Monday, December 31, 2007

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Scenes from a Terminal

The good folks over at Trainjotting have turned me on to a blog called 2nd Avenue Sagas. This blog is similar to Trainjotting, but it puts more of an emphasis on the MTA subway system. On 2AS's latest post, they list a number of movies that were filmed on the subway over the years. This got me thinking about all the movies that have been filmed in Grand Central Terminal (By the way, most people confuse Grand Central Terminal for Grand Central Station. Grand Central Station is the subway stop at 42nd St. The big cavernous train depot with the teal ceiling is actually called Grand Central Terminal.) I Googled the words "Grand Central" and "movies" and was forwarded to, where author Pam Skilling lists her top 5 Grand Central movies (I've added some commentary):

1. North By Northwest

In Alfred Hitchcock's classic film, a Madison Avenue adman played by the dashing Cary Grant is mistaken for a government agent and pursued across the country by a gang of spies. He makes his escape from New York City in an exciting sequence filmed at night inside the real station. This is one of Hitchcock's most masterful and entertaining films. It has everything -- comedy, suspense, and Cary Grant (sigh).

A few years back I had "North By Northwest" actress Eva Marie Saint on my train. When I collected her ticket, I said something like: "Here I am in Grand Central with Eva Marie Saint...I feel like Cary Grant." She gave me a polite smile, but her children (who are my age) got a good chuckle out of it.

2. Midnight Run

This 1988 movie features Robert DeNiro as a bounty hunter who has to transport Charles Grodin from New York to L.A. before he can collect his fee. Grodin is afraid of flying, so DeNiro drags him through Grand Central to catch a train to Los Angeles. This is just the beginning of their long, strange journey. This is one of the best road-trip/buddy movies ever made.

I watched Deniro and Grodin film the Grand Central scene for this movie. It took them several takes, and hours, to get the shot just right. In the film, the scene only last for about two minutes.
Grodin used to ride my train on a regular basis. He is a very nice guy.

Francis Ford Coppola's Cotton Club is set in the legendary Harlem night club during the 1920s and 1930s. Released to negative reviews and bad publicity in 1984, the film is now considered one of Coppola's most underrated. It features a climactic ending (spoilers ahead!) with Richard Gere and Diane Lane (the gangster's moll) boarding the famous Twentieth Century Limited train in Grand Central, headed for a new life in L.A.

A friend of mine used to date Gregory Hines, one of the stars of this movie. She once made him come into Grand Central just so he could meet me. Unfortunately, I had gone out for coffee and missed him.

This underrated gem directed by Terry Gilliam features a spectacular scene in which Grand Central Terminal is transformed into a glittering ballroom filled with waltzing commuters. To film this scene, more than 400 extras waltzed around the terminal from 8 pm until the first commuter trains arrived at 5:30 am the next morning. This modern-day fairy tale also features great performances from Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams (yes, really!).

1978's Superman features some very cool scenes set in villain Lex Luthor's fantastic subterranean lair under Grand Central Terminal. But Superman gets a few points off for cheating. They actually filmed these scenes on a sound stage in London. A for Creativity, C for Authenticity. Either way, Superman is a very entertaining movie featuring a gorgeous, young Christopher Reeve and a portly, campy Marlon Brando as Jor-El.

They filmed this movie long before I started on the railroad. Christopher Reeve did ride my train on a fairly regular basis though. Read my story about him here.

I know that there were a million other movies filmed in Grand Central over the years, i.e. Men in Black, I am Legend, Falling in Love, Madagascar, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but I can't rember them all now. I invite my coworkers to leave comments about their Grand Central movie experiences.
This year, instead of spending New Year's Eve out on the road with the "amatuers", snuggle up under a blanket and watch one of these movies.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Gathering

Sometimes I wish I kept a journal while growing up. Then, as an adult, I could easily dig into the past and write witty, interesting, stories for this blog. Instead, I'm left with mismatched scraps of minutia that float around in my brain. They eventually weave themselves together into a holiday tapestry, which plays in the multiplex that is my brain. Grab some popcorn. Now Showing, one such tapestry:

It’s Christmas morning and my mother is standing in the kitchen in front of a bronze colored electric range. She is mashing a big metal pot full of boiled potatoes, still dressed in her bathrobe, her head is wrapped in a toilet paper turban which protects a head full of pin curls that she set the night before while watching The Carol Burnett Show. A Virginia Slim cigarette droops from her lips with a 1-½ inch ash hanging from its tip. “Watch your cigarette…” I call out, but it’s too late, and the ash surrenders to the laws of gravity and collapses into the pot of spuds. My mother makes a half-hearted attempt to separate the ash from the potatoes and then continues mashing.

It’s 1975, and against the protests of my sister Maureen and I, my mother has again invited two mentally challenged coworkers to join us (her nine children, and four of their spouses) for Christmas dinner. Being teenagers, Maureen and I are totally embarrassed by our mother's charity, and compassion. We say things like… “What, are we a soup kitchen?” and “Why can’t we just have a normal Christmas like other families?”

Our mother becomes angry with us, and says that we’re being selfish and missing the whole point of the holiday. “If it weren’t for us,” she says, “these people would be spending Christmas alone."

“Alright,” we bargain. “You can invite Crazy Ann, but can’t Screwy Louie stay home.”

“Too late,” my mother says, “Jimmy (my brother) already went to pick him up.”

“Great,” Maureen says sarcastically. “Remember last year? Louie kept staring at Eileen’s (my sister) chest and yelling, Headlights! Headlights!
Then he spent the rest of the day telling her how much she looked like Elizabeth Montgomery from Bewitched.”

Now I pipe in; “Every year it’s the same thing. Louie walks in screaming Kaymadunna... Kaymadunna. Doesn’t he know your name is Kay McDonough? He says it like it’s all one word. Next, he’ll see me and ask; “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Last year, just to get him off my back, I told him I wanted to be a garbage man. That really set him off. He spent the rest of the day counseling me, saying I should be a doctor or a lawyer, anything but a garbage man. “But I really like trash,” I told him.

We hear the front door shut and soon “Crazy Ann” is standing in the kitchen. She looks as if she has just returned from a series of shock treatment sessions. Her eyebrows are thick and severe looking. Her lipstick is bright red, and smeared across her face. I remember thinking she looked like a cross between Joan Crawford in “Whatever happened to Baby Jane,” and Lady Elaine Fairchild from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
If truth be told, Ann really wasn’t crazy, but rather a woman who had a hard life and suffered a series of nervous breakdowns. Each year she sits silently at our Christmas dinner table, doing her best to deflect my mother’s attempts to engage her in conversation with “yes” and “no” answers.

“Ann,” my mother asks. “Do you have a Christmas tree in your apartment?”

“No,” Ann answers. “I’m Jewish.”

Maureen and I glare at our mother.

By noon, with the exception of Jimmy and Louie, all the guest have arrived. It is snowing and my mother is getting nervous. She jumps out of her chair whenever the phone rings and finally, one of those calls is from Jimmy.

Jimmy says that Louie isn’t at his apartment. He rang his bell several times and even circled the neighborhood. Louie is nowhere to be found. My mother is upset by this news, but she tries to stay calm. Maybe, she thinks, Louie got a ride from a friend or perhaps he took a cab to our house and just hasn’t arrived yet. She tells Jimmy to circle the block one more time and then come home. I can tell her nerves are on edge as I watch her stir the gravy,
“Watch out for your cig…” I call, but again I'm too late, and another 1 ½” ash falls into the gravy boat.

While the family gathers round the table, my mother makes a series of phone calls to the New Haven Police Department. Each time she gives a description of Louie to the desk sergeant, explaining that he is a mentally disabled man and that he should have been to our house hours ago. The sergeant says that it's too soon to file a missing person’s report, but that he's sure Louie will show up eventually. We all take turns reassuring our mother the police are right, and then ask her to lead us in prayer by saying "Grace" before our meal. She begins:

Forgive me Father
For I have sinned
It has been…

We all burst out laughing.

As her act of contrition, she runs back to the phone and tracks down Louie’s friends and neighbors. She asks each of them if they know where Louie is. Nobody does. Different scenarios are now racing through her head. Did he forget? Did he get another invitation? Is he lying dead on the side of the road? Her questions are soon answered when Louie finally calls and says that he had gotten another dinner offer, and simply forgot to tell my mother about it. He apologizes profusely.

My mother is furious.

That was the last time Louie spent a holiday with our family. He eventually found a girl, got married, and now eats (nicotine free) holiday meals with a saner group of people. He still thinks I’m hauling garbage somewhere.

I don’t know what became of “Crazy Ann.”

My mother passed away on December 23, 1996 and now the Christmas season is bittersweet for my family and me. We're no longer embarrassed by our mother’s charity and compassion. In fact...we’re quite proud of it.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Rebel without a clue

The railroad is pretty strict about we conductors wearing our prescribed uniform. In fact, there are roves of "Operations Service Managers," (a.k.a. toilet sniffers) who ride our trains day and night, just waiting to ambush a train person who isn't wearing their hat, neck tie or company ID. These managers usually write the person up, and a letter is put in the employee's company file. If a second offense is noted, disciplinary action is taken.

Recently, I heard that the toilet snif...oops! I mean, "The Operation Service Managers," were instructed to to temporarily "look the other way" if they see a conductor wearing a holiday themed tie. So today, when I got dressed for work, I put on my "snowman tie." (Did I just hear a collective gasp from my readers?) Wait... it gets better... it even plays a medley of Jingle Bells, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and We Wish You a Merry Christmas,"...over and over again. If that doesn't put my passengers in the holiday spirit, I don't what does.

When I got to work, I proudly displayed my tie. It made me feel like "a loner...a rebel", and maybe a little bit dangerous. I was a regular James Dean in blue polyester. I walked into the conductors lounge in Grand Central, with my chest puffed out. I wanted the boys to see just how "wild and crazy" I was. That's when Kevin, a Hudson Line conductor, walked in:

For the past few days, Kevin has been wearing this outfit while working his train. His tie is much louder than mine and his jacket is covered with strings of blinking Christmas lights. If you look closely, you can see that he is wearing the official Metro North conductor's badge on the fur trim of his hat. Huh, I guess he's not much of a rebel after all.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Dan Fogelberg 1951-2007

I know it's not cool to say you like Dan Fogelberg's music anymore. People claim that it's elevator music, and lump him in the same category as Barry Manilow, Barbra Streisand and other "easy listening" favorites from the 70's. To me though, Fogelberg's music means beautiful poetry, played by a master musician. As anyone who had seen him in concert can attest, the man could make a 12 string guitar sound like an orchestra, and he was equally adept at the keyboards. It was his lyrics that really set him apart from the others though. Nobody(with the possible exception of Jackson Browne) could speak to the matters of the heart more poignantly.

Yesterday, Dan Fogelberg passed away at age 56 from prostate cancer. He takes with him a big part of my youth.

In the holiday spirit, I give you "Another Auld Lang Syne."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Listening to Christmas Carols with my daughters

I'm Dreaming
of a White Christmas
Just like the ones
I used to know...

Hey girls, that's Bing Crosby... He's dead.

Chestnuts roasting on an
Open fire
Jack Frost nipping
At your nose...

You know who that is? That's Nat King Cole...he's been dead for a long time now. Lung cancer....I think?

Have yourself a
Merry little Christmas
Happy New Year too...

Oh! Oh! Oh! That's Karen Carpenter...anorexia nervosa...a real tragedy.

God rest ye
Merry Gentleman
Let nothing you dismay...

That's Robert Goulet, and guess what?

Yeah, we know. He's dead.

Correct!... So recent too!

Adeste Fideles
Laeti triumphes
Venite, venite
In Bethlehem...

Luciano Pavoratti....Morto!!!

Dad...Can you please turn off the radio? You're depressing us.