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.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

SHOCKING!!! (Again)

Due to the recent article in the New Haven Register, I am rerunning this post which originally appeared in March of 2006:

Something shocking happened to my brother John one Sunday night in 1974. He was at his girlfriend’s house watching the CBS news show 60 Minutes and half paying attention to the screen when correspondent Morley Safir started a segment titled “Following Orders.” Safir introduced the piece by showing black and white footage of a psychological experiment that was conducted at Yale University. John was about to turn the channel when he noticed that one of the men in the film looked exactly like my father. My father had died nine years previous to this broadcast, so he was perplexed. He jumped off the couch in order to get a closer look.

As Safir narrated, the film showed a short, stocky and bespectacled man. He was middle-aged and wore suspenders. He was seated in a stark white room while a man in a long white lab coat attached electrodes to his arms. When he finished connecting the wires he asked the man if he had any questions or concerns.

Man in suspenders: About two years ago I was at the Veteran’s Hospital in West Haven.
While there, they diagnosed me with a heart condition…nothing serious, but as long as I’m having these shocks…how strong are they? How dangerous are they?

Man in lab coat: No, although the shocks may be painful, they are not dangerous.

THAT GUY IN THE SUSPENDERS IS MY FATHER! John shouted. He called home and my mother answered the phone.

Mom: Helllooo!

John: Mom, quick turn on 60 minutes. Daddy is on there…and they’re electrocuting him.

Mom: What are you talking about?

John: It’s some kind of psychological experiment and every time he gets a word association question wrong… they shock him.

Mom: Oh THAT experiment (as if my father had been in several experiments.) Yes, I vaguely remember him doing an experiment at Yale about 12 years ago.

The shocking truth is that in 1961 through 1962, my father, who worked as head auditor for The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad,(predecessor to the railroad I work for) took a part time job with a Yale professor named Dr. Stanley Milgram. The railroad did not like their management employees taking part time jobs but my father had nine mouths to feed and was employed at Yale for about a year.

Milgram, a social psychologist, took out an ad in the New Haven Register that offered to pay volunteers $4.00 for one hour's work, to participate in a psychological experiment at Yale University in a study to investigate memory and learning. Participants were told that the study would look at the relationship of punishment and learning. Volunteers would work in pairs; one would be the teacher, the other a learner. The two men would draw straws but it was fixed that my father (a confederate) would always draw the short straw and be the learner.

My father was strapped to a chair and electrodes were attached to his arms. It was explained to the teacher that the electrodes were connected to an electric shock generator and that the teacher was to shock my father for every wrong answer he gave in a series of word association questions.

The teacher was then brought to a separate room and sat in front of the shock generator. The machine had about 30 switches. The switch farthest to the left read 15 volts (slight shock) to 450 volts (severe shock). The switch farthest to the right was simply marked XXX. Every time my father got a question wrong, the learner had to give him a shock that increased in severity with every wrong answer (in reality, my father never received any shocks). My father’s groans and screams were pre-recorded and played each time the teacher gave him a shock. Many of these teachers expressed concern for my father’s well being, some even protesting about continuing, but the researcher in the lab coat urged them on.

Milgram’s results were shocking. He found that 65% of participants, even after hearing my father’s screams, zapped him all the way to the last switch. This study proved that everyday normal people could cause pain and suffering to another person under the right set of circumstances (think Nazi Germany). This experiment is still talked and written about today. Just last year The New York Times ran a piece on it, after US soldier Lynndie England said that she was innocent of Iraqi prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, because, she said, “I was just following orders.”

Shortly after the 60 Minutes broadcast, Dr. Milgram, who then chaired the Psychology Department at City University of New York (CUNY), appeared on the Phil Donahue Show. He had finally released the findings of the experiment and had written a book about it. It was titled, “Obedience to Authority.”

As we watched the show, we were all in a state of shock. They ran the footage of my father being strapped to the chair and we could hear his protests when the teacher started flipping switches and doling out discipline.

“Let me out of here!” He cried, “You can’t keep me here! Let me out!”

We still weren’t certain if my father was really getting shocked or not. We wondered if this might have had something to do with the fatal heart attack he suffered less than three years later at the young age of 49. After the show, my mother contacted CUNY and asked to speak with Dr. Milgram.

The next day our phone rang and I answered it. The man on the other line said, “Hello, this is Stanley Milgram, is Mrs. McDonough in.”

Dr. Milgram could not have been more pleasant. He told my mother how much he enjoyed working with my dad and he reassured her that he was unharmed in the experiments. He sent my mom an autographed copy of the book that was inscribed:

To Mrs. James McDonough,
I thought you might like to have a copy of this book.
As you know, your late husband was part of the
research team at Yale University. It was a pleasure
to work with him, and he was a very fine man.

Stanley Milgram
April 1974

After her conversation with Dr. Milgram, my mother rented the 8mm reel to reel version of the “Obedience to Authority” movie so we could all watch it at home. We gathered in our living room as my brother Jimmy set up the projector and hung a white bed sheet from our living room wall. I really didn’t remember much about the movie, probably because the quality of the projector was so poor. It had no audio and the picture was grainy (perhaps the sheet just needed washing.) I do remember making some great shadow puppets on the wall though.

My father had died just two weeks prior to my third birthday and I have no recollection of him. We used to have an 8x10 picture of him that hung over the TV in the den of my mother’s house. This picture was an icon for me, a photo of someone from the past, not known but idolized. Much like the pictures of Jesus, Pope Paul and John F. Kennedy that my grandfather had hanging on the walls in his house next door. When anybody spoke of my father this was the picture I had in my mind’s eye.

In 1994, I read in the newspaper that Yale's Sterling Library acquired Milgram's Obedience experiment archives from Alexandra Milgram, Dr. Milgram's widow (he died in 1984 at 51 years of age).   I wanted to get a video of the “Obedience to Authority" movie, so I contacted the archive librarian at Yale who in turn referred me to Penn State University since they now own the rights to the film. The librarian at Penn State told me that they normally only sell the video to institutions of higher learning and that they never had an individual request a copy for home use before. He said he could sell me a copy, but the going price was $1000.

I explained to the librarian that I was the son of one of the experiment’s main participants and I just wanted a copy for the family archives.

The librarian told me that under the circumstances, he would talk to Mrs. Milgram, and see if they could give me a break on the price of the video.

I was shocked, when a few days later I received a call from the librarian at Penn State. Mrs. Milgram said that I could have a copy of the movie for free, as long as I paid shipping and handling. The video arrived in the mail a few weeks later.

Unlike the 8mm home movie we had watched, this video was crystal clear. The hair stood up on my neck as I heard my father speak for the first time (he sounded nothing like I suspected). I had never seen his picture taken from behind before and I inspected his bald spot. I had to laugh when I saw that we had the same smile and mannerism. I pushed the play button over and over again as I wiped the tears from my eyes.

Recently, I had a middle-aged woman on my train, a Yale name tag hung from her neck. We began talking and she told me that she was a psychology professor at the University. I asked her if she was familiar with the Milgram experiment.

“Of course,” she said.

I then launched into the story I’ve just told here and how I received a copy of the video from Milgram’s widow.

“How strange,” the psychologist said, “ that the only memory you have of your father is that of him being a victim.”

“Shocking really,” I said.

For more information on the “Obedience to Authority” experiment, please visit: or

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"So...Where are you going tonight?"

"So....Where are you going tonight?"

Sometimes the question doesn't even need to be asked. Take the hoards of people dressed head to toe in Yankees or Rangers uniforms who board my train for example. Groups of young ladies going to bachelorette parties are also pretty easy to spot (they're the ones huddled in the five seaters, sipping margaritas from penis shaped straws). Most of the time though, passenger's evening plans are not so obvious, so I ask...

"So...Where are you going tonight?"

Most people simply answer "New York."  That's when I  roll my eyes and say; "Yeah, I know that!!!  But what do you intend to do once you get there?... Are you going out to dinner?... Maybe going to see a Broadway show...?

People seem to be a little put off by my intrusive questioning, but they want to be nice to the prying conductor, so they'll avoid eye contact, and say something like..."Just going to meet some friends for dinner and drinks."

Sometimes my customers surprise me though, and they give me very candid answers. (Flashback scene; "Initiate super-wavy flashback effect!".)

One afternoon this past summer, a lovely, fit, dark haired woman in her mid-30's was on my train.  She was very stylish, dressed casually in black clothing (the required New York uniform). 

"So...what are your plans for this evening?"  ( Sometimes I like to mix up my Inquisitions.)

"I'm going to an Intervention." She answered without hesitation.

"Come again?" I thought I'd misheard her.

"My old college roommate is in an abusive relationship, and my friends and I can't standby and watch it happen we're staging an intervention."

"Wow!" I said.  "That takes a lot of guts. You do realize this whole thing could blow up in your faces, and you might lose a friend tonight."

"Yeah," she said.  "I know... but it's a risk we're willing to take.

I congratulated she and her friends on their courage and concern, and I wished them, and her abused friend the best of luck.

Sometime back in July, I had a pale, frail looking man on my train who looked relatively young to be in such tough shape...I'm guessing he was in his mid 50's . The emblem on his dark blue sweatshirt said he was from a firehouse in Massachusetts, though I don't remember which town it was now. He had a portable oxygen tank at his feet, which was tethered to plastic tubing that ran the length of his torso. The tube then ran behind his head, split into two sections, folded over his ears like eyeglasses, and reconnected again under his nose on a nasal cannula that supplied his nostrils with oxygen.

"So...Where are you going today?" I asked, anticipating that he might need the assistance of a wheelchair in Grand Central.

The man said he was going to Manhattan to meet up with a group of disabled rescue workers from Ground Zero.  He explained that he was a retired fireman from Massachusetts who had volunteered as a rescue worker at the site of the former Twin Towers buildings in the days after the terrorist attacks.  Years later he developed "lung problems" like so many of his fellow rescue workers.  He now volunteered his time on the board of a 9/11 disabled rescue worker's group...a group that was getting smaller and smaller by the day due to all the illnesses that had befallen the membership.


Recently I had a cute freckled- faced blond girl on my train.  I thought she was a college co-ed, since she looked not unlike the uber-chic teens in the pages of the Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue .

"So..." I asked..."What's on the agenda tonight?"

She looked so young, I half expected her to say ...I'm going to a sorority party, or maybe,  I'm going to a Taylor Swift  concert. 

 "I'm going out to dinner with some friends." She answered.

I told her that I was writing a post for my blog, and that if she wanted to appear in the pages of "Derailed" she'd better come up with a better answer than that.

"Well how's this? (She really seemed to want to be in this story.)

 "It's my first day off in three years!"

"Three years?" (And I thought I worked a lot.)

"Yeah, I'm a surgical resident at Yale, and we never get days off."

"You can't be a doctor!" I said. "You look like you're 18."

"I wish! She laughed, now pulling her work ID out of her back pocket.  Sure enough, her name was prefaced with "Dr."

"Wow" I said.  "The older I get, the younger you doctors look."

Speaking of being old...When did I become "That Guy?"  Remember when you were in your twenties and you and your friends would go to a concert, and inevitably,  some middle age guy would stop you outside of the concert hall and ask who your were going to see?  You and your friends didn't want to be rude, so you'd tell the guy the name of the band, and without fail he'd say..."Never heard of 'em." Fast forward 30 years and I've become THAT GUY?  For reasons I can't explain, I insist on asking my young concert going passengers what band they're going to see, only to end up commenting.... "Never heard of 'em."

Unbelievably, there are some passengers who just don't seem to want to get questioned by their conductor.  Take the guy I had on the train yesterday for example.  He left his ticket out on the seat, his eyes were closed,  he was wearing headphones, and a tee shirts that read "F#@K YOU! I HAVE ENOUGH FRIENDS." Yeah...I have no idea where this guy was going.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Note to Self

Note to self:  Sometimes I'm naive.

Whenever I'm walking along the tracks, I notice copious amounts of plastic water bottles filled with yellow liquid.  I always assumed these bottles were filled with sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade, and I thought it careless that so many of my railroad brethren would litter and be so wasteful.  I mentioned my concern to an engineer one day...and he gave me one of those, how stupid can you be? looks.  He explained that engineers don't always have time to run to the lavatory when they're running a train and sometimes they have to make do. A lot of them keep an empty plastic water bottle in their railroad bag for such emergencies. I won't go into all the disgusting details here, but let's just say,  it's not like they can flush in the engineer's cab, so any open window will do. After gagging,  I thought of all the times I sat in these cabs eating my lunch. I guess I need to start carrying an industrial size bottle of Purell.  

Note to self:  Some people are lazy.

One of my passengers got off the train in Noroton Heights shaking his head in disgust.  He came up to my cab window and grumbled, "Your engineer pulls down too far on the platform."  I wanted to respond; Well, the people who parked toward the head of the train think my engineer spotted the train perfectly.  It was obvious though, this guy didn't care about them...he only cared that he had to walk an extra 170 feet further than he expected to his BMW in the parking lot.  I'm sure in Manhattan this blowhard treks three city blocks for a dirty water dog, but ask him to walk an extra couple of train car lengths and he gets all bent out of shape.

Note to self: Drunks are stupid.

I had two drunk Yankee fans returning home from the stadium last night.  I noticed that their tickets were emblazoned "Yankee Stadium E 153rd / Brewster" in Brewster, New York.   "Gentleman," I said, "We have a problem here.  Stamford, CONNECTICUT is the next stop for this train."  The younger of the two drunks looked up at me with one eye open and said "Bullshiiiiit!!!" His friend agreed, and he deemed me "full of  shit." Obviously they thought I was playing with them.  "No...Really!" I said... and then I thought; Why am I arguing with these drunk idiots?  Normally I try to accommodate my wayward passengers and see if I can possibly get them off on the nearest platform, but there was something about the way the younger drunk said "Bullshiiiiit!" that annoyed me.  I guess they finally believed me when we pulled into Stamford Station, as evidenced by the pounding they gave the garbage cans on the platform.

Note to Self:  Some people are rude.

Yesterday, a woman got on my train and immediately plugged the cord of her smart phone into the power outlet. Apparently only the phone was smart, since she sat across the aisle from the outlet, leaving the cord to dangle like a trip wire just inches off the ground blocking my, and everyone else's, well worn path.   I approached her and told her that the cord was blocking the aisle and she'd either have to move her seat or unplug the cord.  That's when she sighed, looked up and gave me an annoyed look...a look that said; Why are you hassling me?

On this same train I had a guy wearing headphones who missed his stop. He hadn't heard my several announcements for passengers in the rear two cars to walk forward because he was blasting Jay Z into his ears.

These headphone wearers are my new pet peeve.  Especially since they ask me questions without removing their ear buds or headphones.  Inevitably,  I'll answer their question and they'll say "What happened?"   They never think to take their headphones off, and say "Excuse me sir?"  It's always "What happened?"  I motion for them to take their headphones off, and when they do, I say, "What happened is that you were in the wrong car and now you've missed your stop."

Note to Self: Some people are still honest in this world.

A family from India was visiting on my train this week. The thirty-something year old son handed me tickets for he, his wife and his parents. I noticed he seemed a little unsure about something, then he spoke in broken English; "I bought my father a senior citizen ticket...but I'm not sure what the railroad considers a senior citizen." I told him that the railroad considers 65 and over a senior. He told me that his father was only 64 1/2, and he quickly pulled out his wallet and paid the difference. This was a refreshing change from the bearded, balding men who regularly hand me tickets marked "Child."

Note to Self: My faith in humanity has been restored.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dorothy, Miss Diva and Me

 The Waterbury Line has been shut down for the past couple of months and instead of trains; Metro North has been running Connecticut Transit Buses.  Metro North conductors ride these buses, answer questions, collect tickets, and act as company representatives. I've gotten called in on my day off to cover bus jobs several times over the past month.  Sure, I get a little bus sick winding through the curvy roads of the Naugatuck River Valley, but it's overtime pay, and with two daughters in college, I can't refuse the offer.

Last week, I worked with a 50-year-old African American bus driver, a woman who prefers to be called "Miss Diva." I never got her real name, but this moniker seemed to fit her perfectly.  She batted her false eyelashes as she pulled out a glossy index card sized flyer from her purse and handed it to me.  She pointed to the front of the card with a meticulously manicured index finger..."That's me!" she said.  There on the cover was a picture of an attractive black woman in a white halter-top dress.  She stood with one hand on her hip as her eyes flirted with the camera lens.  At the top of the card in big loopy letters, it read;  "Come celebrate Miss Diva's 50th birthday" and in smaller letters at the bottom it instructed: "Please wear white."

"Wow!" I said.  "This is just like those black and white parties that P. Diddy throws out in the Hamptons."

"Yeah...It's something like that," Miss Diva said coolly, and then she returned the flyer to her purse.

 Who is this woman?  I thought, and slowly, throughout the rest of the day... piece by piece, I found out.

Like most of us, it seems, a life in transportation wasn't Miss Diva's first choice. She told me that she went to college in Florida and studied journalism and earned her bachelor's degree.  Shortly after graduating she became a reporter, then an anchorwoman for a small television station in Tallahassee.  Soon after covering the live remote of the Ted Bundy execution, she got a call that her mother had taken ill in Connecticut.  At the time she was newly divorced and had a small daughter, but she uprooted her life and came to Stamford to nurse her mother back to health.  She got a part time job working as a journalist for the Stamford Advocate, but like most part time jobs, it didn't have health benefits.  Her mother, a retired Connecticut Transit bus driver, suggested she get her commercial driver's license and apply to her old company. "At least she'd have benefits," she said. That was 22 years ago.  Now she has the most seniority of the females who work out of Stamford Terminal. Therefore she calls herself "The First Lady"... "Just like Michelle Obama."

On our second to last run of the night, I stepped on the bus in Waterbury at leaving time when "Miss Diva" looked over her sunglasses and said to me, "Baby.... we got ourselves a problem". The divine Miss D seemed exasperated and gave her head two quick nods to the right, her large gold earrings swaying, as if to say get a load of this one.  The target of the nod was a petite woman who sat just feet away in the handicapped seats.

 "It seems," Miss Diva said, "That someone here don't want to shut her damn music off on MY bus."

"Someone here," the petite woman shot back, "needs to learn how to speak to PAYING CUSTOMERS!"

The petite woman, who I will call Dorothy, was wearing a hooded powder blue sweatshirt with the strings pulled tight around her face.  Her skin was tanned with deep crevices and I'm guessing her to be also about 50 years of age.  She was missing some teeth and looked not unlike the "after" on one of those "before and after" mug shots that the drug council posts on their public service billboards that warn of the devastating effects of drug abuse on your appearance.

"Come on!" I said to Dorothy in a friendly manner. "You know you can't blast your music on the train.... errrr.... I mean bus." I quickly corrected myself and took a seat next to her.  I went onto explain that the driver was just doing her job, and that although she may enjoy playing her iPod selections, not everyone shares her same taste in music, and the other passengers might get annoyed.

"You know, I'm not a piece of shit, " Dorothy said,” and I don't expect to treated like one." To add emphasis to her rage, she whipped off the hood of her sweatshirt, revealing an unkempt tuft of frosted gray hair with blond tips.  I couldn't help but think she looked a little like Woodstock from the Peanuts comic strip.

"I'm a good person," She continued. "I even volunteer my time to the Catholic church...just like Michelangelo did when he painted that ceiling. When we get to the Pearly Gates, God's gonna take a snapshot of our lives...and he's gonna judge us on the little things...LIKE HOW A BUS DRIVER TREATS THE LITTLE PEOPLE ON HER BUS!!!  St. Peter is either gonna let you in the gate, or YOU'RE GOIN' DOWN IN THE ASHES!

I asked Dorothy if she'd thought she'd pass judgment

"Yeah" She said.  "He's gonna say...DOROTHY...STEP RIGHT INSIDE!  I don't know about the rest of you folks on this bus though." She made sure she made this last statement loud enough for Miss Diva to hear.  Miss D chose to ignore her.

 Dorothy went on to tell me what a good person she was, and that not only does she volunteer her time to the Catholic Church...just like Michelangelo did when he painted The Sistine Chapel, but she also works as a clairvoyant who helps solve murders for the local police departments.  I had to stop her here...

"First of all," I said.  I don't think Michelangelo spent all those years on his back painting that ceiling for free.  I'm pretty sure the Vatican or the Medici Family paid him for his time."

Dorothy insisted that Michelangelo worked for free.   "Sure," She said.  "He might have gotten paid to paint the Mona Lisa, but he volunteered..."

'No," I corrected her.  "The Mona Lisa was DaVinci..."

"Oh, Right" she said..."The Da Vinci code."  I could tell she now thought me a smart ass, and she was beginning to tire of our conversation.

I then told Dorothy that my new favorite show was "Long Island Medium" and I asked if she was a Medium.  "No," she replied, now looking annoyed. "Because you look more like a small." I wanted her to chuckle, but apparently she was still peeved.

"I'm a clairvoyant,” she explained.  "I don't see dead people...I see the future."

"Really!  What do you see in my future?" I asked.

"I don't know you well enough to see your future. I'd have to know you for at least three months before I could read you."  This is what she said, but I got the feeling she was still mad at me for reprimanding her about her iPod.

"Okay then," I said.  "Do you know who killed Jon Benet Ramsey?" (The unsolved case of the 6 yr old beauty pageant queen who was killed in Colorado some years back.)

"Sure," she said. "It was a family friend."

"Her parents weren't involved?"

"No. They're both dead now anyway."

I hated to correct her again, but I told her that Jon Benet’s mother had died, but her father was very much alive and had recently gotten remarried.

"Oh, that's right.  He married Natalee Holloway's mother." (Wrong again, but I didn't have the heart to correct her.)  "I solved that case too,” she said.  The sharks got to Natalee long before the police could find her body."

"Then it wasn't the Dutch guy who killed her?"

"Yeah," she said, "It was the Dutch guy, but they'll never find her body on account of the sharks."(I now envision gnawed bones washing up on the shores of Aruba.)

"I also know what happened to Billy, the local guy missing from Naugatuck," she said. "Because...people on the streets talk." That's hardly being clairvoyant, I think.  That's just keeping your ears open.  I begin to open my mouth but then I think better of it.

As we pulled into Naugatuck Station parking lot, her stop, Dorothy had one last prediction.  "I'm sure this one here," now nodding to Miss Diva, "has the Po-Po waiting to arrest me." But she was wrong again.  Miss Diva was more than happy to let me handle the unruly passengers on the bus.  I guess that's part of the reason we're there.

As the bus pulled away from the station, I think of all the interesting people I'd met that day.  The tattooed mother of three who is a dead ringer for soccer star Mia Ham.  The nasty school marm type who refuses to give me her ticket before she boards the bus.  The divalicious bus driver who, if life hadn't intervened, could have been the next Oprah Winfrey or Wendy Williams. And finally, the petite clairvoyant woman who awaits her great reward in Heaven alongside Michelangelo.  None of us knows what the future holds.

Okay...maybe Dorothy does.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Once in a Blue Moon

Yes folks, we encountered a "Blue Moon" at the end of August (meaning the second full moon of the month...which is very rare.  It only happens once in a blue moon).  But I didn't have to look up at the evening sky to tell you that.  I just had to ride my train...or ask my coworker Paul.

Poor Paul, in the head car of our Sunday afternoon train to New Haven, he dealt with 6 drunk and disorderly passengers.  Then a 400 lb man in a johnny coat boarded the train and he was wearing a big sign that read "Just released from Stamford Hospital.".  THEN he caught an extremely amorous couple in a compromising position (use your XXX imagination). I asked him if it was his craziest day on the railroad. He said "No...that would've been the day a midget woman got trapped in the bathroom when a piece of sheet metal blocked the door. She had to climb on top of the sink, then jump on my back. She rode me piggy back style down the aisle as all the passengers cheered."

Maybe I didn't even have to ask Paul to know it was a Blue Moon...maybe I could have just ridden the Harlem Line. It seems that someone likes to talk loud on their cellphone but doesn't appreciate it when other people "shhhhh" him. (Don't watch if you're easily offended by harsh language).

Friday, May 18, 2012

The psychic conductor

I had to wake up a really drunk guy yesterday to get his fare. His ticket said he was going to Bridgeport, so I told him to stay awake or he'd miss his stop. He asked me to wake him up when we got to his station. I told him that I was a little busy so he'd have to stay awake. Sure enough, he was fast asleep when we pulled into I woke him up. I guess he didn't remember our previous conversation, since at first he seemed amazed that I knew where he was going, like I was a psychic or something.

  "Wow! He said, "Do you know me?"

 Then his attitude changed and he seemed annoyed, and acted as if I was racially profiling him since he was Hispanic, and I must have assumed he was going to Bridgeport. Ugh! Next time I'll let him sleep past his stop.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A typical day on Metro North

This video should be shown as part of conductor training at Metro North.  Conductor John (my 2nd cousin) shows an abundance of patience and humor when dealing with a fare beater who says she left her ticket on the seat and that someone must have taken it (this seems to be a very popular ploy lately).  Kudos to you John!

The closing line of the video is CLASSIC!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

"It wasn't like it was Dave Matthews!"

Last week, my nephew Ryan (also a conductor) was walking down the pedestrian ramp to the lower level in Grand Central when he ran across a family trying out the "Whispering Walls." ( For those of you who don't know, the "whispering walls" is a structural phenomenon just outside the Oyster Bar Restaurant.  There, due to an arched ceiling, one can whisper into a corner and the sound waves carry to a partner(s) standing in an opposing corner(s).
Ryan thought it strange that the family had two NYPD officers escorting them, so he took a closer look and realized that the whispering father was none other than Sir Paul McCartney.  His new bride Nancy (a former MTA Board member) and young daughter Beatrice were standing in the opposite corners.  Ryan, knowing I'm the self proclaimed "Conductor to the Stars" and a huge Beatle fan, was more than happy to call me up and share the news (otherwise known as rubbing it in my face.)

"PAUL MCCARTNEY!"  I screamed.

Ryan, now feeling self satisfied, could sense my envy through the phone.

"What did you say to him?" I asked anxiously.

"Hi!"  Ryan answered matter of factly.

"And what did Paul say to you?"

Nephew seemed to think this a stupid question.

"Well....he said 'Hi!' back."

"Let me get this straight,  You meet Paul McCartney....and the best you can do is say...Hi!???

Ryan seemed unfazed, then answered.  "Well, he was with his family, and I didn't want to bother him, and besides...It wasn't like it was Dave Matthews!"