Sunday, July 30, 2006

Old Cape Cod

If you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air, Quaint little villages here and there
You’re sure to fall in love with Old Cape Cod
If you like the taste of a lobster stew
Served by a window with a ocean view
You’re sure to fall in love with Old Cape Cod
If you spend an evening you’ll want to stay
Watching the moonlight on Cape Cod Bay
You’re sure to fall in love with Old Cape Cod

My family and I just came back from a mini-vacation on Cape Cod, and the whole time we were there, the above song kept playing in the back of my head. You may recognize it. It’s called “Old Cape Cod,” recorded by Patti Page in 1957. The song speaks of some of the Cape’s charm; the sand dunes, salty air, little villages, great seafood. These are some of the things we love about the Cape, but Patti left out some of my daughters favorite things.

While driving through Providence, Rhode Island, on the way to the Cape, it has become family tradition for my wife and I to point out the giant insect that sits atop the New England Pest Control building. The bug has become a New England landmark, and my daughters can’t wait to see it. Sometimes the pest control people dress it in a Red Sox uniform or a pair of sunglasses. This year it was naked but my girls loved it all the same.

When we arrived at the Wellfleet Motel and Lodge, the first thing my younger daughter did was run and smell the soap. We've stayed at this motel several times before, and to her, the smell of the motel soap harkens back to fond memories of summer vacations past. We all think she's a little strange for sniffing the soap, but she doesn't care what we think. She loves it. This year in fact, she hoarded seven bars to take home with her. She's hoping it will get her through the long Connecticut winter.

After my daughter was done sniffing the soap, we threw on our bathing suits and ran to the motel pool and hot tub for a dip. It's one of our favorite things to do. I keep telling the girls that someday we'll get a hot tub to call our own. That someday hasn't come...yet.

Our days were spent at the Cape Cod National Sea Shore. Here my daughters begged me to go body surfing with them in the icy cold surf. I did my best, trying to be a good father and all, but the ocean was way-way too icy and cold. We all retreated back to our beach blankets where the girls whined that they wanted to go back to the motel pool. I whined because I had spent $15 on beach parking.

At night we went to the Wellfleet Drive-In Movie Theatre. It is conveniently located right across the street from our motel. Going there is like travelling back in a time machine and the girls have a blast. We always bring pillows and blankets and stock up on junk food as we watch the nightly double feature. On Wednesday we watched "Monster House" and "Click." Friday we saw "Pirates of the Caribbean II" and "Shaggy Dog." The girls thought that these movies were pretty good, but they can't compare to their favorite movie... the "Intermission" film:

Intermission Time

Perhaps Ms. Page can update her song:

If you're fond of Insects atop pest control buildings
Quaint intermission movies at the Drive-In
If you like the smell of the soap in your motel bathroom
Afternoon dips in a indoor hot tub
You're sure to fall in love with Old Cape Cod

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Shrink Rap

Posted by Picasa No, I didn’t have Sigmund Freud on the train, but I do sometimes wonder what he would have to say about my obsession with celebrity.

I picture myself lying on a chaise lounge in his office while he sits in a chair, crossed legged with a cigar in one hand, ("sometimes a cigar is a just a cigar!") and a quill pen in the other. He begins to speak as he jots down some notes:

Und celebrity obsession es very commune” he might say, “Und dis obsession inflates your male ego and makes you feel more important. Dis coupled vit da fact that you veren’t breastfed as un child explains it.”

Wow Dr. Freud,” I might say, “ That makes a lot of sense. Now if you could only explain this recurring dream I have. Every night I dream of my train going into a tunnel...”

Monday, July 17, 2006

What's in a name?

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That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet."
--From Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

Last night I worked with an engineer that I had never met before. After introducing myself in the sign-in room in New Haven, I asked him what his name was.

“John,” he replied.

I was surprised that I never had seen him around before, and I wondered if I might know him by his last name

“John what?”

“John Smith.”

“Are you serious?”


“What did you do, rob a bank or something?”


“Perhaps you’re in the witness protection program then?...

I know! You’re in the mafia and you’re on the lam?”

“No, that’s not it at all.”
(Of course. What else could he say?)

“Don’t tell me?... You’re wife’s name is Jane Doe.”

“No,” (now looking a little perplexed.)
“Her name is Claudia.”

I really wanted to explore the whole Pocahontas, Captain John Smith angle, but he didn’t seem to want to play along, and it deflated my enthusiasm.

Tonight I worked with an engineer by the name of James Joyce, and the same thing happened.

“Written any good books lately?” I asked.


He said NO, curtly, as if he’d been answering this question all his life. (Which he probably has.)

Although, John and James might have it bad, they can’t hold a candle to my fellow conductor…Ronald McDonald (Swear to god!)

When I met Ron, the first thing I noticed was his name badge. It read R. McDonald.

“Please tell me that your first name isn’t Ronald?” I pleaded.

“I’m afraid it is.”

“EGAD MAN!” Can’t you bring your parents up on abuse charges?

“I'm afraid not. You see I was born in the 1950’s, long before the restaurant clown with the white face and red hair.”

I can’t imagine the harassment poor Ron has gone through and it made me think back to my own grade school days . Classmates would deliberately bastardize my name (McDonough). All I heard was McDoogle, McDoogie, and their all time favorite-McDonut. But poor Ron’s torment must have been tenfold.

We have some other interesting names on the railroad. For several years my brother Brian has been having fun at the expense of a fellow engineer named Jimmy Stuart (Stewart.)
Whenever Brian sees Jimmy, he breaks out into a spot-on impression of George Bailey, from “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“Ah, ah, ah, Clarence…Where’s Mary?”

To mix things up, Brian sometimes opts to impersonate the older, feebler Stewart. This requires a lot of stammering and talking with his hands. Brian will sometimes go on and on about a 7ft imaginary rabbit named Harvey or he’ll tell the risqué joke that Stewart once told on the Merv Griffin Show.

Jimmy Stuart, (the engineer) always laughs along with Brian and takes the ribbing in stride. I wish the same could be said about my long time engineer-Bob Barker. For years Bob and I worked the late night trains together. When meeting at the beginning of each shift, I’d always greet him with a:

“Hey Bob Barker…COME ON DOWN!”

Perhaps Bob isn’t a Price is Right fan, or possibly he just got sick of me yelling, "COME ON DOWN." I'm not certain. The only thing I do know, is that one night he gave me a look.

It was the kind of look that said…ENOUGH ALREADY!

It was the kind of look that said…CUT THE CRAP!

It was the kind of look that said…I WISH I COULD HAVE YOU SPAYED OR NEUTERED!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Conductor to the Stars

Posted by Picasa As the reigning Conductor to the Stars, I am always looking over my shoulder. There’s always seems to be some upstart trying to unseat me from my throne. Conductor John Murphy is one example of a coworker attempting a coup d’etat.

One summer, a few years back, I hit a severe celebrity dry spell and John took much pleasure in my frustration. He always enjoyed reporting his latest celebrity sighting and we soon entered a game of chess where the celebrities were our pawns.

One day he told me that Whoopi Goldberg was in the head car of our train, but instead of being boastful, he seemed a little taken aback. He said that when he first saw her, he started, "Hey, aren't you...?"

Whoopi put her hand up, as if to stop him, looked over her sunglasses, and said, “Don’t say another word.”

“ Huh! Show folk,” I said, “Go figure!”

I told John that as a potential CTTS, these things are to be expected. “Take this as a learning experience," I advised. "Why, I once had disco queen Donna Summer on my train, and she treated me the exact same way.” I wanted to say, “Hey honey, I work hard for the money too.”

That summer, John was my assistant on the 6:55 pm train from New Haven to New York on Sunday nights. This train, for some unknown reason, was like an episode of the Love Boat, where long forgotten celebrities, ( i.e. Jessica Tandy, Shirley MaClaine, Mariette Hartley, Charles Grodin, David Groh, Sandy Dennis, James Naughton, Frank Converse, Larry from Three’s Company,) regularly made cameo appearances. This was much to the delight of John and me. We started a friendly competition to see who would earn the coveted title of Conductor to the Stars.

I believe I drew first blood when I collected a ticket from Get Smart’s Barbara Feldon. I asked Miss Feldon to play along as John approached.

“John,” I said, “May I introduce you to my good friend Barbara Feldon.”

John crossed his arms then touched his hand to his face, “Oh, Max!” he said in mock indignation, doing an almost perfect imitation of Agent 99.

The next Sunday it was John’s turn. He had just collected a red-haired woman’s ticket and he gestured to me with the wave of his hand, “Conductor to the Stars,” he said.  May I introduce you to my dear friend Marcia Wallace, you know Carol, the secretary from the Bob Newhart show?”

He thought he had me.

“Nice to meet you Marcia,” I said. “Oh, and John, did you happen to notice that Marcia is seated with Match Game’s Brett Summer?”

“Oh Brett,” John said in feigned embarrassment, “I didn’t even recognize you.”

“That’s why I’m Conductor to the Stars,” I said, “and you’re only the assistant conductor to the stars.”

Monday, July 10, 2006

Slick Willie

Posted by Picasa During the 1992 presidential campaign, then Governor Bill Clinton made a campaign stop in Grand Central. He was followed by a huge press corp, jostling cameras and carrying microphones. As I walked by the crowd I paused to see what all the commotion was about. Clinton saw me, a workingman dressed in full uniform. He paused (he knew this was a great photo opportunity,) and held his hand out to me. He looked me straight in the eye and firmly grasped my outstretched hand with his right hand as he clasped my forearm with his left. He made me feel as if I were the only person in that cavernous station, and I was not surprised when he won the election that November.

Howard Dean on the other hand did not impress me at all. It was after the democratic primaries but shortly before he had been named Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He boarded the train and sat down right across from the train’s lavatory. Unfortunately, most lavatories on our trains emanate a foul barnyard odor. Smart commuters avoid the seats surrounding the lavatory like the plague. Even though there were several other seats available, he chose to sit right across from the lavatory.

Now I ask, if a man does not have enough sense to not sit across from a bathroom on a Metro North train, how can he ever hope to be the leader of the free world?

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Dazed and Confused

Posted by Picasa As you may have noticed, I haven’t written much lately. It seems that my blog obsession has fallen by the wayside (for the time being,) and blogging has been put on my mind’s back burner.

The blog has, however, been replaced by two new obsessions:

1. My desire to drop 20 lbs.

2. My quest to dig myself out of debt.

In order to reach these new goals, I have been reading three books at the same time.

Having just finished phase I of the South Beach Diet, I occasionally refer back to the SBD book for guidance. At the same time, I’m reading Dave Ramsey's “Total Money Maker” book. This book is a step-by-step approach to getting out of debt. In addition to these books, today I found an old copy of “Make the Connection” by Oprah Winfrey and her trainer Bob Greene. This book really emphasizes exercise in addition to diet for maximum weight loss. I began reading it on the train this afternoon, and I’m already 1/2 way through it.

What have I learned from these books? You might ask.

I discovered that I could reduce my consumer debt by eating more fiber and running three miles a day with Stedman…

Err! Sorry that’s not it. Let me try again.

I discovered that I could lower my glycemic index by cutting up my credit cards and giving new cars away to my studio audience.

No, no, that’s wrong. It seems I’m a little confused here.

Perhaps I should tackle these books one at a time.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Grumpy Old Men

Posted by Picasa Tickets! Tickets Please! I shout, as I walk down the aisle collecting tickets on an early morning Metro North train. A gentleman with white hair and wild eyebrows touches me on the sleeve. “Conductor," he whines, “some genius just got off the train and left that huge duffle bag behind.”(This is New York pre 9-11, before errant bags and terrorism are a big concern.) He points to a giant black duffle bag the size of a Volkswagen that sits in the overhead luggage rack. Suddenly, I realize that I am talking with 60 Minutes' personality Andy Rooney. He looks smaller, older and feebler in person.

“Did you ever wonder?” he asks, as if doing an exaggerated impersonation of himself, “how anybody could leave something that big behind?”

No, I think, I misplace my keys, glasses, and cell phone on a daily basis, but I want to bond with an American icon, so I say, “ I can’t imagine how anybody could leave something like that behind.”

We chuckle, pat each other on the back, and congratulate ourselves for being of such superior intellect.