Saturday, August 26, 2006


Like any service industry, the railroad gets a lot of letters of complaint. Passengers write to complain about late trains, dirty trains, hot trains, cold trains and sometimes they write about rude conductors. A lot of these letters have merit, but sometimes these letters are a bit trivial.

Dave is a fellow conductor who also happens to work as a stand-up comedian. I see him almost every evening in Grand Central. He paces the floor of the conductor’s lounge as if it were center stage at Caroline’s Comedy Club. He looks a little like Paul Reiser, but his delivery is more Richard Lewis. Every night Dave has a gripe. Whether it’s politics, the company, the union or a recent passenger. No one is safe from Dave’s rants.

Dave’s performance on Wednesday night was particularly amusing. It seems that a passenger recently wrote a letter to the railroad to complain about the way he chews his gum. The passenger wasn’t so much offended that Dave was chewing gum; it was more the manner in which the gum was chewed. The letter said something like; “ He chews gum the way a cow chews cud.”

Dave was fired up:

“Can you believe that?” He asked.

“Don’t these people have anything better to do?”

“What? Do they expect the railroad to take disciplinary action if I don’t learn how to chew gum properly?”

Just as I began to wonder if Wrigley’s had a 12-step program for excessive chewers, Pete, another conductor chimed in:

“Yeh. You think that’s bad? A passenger once wrote a letter and complained about the way I smile. She said it was sinister!”

I thought these stories were pretty funny and that they’d make a good story for this blog. I began asking other conductors if they had ever been written up for frivolous reasons. Most conductors said no... and If they had been written up, the passenger had just cause. I was about to give up hope when someone shared the following story.

It seems that a fellow conductor named Evel, (rhymes with level) had a disagreement with a female passenger on his train one night. I’m not sure what the problem was, but the passenger demanded to know what his name was so she could write a letter of complaint. Evel (ever the gentleman) obliged the woman. He even went as far as spelling his name out on a piece of paper:


He politely handed the piece of paper over to the passenger, but this seemed to only infuriate the woman further.

A couple of days later a trainmaster (supervisor) met Evel’s train at the platform in Grand Central. “Okay,” he said, “Which one of you wise guys told a woman that your that your name was Evil Morals?”

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Hair Today...Gone Tomorrow!

No, the above picture is not me!

David is a mentally challenged man who lives in town. He can be regularly seen pedaling his bicycle up and down Route 1. Almost everyone in town knows him by name, and he spends the better part of the day visiting (and pestering) the merchants up and down Main Street. He speaks in a VERY LOUD VOICE that some people find intimidating. Yesterday morning, he approached me (still wearing his bicycle helmet) in the local convenience store.


Me: Yes, David. We’ve met several times before.


(The people in the store now turn to look our way, waiting for my reply.)

Me: Yeh, Yeh, I know…I know. You think I look like Captain Stubbing from The Love Boat.

(He tells me this every time he sees me.)


Me: Wow! That’s quite a list.


Me: Thanks, David.

I tried to laugh off David’s left-handed compliment, but it really started to bug me. Gavin MacLeod (a/k/a Captain Stubbing) is like 32 years older than me. I usually don’t let the bald thing get to me, but it was the third time in the past week when somebody thought I was much older than I am.

It all started on Monday when I covered a conductor’s job on the Waterbury Branch. Train service had been canceled due to track work, and the railroad called in busses to shuttle people back and forth between Bridgeport and Waterbury. Whenever the railroad calls in busses, conductors ride along, collecting tickets and generally acting as a liaison between the bus company and the railroad. On this particular day, I worked with a pleasant bus driver named Eva.

Eva told me that she is a recent immigrant from Poland. She said that she’s been working as a bus driver for the past few years, but that she would like to get a job as a conductor. She told me she was afraid to apply because her English is, in her words, “Not so good.” I told Eva that I thought her English was fine, and that she’d make an excellent conductor. She then asked me the dreaded question:

“You retire soon?”

“No, I’m not old enough.”

“How old you?”

“Forty four.”

(She then looked at my bald head)

“OH…You Americans work too hard!”

“Yeah! Well at least I have all my teeth!”

(Okay, I really didn’t really say this…but I thought it.)

On Tuesday, I got a haircut at a barbershop across the street from Grand Central. This barbershop sits atop a Chinese restaurant that proudly displays roasted ducks (hanging by their necks) in their window. Beside the ducks hangs a sign that reads: “All haircuts $11.” (This would be a good deal for most people, but considering the amount of hair I have, it’s a rip off.) Beside the restaurant is a narrow staircase that leads up to a tiny barbershop with about eight chairs. The barbers that work here are of every ethnic background. Palestinians cut hair next to Israelis and Pakistanis in relative tranquility. They could really teach a lesson to the diplomats down the street at the United Nations.

It took my barber, a young Israeli, about two minutes to trim the ring of salt and pepper hair around my head. When he was done with my hair, he began trimming errant nose and ear hair. Before he finished he asked if I would like to have my eyebrows trimmed. “Might as well,” I said. I began to feel a little depressed when I realized that the barber had spent about as much time on my eyebrows, nose and ear hair as he did on my head. I said something like, “So it’s come to this, huh?”

How old you are? The barber asked in broken English.

“Forty four,” I said.

“Really?” he asked incredulously.

“Yep” I said.

“How old you think I am?” He asked.

This guy didn’t look a day over twenty but I wanted to play with him.

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe thirty?”

His face fell and he said, “No, I only twenty three.”

“Really?” I said.

As I walked out of the barbershop he was staring at himself in the mirror.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Oh What A Night!

Friday 08/04/2006-02:22 a.m. New Haven. Last stop.

If this blog has given you the impression that my job is all glamour and celebrities, this photo should correct that. It's a pretty good representation of what our late night trains are like. My friend emailed it to me. He said that he had to call the police to help him drag this guy's sorry butt off the train.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Joe Lieberman for U. S. Senate

This past weekend, the editorial board at “Derailed” gathered together in our conference room around a ridiculously long oak table. At the head of this table sat Bobby, our Editor and Chief. He called this emergency session because he believes that we should enter the political arena and endorse a candidate in tomorrow’s Connecticut Democratic senate primary race. There was some consternation among members who believed that we should continue this blog’s “no political agenda” policy.

At one point, Mrs. Bobby stood and spoke, saying that she is a proponent of avoiding controversial subjects like politics, race and religion. She fears that stating Bobby’s views, (as correct as they may be) risks alienating this blog’s burgeoning readership.

At the end of the meeting our Editor and Chief spoke. He stated that he would like to break with tradition just this once. “The reasons for this are two-fold” he said:

A. He has no new material.

B. This affords him the opportunity to brag about how he’s met Joe Lieberman.


When I was in college, I used to work at Sears in the paint/electrical/small appliances and candy departments (divisions 30-34-11and 18 for all you Sears people out there.) One day Joe Lieberman (then a state senator) came up to me and made an odd request. He said his young son was having trouble sleeping and he was looking for a device that would emanate white noise. I was only about 20-years old at the time and I’d never heard of such a thing.

Me: Joe, let me get this straight. You want a machine that makes noise to put your kid to sleep.

Joe: Yeah, we tried it at a friend’s house and the kid went right

Me: Nope, sorry. We don’t carry that product. Try the catalog department (Standard answer for all Sears salespeople.)

Joe: Thanks for your time. (What a mensch!)

Several years later, Joe (now a US senator) was on my train. When I collected his ticket, I reminded him of our past meeting and I asked if he ever found that white noise machine. Joe said that yes, he had found the machine and it had worked wonders. He said his son didn’t need it anymore, seeing that he had recently graduated from college.

Me: Boy! That makes me feel old.

Joe: How do you think it that makes me feel?

Mike, one of my co-workers, recently left a comment on one of my posts:

I was gating the trains in New Haven on New Years eve the year Gore and Lieberman lost in the election vs Bush, some blame the "Chads" in Florida. That night Joe Lieberman was putting his daughter on an Amtrak train. We had to give each person a seat check with a punch in it when we took their ticket. As Joe walked by surrounded by Metro North officials and CT state police, I said to him "Watch your step Joe, there's chads all over the floor and I know you had problems with them in Florida". Everyone laughed and Joe looked at me and said "You son of a." then he looked at one of the officials and said "Fire him". He was a real good sport, he really thought it was funny. I don't think my boss, Mr. Kanel thought it was that funny.

I’m endorsing Joe, not only because I think he’s a great guy but also because he thinks for himself. He doesn’t always tow the party line. People who think in terms of liberal and conservative/ left and right (think Al Franken/ Rush Limbaugh) make me nervous. Issues are rarely black and white; they’re more shades of gray and I think Joe understands that.

Some members of the Democtatic party are punishing Joe for not drinking their ideological Kool-Aid. Other members can’t get past what they viewed as a “Judas kiss” between he and President Bush after the State of the Union speech a few years back.

Personally, I’m having trouble getting past Ned Lamont’s embrace of Al Sharpton.

If he read this blog, I'm sure Joe Lieberman would approve this message.

Friday, August 04, 2006

A Penny for your thoughts!

I returned to work on Tuesday after a week's vacation. When I got to the sign-in room in New Haven, I found Bill, my regular engineer, looking a little despondent.

“Why the long face," I asked.

“Ugh!" He said. "While you were on vacation, I inherited a Cockapoo puppy from my aunt.”

“I guess it’s not going too well then?”

“Well, actually, it was going fine till yesterday…and then he swallowed a penny.”

Being a new pet owner, Bill was very concerned. He raced the puppy to the local veterinary hospital where the vet gave the dog medicine to induce vomiting. It didn’t work. He then took X-rays of the dog’s stomach and put a camera probe down the dog's esophagus and into it’s stomach, but try as they might, they still couldn’t find the penny. After several more X-rays they finally spotted Old Abe resting comfortably in the puppy’s intestines.

The vet kept the dog overnight for observation, in hopes that it might pass a penny-laden poop but it never did. When they released the dog, they told Bill that he'd have to check the dog’s stools for the next couple of days. Bill had to work, so he enlisted a friend to stay at his house with the puppy. Her responsiblities were to feed the dog Bill's grandmother's meatballs and then follow it around his backyard until it moved it’s bowels.

As the night progressed, I heard Bill on his cell phone giving her instructions. He was saying things like, “The rubber gloves are on the counter,” and, “It’s getting late, so follow him around with a flashlight.”

“That’s a great friend you got there," I said.

“If we don’t find the penny, it means more tests and maybe surgery.”

“Those tests must cost a bundle.,”

“Thanks for reminding me. I’ve spent 948 freakin’ dollars already.”

“Wow! “That’s one magical pup you got there. He turned a penny into $948 overnight. He’s like the hen that laid the golden egg.”

“I just want it to lay the copper penny.”

“By the way… What did you name this dog?”

“Snickers. My aunt named him.”

“Maybe you should rename him Inflation.”

I could tell that this puppy had already stolen Bill’s heart, but he was sick over the vet bill. He kept complaining that the vet hadn’t even done anything except a few lousy tests. In an attempt to make Bill feel better, I told him about our late cat Casey.

"Casey got into weekly catfights, and he would always come home beaten up. The vet told us if we got him neutered he'd be less aggressive. He had the operation but it just gave him more reason to be ticked off. His fights continued and his ears soon looked like they'd been trimmed with pinking shears. His cuts turned into abscesses, and the abscesses would eventually burst. We were constantly bringing him to the vet for surgery (they would insert a drain), requiring at least an overnight stay. Then there were the stitches and antibiotics, then to top it all off, he got hit by a car and needed his jaw wired. The vet recommended that he have a root canal, but I told him that the cat didn't have dental. Casey lived till he was 18, and in all that time, I figure I must have spent thousands of dollars on him.”

Bill smiled and said, “I'm feeling better already!”

When we rolled into New Haven at the end of the night, Bill finally got the word from his friend. He then got on the PA system and announced to the whole train; The penny has been found!” The passengers had no idea what he was talking about, but the all of the crew members had a good laugh.

When I went to work on Wednesday, I asked Bill how the patient was.

Not bad,” he said, “except that he crapped on my new $2000 rug and then peed on my new couch.” Bill said he was at first angry at the dog, but then Snickers looked up at him with those big puppy dog eyes, and it melted his heart.

I knew exactly how Bill felt. I then told him the story about how my dog Brenna ate my wallet when she was a puppy. I had gone to bed and left my wallet in the back pocket of my uniform pants. Sometime during the night, I heard chomping and when I turned the light on, I found my wallet, license and credit cards strewn around my bedroom. Each of these items had incriminating bite marks in them.

BAD PUPPY!” I shouted. But Brenna just tilted her head and looked up at me with those big cocker spaniel eyes. I just couldn’t be angry anymore.

I collected the contents of my wallet and put it back together. I was going to put it on my nightstand, but my wife told me that the dog would probably grab it again. I figured she was probably right and I hid the wallet under my pillow.

The next day I threw on my uniform pants, completely forgetting that my wallet was under my pillow. As Murphy’s Law would have it, that night a Connecticut State Police trooper pulled me over on I-95 for speeding. When the trooper asked me for my license and registration, I instinctively reached for my back pocket. It then dawned on me where my wallet was. I told the officer, “You’re not going to believe this but… my dog ate my wallet…