" I asked.

"The Yale Glee Club." He responded.

Now I've had the legendary Yale Whiffenpoofs on my train before, as well as other assorted singing groups from Yale, but for some reason, it never occurred to me to ask them to sing.  But here it was, the holiday season...and I really wanted to hear a Christmas Carol.  I asked the professor (who turned out to be Jeffrey Douma, Yale Choral Director), if they would sing me a Christmas Carol.  He prompted them and they then sang the most beautiful version of "The Wassail Song" that I'd ever heard.  It sent shivers down my spine.  I thanked them for sharing their talents with me as they poured out of the train and into Grand Central.

Later that night I was boarding the 10:06 PM train from Grand Central to New Haven.  I heard  singing in the terminal, and sure enough, The Yale Glee Club rounded the corner, walked through the gates and down the ramp toward my train.  I quickly walked forward to the head of the train to open more cars.  On the way I chatted up some of the students.  I told them I had an idea for a Facebook video in which I'd say,"I'm the conductor, let me conduct."  They all laughed, and Dan Rubin, one of the Glee Club Presidents said, "Tell us that we're singing it all wrong and that you need to conduct us."  I loved that idea....but we still didn't know which song to do.  One of the students yelled "Carol of the Bells".  I knew this song pretty well from the dozens of Christmas CD's my wife continuously plays from Thanksgiving to December the 25th, so I said "I love it!"

When we pulled out of the station, I quickly ran through and picked up all the tickets. I then told my assistant conductor to take over the ship, I had something to do in the head end.  As I walked forward, I collected the group ticket from Professor Douma.  I asked for permission to borrow his glee club for a Christmas carol I liked to "Conduct".  He gladly gave permission and even offered to stand behind me to do the real conducting. "Okay," I said, even though I had no intention of using him.

This is what happened next:

I was floored by how amazing they sounded, and I was a little self-satisfied with my less than stellar choral directing.  You can see that I messed up at the end of the song when I raised my arm in a flourish, thinking the song was over, then realizing we weren't done.  I was a little embarrassed by this and briefly thought about yelling "Take two!"  But any subsequent execution would have lost the videos spontaneous feel.

I walked back to the rear of the train after the performance, and by the choral director Douma.  He asked me when he was needed to conduct the song.  "We already did it." I told him.

The next day I got an email from Greg Suralik with the video attachment.  I watched the video and was delighted...and a little abashed for being such a ham. I briefly thought about posting the video to my Facebook page, but I wasn't sure how well it would be received by my employer.  I decided that I better not post it in fear of getting myself into trouble.  I replied to Greg's email, saying it was great, but I was too chicken to post it.

That weekend, my family went up to visit my younger daughter at her college.  I hadn't shown anyone the video, but decided to pass my iphone around as I drove through Willimantic, and let them have a gander at it.  They all loved it.

"Dad, you HAVE to post this...you'll be on Ellen." said my daughter Caitlin.

I told my family of my trepidation about posting the video, and they all seemed to think I was being overly cautious.  Two days later, I sat at my computer, watched the video again...and decided to post it.  Almost immediately, people started "liking it" and sharing it.  By the time I got to work that day, I had something in the neighborhood of 250K views.  The next morning it was over 1 Million views then my phone started ringing.

I first got a call from a company in Los Angeles that wanted to buy the rights to the video from me.  They told me they'd give me a percentage of the profits.  I told them I didn't own the video, it that it belonged to a Yale undergrad named Greg. The phone continued ringing, we were asked to appear on Good Morning America (couldn't work out the logistics).  The next morning I did a radio interview with Vinnie Penn on a local radio station. Two local news stations interviewed me, one whilst following me down the aisles of my train with a camera.  The New York Stations set up a press conference in Grand Central, but my train broke down on my way in from New Haven, and it was cancelled. 

I became quite famous that Christmas season.  It seems the video went all over the globe. Passengers wanted to take selfies with me, I even got a few autograph requests.  Suddenly, my regular pizza shop stopped charging me for my daily slice of pizza, and friends I hadn't seen in years began calling and leaving messages.  I had hundreds of new Facebook friend requests.

 Months later I discovered I had a spam filter on my Facebook page and that I'd missed tons of interview requests from media all over the globe.  I also got love letters from Sweden and Hong Kong, but most were just thank you messages for brightening people's day.  I even got a special thank you from Lynda Carter, aka Wonder Woman. 

It really was a once in a lifetime chance meeting...or so I thought.  Here we are again a year later in 2016.  Again unplanned....it must be fate.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Only in New York

Eating Clam Chowder in the lower level of Grand Central tonight. A homeless black woman is staring at me from the next table.

 "Hey baby!"

 "Hi" (I give a nod and a polite smile)

 "Baby...is that a real smile?"

 "I'm being polite."

 "You know baby...I'm 61 years old and I don't look as old as you...ya know why?... Cause black don't crack!" (laughs)

 (I give a genuine smile).

 "Baby, You do know that Adam and Eve was black don't ya?"

 "Yeah...I suppose."

 "Give me a fistpump on that."

 (We fist-bump)

  "Baby...Did you know that God is black too?"

 "Hmmmm...I kind of picture him as being colorless."

 "Alright...Alright...I'm willing to go with dat...if you can find your way into giving me some money for a sandwich."

 "But you insulted me! I'm 55 and you said you look younger than me."

 ''Oh baby... don't worry about dat''

 I laugh, reach into my pocket and hand her a 10.

 "Thank you baby...now give mama a hug."

 I hesitantly stood and reluctantly embraced her.

 Passing commuters stared at us, the bedraggled conductor and his homeless, ageless, nubian princess.

 What a sight!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Los Intocables

I was standing against the wall in Grand Central on Saturday when a woman approached me and asked, "Habla Espanol?" I told her "Muy Poquito" (very little). She then pointed to the grand staircase and said something about "La pelicula" which I knew meant "movie/film" and I guessed that she was asking me a trivia question...which I love...even in a foreign language.

 "Los Intocables"? She asked hopefully. I took a couple of years of Spanish in high school and college but I don't remember learning "Intocables"...but not wanting to disappoint, I gave her a pen and a piece of paper and said "escribe" (write). She grabbed my pen and drew a staircase and next to it wrote "policia" which I knew meant "police." It was starting to feel like a game of Pictionary on Univision, so I became overly-animated, turned to my coworkers and yelled "hey guys...Can you think of a police movie filmed on the grand staircase?" They all shrugged as if to say "No" ( which means the same in both English and Spanish.) The woman was starting to look frustrated with me and wrote in big letters "LOS INTOCABLES." I have a lot of bilingual coworkers, but none were standing with me, so I had to throw my hands up and say "sorry" (but I couldn't think of the Spanish equivalent for the word).

 As the woman walked away, I felt defeated, but then I remembered I had an iPhone in my pocket. I quickly Googled "Los Intocables" and the movie "The Untouchables" popped up. I then Googled "The Untouchables Staircase" and a shootout scene popped up on You Tube of Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) shooting someone on  Chicago's Union Station staircase. I chased after the woman, wanting to say "No esta Aqui, esta en la Ciudad de Chicago!" But she was gone...I was crestfallen, then angry. I thought; what kind of person asks movie trivia questions in a foreign language? Then I remembered...I AM EXACTLY THAT TYPE OF PERSON;

  "Hey Pierre" I'd ask dismissively while pointing to the Eiffel Tower...'Rush Hour 3'?"

Friday, March 27, 2015


Tonight in Grand Central at 25 track (Operations Office):

Operations Manager: Mr. McDonough, we need you and your engineer to bring 10 deadhead cars (no passengers) to New Haven. But there's a situation...A RAT has been spotted running around the south car in the engineer's cab.

Me: Like in the cab where I have to do the brake test?

Operations Manager: Yep!

Me: Like in the cab where I have to do the reverse move when we get to New Haven?

Operations Manager: Yep, that would be the cab... Oh, and don't leave your railroad bag on the floor. We don't want you bringing home any pets.

I half-expected the 4 guys in the office to suddenly burst out laughing...maybe an early start to April Fool's Day. Perhaps, I thought, one of them discovered my rodent-phobia from reading my blog post (below), and they were just having a little fun with me.But their faces remained stone-cold sober.

Radio transmission in New Haven:

"New Haven Station to Metro North train 5588  Do you have a rodent onboard?.  Over!"

"Metro North Train 5588 -Yes, sir...that's the story.  I haven't seen it...but I really haven't been looking. Over!"

"Metro North Station to 5588...I don't blame you. Over and Out!"

It wasn't easy backing up a train in New Haven with one hand on the emergency brake whilst waiting for Willard to spring into action. No rat appeared, but it was easily the longest reverse move of my railroad career.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Snow Job!

So, I'm snowed in during a blizzard with nothing to do...and I started thinking about this poor neglected blog.  I'm sorry that I haven't written much, but it seems I get most of my writing frustration out on facebook now.  So, for those of you out there who aren't my facebook friend but still want to know what's happening in "The Conductor to The Stars" life,  I give you some of my recent facebook status updates:

24 January 2015

Three college girls with bloodshot eyes got on my train tonight. They all reeked of cannabis. I explained (no less than six times) that they had to transfer trains to get to Fordham, but their stoned brains couldn't grasp the concept of transferring to another train. I was starting to get a contact high, so I finally asked..."Have you girls been smoking pot tonight?" They all denied it, but their orange Cheetos stained fingers, and several empty strewn bags of Chips Ahoy told a different story. The next time I walked by them, they had sprayed cheap perfume on themselves. Now they smelled like cheap perfume AND pot. Not a good combo.

17 January 2015

So, this happened tonight:
Me: Tickets please...(now reading the young guy's college ID)... "Mr. Trepod."
Him: Here you go conductor (hands over ticket).
Me: "Trepod"...kind of like tripod.
Him: Yeah, that's what all the girls tell me....
Me: Well played sir, well played.  I bet you use that line all the time.

Him: Not enough.
30 December 2014

You can almost see Sting thinking..."Don't stand so...Don't stand so...Don't stand so close to me.

Yes, one of the joys of being a railroad conductor is having friends in high places...mostly the Broadway Theatre catwalks.  Over the years I have befriended several Broadway stagehands, and they are great at hooking me up with backstage tours when I visit a show.  On this night, my family and I saw "The Last Ship" which starred Sting (he also wrote the musical score).  I saw him on stage before the show
and asked if he'd take a photo with me.  He was a little reluctant, but he enthusiastically took a photo with my wife and daughters.  He even took his hat off for them.

27 November 2014

Happy Thanksgiving to all!  Let the; "Hey! You look just like the Conductor from The Polar Express" season begin.

24 November 2014
Note to self: Never go to Shoprite on a Tuesday, which is "Senior Day"...especially on the day before a snow storm...two days before Thanksgiving....again. It was like shopping in God's waiting room.

8 November 2014
Conductor Bobby's tip of the day: Hey Kids! When it's 2AM and you are so drunk that you can barely walk, stumbling home in the middle of the tracks is not your best option. Take the 18 -year old doofus we nearly ran over on my train early this morning. I had to climb off my train and give him a stern talking to. After ten minutes of negotiating, doofus finally agreed to climb aboard our train and we carried him to the safety of the waiting arms of the MTA police in Stamford. Don't be like doofus...call a friend, call a cab, walk home along the mean streets of Greenwich, Connecticut.

20 October 2014
I met comedian Jim Gaffigan tonight at a book signing for his new book, "Food" at Barnes and Noble at Union Square, NYC. He is portraying my father in the upcoming Michael Almereyda Film called "Experimenter." It's about behavioral psychologist Stanley Milgram and my father's participation acting as "The Learner/Victim" in the infamous 1961/62 experiments done at Yale University.  The film premieres at The Sundance Film Festival January 25, 2015.

03 October 2014

It's not often that a McDonough passes a bar. Congratulations to my niece, Attorney Emily McDonough!


Thursday, October 09, 2014

Fair, Fear, Fare

I had an Asian woman get on my train in West Haven today and she handed me this ticket. Her English wasn't very good, so I explained in a very LOUD voice (I'm not sure why) that the ticket was, "NO GOOD!...IT'S AN ADVERTISEMENT!" I don't think she believed me...but she paid anyway...maybe out of fear.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Who's on first?

Early this morning on the carpool ride home:

 Engineer: Hey Bobby, that song on the radio... Isn't that Bachman-Turner Overdrive?

 Me: Yes it is. Here's a trivia question for you... BTO is a spin-off of what other group?

 Engineer: Hmm...I don't know.

 Me: "The Guess Who."

 Engineer: I told you, I don't know.

 Me: No...I'm saying it's "The Guess Who."

 Engineer: (now getting annoyed.) I told you...I DON'T KNOW!

 Me: What are we, Abbott and Costello?