Friday, May 19, 2006
Did you ever wonder how conductors keep track of all the people who board and exit the train?
One trick of the trade is the seat check. Seat checks are rectangular pieces of cardboard, 1 inch wide by 4 inches long. They are divided into 11 fare zones boxes so we conductors, depending on how far a passenger is traveling, can punch holes in their station’s corresponding fare box. We then stick this piece of cardboard in front of the passenger in order to remind us:
A.) That they paid.
B.) How far the passenger is going.
This is the railroad handbook’s official use for the seat check. They do however, come in handy as bookmarks, toothpicks and to squeegee sweat off of bald men’s heads, (at least that’s what I hear!).
Another great use for the seat check is to pacify screaming kids on the train. You would be surprised how calm children get when given little slips of paper to hold in their hands. It really keeps them preoccupied and quiets them down. Other passengers in the car, thank me profusely, and ask if I’m a childcare expert.
A few years back, seat check art came into vogue. A conductor with too much time on his hands got creative with his hole punch and cut out a smiley face on a young passenger’s seat check. Word must have gotten out in daycare centers in the greater metropolitan region, because now all the children on the train want them.
It took me a while to master the smiley face. In my initial design I was spacing the mouth holes too far apart. This made the smile look more like a bunch of random holes in the paper or possibly that my seat check person was British.
I could tell by the expression on my young passenger's faces that I had somehow failed them and they never would ask me for a second seat check, like they did with the other conductors.
After some much needed instruction from co-workers, I finally mastered the smiley face. Kids, no longer satisfied with just one seat check, now wanted handfuls.
A few times, I've made the mistake of giving one child more seat checks than his/her sibling. Whenever this happens it starts a big brawl. One kid will start taunting their brother or sister…“I have three smiley faces and you only have two-o-o!” Physical violence then ensues and the crying kid cycle starts all over again.
So much for me being a child-care expert!
The latest trend in seat check art involves seat check paper dolls. I believe my friend Scott may have started this. A reporter from the Stamford Advocate Newspaper was on one of his trains and wrote a column about how gracious his conductor (Scott) was, and how his kids just loved their seat check paper dolls.
(My daughters think that the following story is the funniest ever!)
This past Christmas, I saw an adorable five year-old girl looking out the front window of the train. As I approached, she turned around and began staring at me with her big brown eyes.
“Hi!” I said.
No response, she seemed to be in awe.
“Would you like a seat check?” I asked.
Wow, I thought. This girl must really be enamored by my uniform.
I took a seat check out of my ticket pouch and punched a silly little face on it and handed it to her.
“Do you like that?” I asked.
She said nothing. Just two big brown eyes staring up at me.
“Mister,” she spoke finally. “You have a real long hair sticking out of your nose.”