Saturday, February 24, 2007

Rail Security

(The opinions expressed below are mine alone. I do not speak for the railroad or other railroad employees.)

Recently, WTNH reporter Alan Cohn filed an investigative report in which he left his briefcase on a Metro North train. The purpose of this excercise was to see if anybody would notice an unattended bag, and if they did would they report it (see link):

As you can see in this video, nobody noticed the briefcase. It has been my experience, however, that people do notice, and they do say something.

I am regularly summoned by concerned passengers who have spotted unattended bags/packages. The conversation usually starts with ... "Conductor, I may be paranoid, but..." I assure the passenger that they're right to be concerned and then I check the bag out. Ninety nine percent of the time, the bag owner is in the lavatory, or moved seats to talk to a friend. After finding the bag owner, I usually lecture him/her about leaving their bags unattended. "We live in different times," I tell them.

If nobody does claim a bag, things get a little dicey. If we had to call the police everytime we found an unattended bag, we'd be delaying a lot of trains. So, the rules of thumb are:

Does the bag look suspicious?

Are there exposed wires?

Are there batteries attached?

Is the bag/package wrapped in duct tape?

Is there an oily surface?

Was someone seen putting the bag on the train and then leaving quickly?

Did this person look nervous or agitated?

If the answer to any of these questions is "yes" we call the MTA police.

Occasionally the railroad police set up a card table in Grand Central and inspect commuter's bags. In my opinion this is a big waste of time. They check one person out of a million, and because of profiling concerns, they have to check a cross section of commuters, whether they look suspicious or not.

I agree with James Cameron, The Commuter Council President. Cameras on trains will only be useful after the fact. Better trained officers and train crews (we are given some training) should be the first line of defense. Besides, history has shown, suicide bombers don't leave their packages unattended.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Me: Do you know what today is?
Daughter: Valentine's Day?
Me: Yeah...but it's also the one year anniversary of my blog.
Daughter: Wow!!! It's your blog-iversary!!!

A year ago today, I started writing "Derailed." Little did I know that it would become my obsession and take on a life of it's own. In the past year, my stories have been mentioned in articles in The New York Times, The New Haven Resister, and they'll soon appear (in excerpts) in an upcoming WAG magazine article. "Derailed" has also been discovered by my fellow bloggers, and has been mentioned in blogs like: Case-notes from an artsy asylum, Stupidity, and My dirty life and times. It's even been discovered by a group of rail fans in Australia (where I now how a small following) and my Cape Cod vacation story somehow showed up on a now defunct website called ""

After my union put a link to this blog on it's website, readership really shot up. It's pretty cool to hear coworkers quoting my blog or discussing my stories.

My wife has been a pretty good sport about sharing our private conversations and family stories. She tries to keep me honest, and occasionally takes exception when I embellish a story. Sometimes, she says, I really make her sound like a b---h. I call it "poetic license" she calls it "exaggeration."

To celebrate Valentine's Day, I'm hyperlinking my Valentine's post from last year. It's called "Cupid's Lost and Found".

Thanks for the inspiration, Cara.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Exorcist Part II- The Night Stalker

Whenever I approach a celebrity on the train, I try to use an original opening line. For example- the first time I met Jessica Tandy, I said something like-“Wow! Now I can tell everybody that I drove Miss Daisy.” She and her husband, actor Hume Cronyn, gave me a polite smiles, but I had the feeling that they thought I was a jerk.

I once had the legendary actress, Eva Marie Saint on my train. When I saw her, I said something like: “Here I am in Grand Central with Eva Marie Saint. I feel like Cary Grant in “North by Northwest.” Eva gave me a wary smile, but her children (who are about my age) thought it was a laugh riot.

One night, about ten years ago, I had "The Exorcist actress, Linda Blair on my train. I saw her seated in the distance and I immediately began searching my mind’s database for a good Linda Blair opening line. It went something like this:

Linda Blair- Search (Gears in my brain turning):

Spinning headNope, too corny.
Pea soupNope, too cliché.
Shared BirthdayBingo!

When I collected her ticket I said:

“Ms. Blair, do you know that we share the same birthday?”

“WE DO?” She seemed genuinely thrilled.

“Yes we do.”

“How do you know my birthday?”

“I don’t know. I think Jeanne Dixon, Joyce Jillson or Sidney Omarr told me. You know...”

Birthday Horoscope- If January 22nd is your birthday: 2007 will be a year of change for you, but don’t worry Aquarius, you'll always land on your feet. Celebrities that share your birthday: Diane Lane, Michael Hutchense, Linda Blair, George Foreman, Sam Cooke, Bill Bixby, Lord Byron, Francis Bacon.

“Well, I’m flattered that you remembered.”

“You know, I’ve spent the last couple of minutes trying to think of something witty to say to you. I thought of making a joke about your head spinning, or something about you spewing pea soup, but I figured that you’ve heard em’ all.

“You’re right…I have.”

That was about the extent of our conversation, but I think I won her over with the whole birthday thing. When she got off the train she smiled, and gave me a big wave goodbye.
When I got home from work that night I told my wife about meeting Linda Blair, and how I told her about our shared birthday.

You told her that you know when her birthday is?” My wife asked incredulously.


“Oh great. Now she probably thinks that you’re a stalker.”

“No. It wasn’t like that at all. I told her that I knew her birthday from the horoscopes in the newspaper. She seemed genuinely thrilled.”

“Yeah, right. She’s probably already has a restraining order against you.”

Now my head was spinning.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Exorcist Part I- The Nightmare Begins

On Monday night, my wife made a new recipe called a Taco Bake. It is basically Kraft macaroni and cheese mixed with ground beef and taco seasoning. I found it tasty and decided to get a second helping before sitting down in front of the computer and writing a new post for this blog. I had good intentions of writing a story about the time I met the actress Linda Blair (Regan MacNeal from The Exorcist) on my train, but I was distracted by the television, which is in the same room as the computer. My wife and daughters were watching the latest episode of “Supernanny,” in which a four-year-old dictator named Sean (a demon child) was shown cussing, crying, whining, hitting, kicking , spitting, punching, biting, and in general just being plain evil. His police officer father, and ER nurse mother didn’t have a clue what to do with him, so…they did nothing. Before the show ended, “Supernanny” had changed Sean from a lion into a lamb, all within the coveted 9-10pm time slot.

As I drifted off to sleep that night, I thought about the night's events. I was impressed by how wise Supernanny had been. I then thought about how tasty the Taco Bake was. Next, I regretted not finding time to write The Linda Blair story, but I figured I’d save it for another day, and then...I drifted off to sleep.

That evening I had the strangest dream:
(imagine screen going wavy for a dream sequence.)

Supernanny Jo is called to the home of Regan, a little girl that is possessed by the devil. Regan’s mother leads Supernanny into the little girl’s bedroom, and finds that her bed is levita
ting three feet off the ground.

Supernanny: (British accent) What’s this then?

Regan: GET OUT!!!

Supernanny: Regan, you’ve been a very naughty girl. It’s time to go to the naughty chair.

Regan: Your mother is a #$%*

Suppernanny Jo pulls Regan out of the bed and places her in the naughty chair. Regan’s face is full of pustules and her head twists in a 360 degree turn.

Supernanny: Aye, you’re a clever one aren’t you? Are you ready to say sorry?

Regan: Eat #$%! (Spews pea soup in supernanny’s face.)

It was about this time that I woke up. I guess I’ll never know if Supernanny was able to exorcise Regan’s demons, or if like the priest in the movie, she gets thrown out of the window. I do know, however, that you should never eat Mexican food before bedtime.