It's my first day back from vacation and I'm feeling tan (in an Irish kind of way), rested, and ready to take on the Greater Metropolitan Region. I lose this feeling, when on my first train...at leaving time, a woman sticks her foot in the closing doors of the head car. Without a "door closed" light, my engineer cannot take power.
I try to close the doors, but the woman won't budge from her post. I get on the PA and announce that it's leaving time and she needs to either "get on or get off."
The woman ignores me and stands firmly in the doorway. It's now a minute past leaving time.
"M'am please...step on or step off the train," I announce. "There's another train in 30 minutes"
My engineer, who is sitting a few feet away from this woman, gets on the PA and tells me that she's waiting for her daughter and her infant grandchild. I'm not heartless, I'll wait (within reason) for parents with small children, the elderly or disabled, so I cool my heels, waiting for the door blocker's family to arrive.
It's now two minutes past leaving time and the Rail Traffic Controller is calling us and asking what our delay is. Just then a young woman runs through the platform doors...without a baby. The door blocker gives her a wave and they both step into the train. Obviously I've been duped.
There went that calm vacation feeling.
08/19/08, Train 1974:
As a favor to the railroad, I'm covering a Waterbury branch job today. We leave from Bridgeport and an overweight, toothless, tank top wearing, creepy, hillbilly looking guy, gets on. I'm guessing he's in his mid 50's. When I collect his ticket, he looks at my company ID hanging from a lanyard around my neck. The plastic pocket on the lanyard has flipped and on the reverse side is a picture of my two, young, teenage daughters. Women passengers love to see this photo and find the fact that I carry it endearing. They tell me the girls are beautiful and that I'm sweet to carry their snapshot. This guy, however, is thinking something totally different. I can see it in his eyes. He leers at the photo and asks:
"Thems your daughters?"
"Yep!" I answer.
"Theys look perty good" he purrs. "P-e-r-t-y good!"
The hair stands up on the back of my neck, and I debate smacking him. Instead, I stuff the picture in my shirt pocket and walk away.
I wonder if he's registered here.
08/21/08, Train 1500:
Two rotund Puerto Rican Women are flirting with Dan, my assistant conductor. They say he's soooo cuuuute, and they want to take a few pictures with him. He happily obliges, posing as they take turns snapping pictures with their camera phones.
"Wow Dan", I say, "looks like you have a fan club."
One of the women gives me a toothless smile and says:
"Honey, Dan is cute... but you more my type."
"Me?" (I didn't know if I should be flattered or not.)
"Yeah," she said. "I goes for that mature type...Know what I'm sayin'?"
I don't know what she's sayin, but I nod my head in agreement.
"You older guys (she was 32) know what time it is...Know what I'm sayin'?"
I nod my head again.
"You do know what time it is...don't you baby?
I point to my watch and say "Of course I know what time it is...I'm a railroad conductor."
08/22/08, Train 1194:
We're deadheading to South Norwalk when I hear my engineer give a sudden blast on the train horn. This noise is followed by the loud burst of the emergency brake dumping.
"Sh*t" says the engineer..."I just hit someone."
The engineer calls the Rail Traffic Controller, and I get a familiar knot in my stomach. He tells the RTC that we just hit a guy on the bridge just west of the station. He says that the guy was laying in the gauge of the rail.
I walk back to retrieve my radio and flashlight (it was dark out) from my railroad bag. It's my job to find the body and I'm dreading it.
As Yogi Berra said..."It's Deja Vu all over again". Three years previous, I was working with this same engineer and we hit someone on a bridge about 15 miles west of here. That time, I spent several minutes walking the bridge and looking underneath the train for a body. I couldn't find one. I was about to tell my engineer that the guy must have jumped out of the way, when my flashlight beam shone upon a work boot resting on the curb of the street below the bridge. I followed the beam up, and to my horror, found a man lying spread eagle in the middle of the street. He was in a pool of blood. I was walking down the bridge embankment when the police arrived. I saw the cop crouching over the body and searching the man's neck for a pulse. He then stood up and walked over to the trunk of his car and pulled out a yellow tarp. He draped it over the body.
This scene plays in my mind as I grab my flashlight and radio. My assistant and I gingerly step off the train and begin searching under, around and behind the train. My adrenaline is pumping and my breathing is labored. Every muscle in my body is tense. It's kind of like the feeling you get when watching a horror movie...only ten times worse.
I'm searching for a body or a severed leg or maybe an arm, perhaps a head. I look for a blood trail or perhaps a length of intestines. The horror. The horror. The horror.
I begin to reconsider my choice of occupation.
We find nothing, but still we search. My engineer joins in and we look, under the train, around the train...and on the street below.
Still... no body.
I walk track side, looking through the brush, then under a billboard and down to the avenue below. There I interview three Hispanic men who have been standing and watching the whole scene unfold. I ask if they' ve seen anything or anybody around the tracks. They say they haven't, but I don't believe them. This is the bad neighborhood and I'm sure that they're silenced by the street's "no snitch" policy.
After 20 minutes, we give up the search We assume that the trespasser either jumped out of the way in time, or possibly we ran him over, and he crawled out from under the train.
We get back on the train and report the situation, and the rail traffic controller tells us to continue on to our next station stop. We begin our next train like nothing happened. I collect tickets and my body begins to relax. The adrenaline is subsiding and my muscles start to ache. It feels like I just ran a marathon.
I call my wife, and the conversation goes like this:
You're not gonna believe what just happened.
I just spent the last 20 minutes looking for a dead guy.
A dead guy. My engineer thought he hit someone, so we had to go out and look under and around the train for the body, but we never found it.
How do you know you didn't hit him?
We can't be certain...but we didn't find anything.
Why didn't you wait for the police to look?
There was no body....
My wife doesn't say it, but I know what she's thinking. She doesn't trust me to find a body. She knows me as the guy who spends 10 minutes searching the refrigerator for mayonnaise, when there's a jar of Helmann's staring me in the face. I'm the guy who regularly misplaces his keys and glasses. I'm the guy who recently lost his cell phone for like the 20th time.
"Listen," I say as if to calm her, "I wasn't the only one looking. My assistant conductor looked too, and so did the engineer...and he's very organized."
I think I need a vacation.