Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Back to the grind... and a near miss. The week in review

08/18 Train 1583:

It's my first day back from vacation and I'm feeling tan (in an Irish kind of way), rested, and ready to take on the Greater Metropolitan Region. I lose this feeling, when on my first leaving time, a woman sticks her foot in the closing doors of the head car. Without a "door closed" light, my engineer cannot take power.


I try to close the doors, but the woman won't budge from her post. I get on the PA and announce that it's leaving time and she needs to either "get on or get off."


The woman ignores me and stands firmly in the doorway. It's now a minute past leaving time.


"M'am please...step on or step off the train," I announce. "There's another train in 30 minutes"


My engineer, who is sitting a few feet away from this woman, gets on the PA and tells me that she's waiting for her daughter and her infant grandchild. I'm not heartless, I'll wait (within reason) for parents with small children, the elderly or disabled, so I cool my heels, waiting for the door blocker's family to arrive.

It's now two minutes past leaving time and the Rail Traffic Controller is calling us and asking what our delay is. Just then a young woman runs through the platform doors...without a baby. The door blocker gives her a wave and they both step into the train. Obviously I've been duped.



There went that calm vacation feeling.

08/19/08, Train 1974:

As a favor to the railroad, I'm covering a Waterbury branch job today. We leave from Bridgeport and an overweight, toothless, tank top wearing, creepy, hillbilly looking guy, gets on. I'm guessing he's in his mid 50's. When I collect his ticket, he looks at my company ID hanging from a lanyard around my neck. The plastic pocket on the lanyard has flipped and on the reverse side is a picture of my two, young, teenage daughters. Women passengers love to see this photo and find the fact that I carry it endearing. They tell me the girls are beautiful and that I'm sweet to carry their snapshot. This guy, however, is thinking something totally different. I can see it in his eyes. He leers at the photo and asks:

"Thems your daughters?"

"Yep!" I answer.

"Theys look perty good" he purrs. "P-e-r-t-y good!"

The hair stands up on the back of my neck, and I debate smacking him. Instead, I stuff the picture in my shirt pocket and walk away.

I wonder if he's registered here.

08/21/08, Train 1500:

Two rotund Puerto Rican Women are flirting with Dan, my assistant conductor. They say he's soooo cuuuute, and they want to take a few pictures with him. He happily obliges, posing as they take turns snapping pictures with their camera phones.

"Wow Dan", I say, "looks like you have a fan club."

One of the women gives me a toothless smile and says:

"Honey, Dan is cute... but you more my type."

"Me?" (I didn't know if I should be flattered or not.)

"Yeah," she said. "I goes for that mature type...Know what I'm sayin'?"

I don't know what she's sayin, but I nod my head in agreement.

"You older guys (she was 32) know what time it is...Know what I'm sayin'?"

I nod my head again.

"You do know what time it is...don't you baby?

I point to my watch and say "Of course I know what time it is...I'm a railroad conductor."

08/22/08, Train 1194:

We're deadheading to South Norwalk when I hear my engineer give a sudden blast on the train horn. This noise is followed by the loud burst of the emergency brake dumping.

"Sh*t" says the engineer..."I just hit someone."

The engineer calls the Rail Traffic Controller, and I get a familiar knot in my stomach. He tells the RTC that we just hit a guy on the bridge just west of the station. He says that the guy was laying in the gauge of the rail.

I walk back to retrieve my radio and flashlight (it was dark out) from my railroad bag. It's my job to find the body and I'm dreading it.

As Yogi Berra said..."It's Deja Vu all over again". Three years previous, I was working with this same engineer and we hit someone on a bridge about 15 miles west of here. That time, I spent several minutes walking the bridge and looking underneath the train for a body. I couldn't find one. I was about to tell my engineer that the guy must have jumped out of the way, when my flashlight beam shone upon a work boot resting on the curb of the street below the bridge. I followed the beam up, and to my horror, found a man lying spread eagle in the middle of the street. He was in a pool of blood. I was walking down the bridge embankment when the police arrived. I saw the cop crouching over the body and searching the man's neck for a pulse. He then stood up and walked over to the trunk of his car and pulled out a yellow tarp. He draped it over the body.

This scene plays in my mind as I grab my flashlight and radio. My assistant and I gingerly step off the train and begin searching under, around and behind the train. My adrenaline is pumping and my breathing is labored. Every muscle in my body is tense. It's kind of like the feeling you get when watching a horror movie...only ten times worse.

I'm searching for a body or a severed leg or maybe an arm, perhaps a head. I look for a blood trail or perhaps a length of intestines. The horror. The horror. The horror.

I begin to reconsider my choice of occupation.

We find nothing, but still we search. My engineer joins in and we look, under the train, around the train...and on the street below.

Still... no body.

I walk track side, looking through the brush, then under a billboard and down to the avenue below. There I interview three Hispanic men who have been standing and watching the whole scene unfold. I ask if they' ve seen anything or anybody around the tracks. They say they haven't, but I don't believe them. This is the bad neighborhood and I'm sure that they're silenced by the street's "no snitch" policy.

After 20 minutes, we give up the search We assume that the trespasser either jumped out of the way in time, or possibly we ran him over, and he crawled out from under the train.

We get back on the train and report the situation, and the rail traffic controller tells us to continue on to our next station stop. We begin our next train like nothing happened. I collect tickets and my body begins to relax. The adrenaline is subsiding and my muscles start to ache. It feels like I just ran a marathon.

I call my wife, and the conversation goes like this:

You're not gonna believe what just happened.


I just spent the last 20 minutes looking for a dead guy.

A what?

A dead guy. My engineer thought he hit someone, so we had to go out and look under and around the train for the body, but we never found it.

How do you know you didn't hit him?

We can't be certain...but we didn't find anything.

Why didn't you wait for the police to look?

There was no body....

Yeah, but....

My wife doesn't say it, but I know what she's thinking. She doesn't trust me to find a body. She knows me as the guy who spends 10 minutes searching the refrigerator for mayonnaise, when there's a jar of Helmann's staring me in the face. I'm the guy who regularly misplaces his keys and glasses. I'm the guy who recently lost his cell phone for like the 20th time.

"Listen," I say as if to calm her, "I wasn't the only one looking. My assistant conductor looked too, and so did the engineer...and he's very organized."



I think I need a vacation.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Myrtle Beach or Bust!


I planned on taking I-95 all the way down to Myrtle Beach, but shortly after crossing the Connecticut/New York state line, an electric highway sign flashes, saying that the highway is shut down in New Rochelle. I take a detour onto Rte 287 to the Cross County Expressway, then down the Saw Mill River Parkway to the George Washington Bridge. I'm proud that I found my way around the accident, and I'm so busy patting myself on the back, that I miss the I-95 turn off and end up on The Garden State Parkway. I resist my wife's pleas to stop and ask for directions (after all, I am a man). I eventually stop at a gas station in Paterson N.J. where a Pakistani attendant tells me to turn around, drive eight miles back down Rts 46/3 and take a right at Giant's Stadium. On the way we pass a "Target"department store and my wife starts to salivate. She insists we buy a map and a few "necessities." Wrong turn ends up costing me $27 (after all, she's a woman.)

The ride is going smoothly, until we hit "The Woodrow Wilson Drawbridge" in Washington D.C. and the traffic begins a long crawl. I miss the sign for the high occupancy lanes, and stay in the truck/bus lanes. The missed sign costs me one hour of travel time.

I kill time by reading aloud the names painted on small white memorial crosses that dot the roadside. I tell my daughters that these signs were placed by the family and friends of those killed in car accidents along the highway. My wife asks me to "please keep my morbidity to myself." I try, at least till we pass several exit signs for Civil War battlefields, places like Manassas, Fredricksburg, Charlottesville, and Richmond. I begin telling my daughters of the thousands of soldiers that died on these fields, but then look in the rear view mirror and see blank faces. My history lesson has fallen on deaf ears.

After Virginia, we see miles and miles of trees and farmland, then some more farmland and trees. Occasionally a small house or trailer pop into view, sometimes cows, but then it's more farms and trees, trees and farms. The Northeast is densely populated, where the cities blend one into another. I can't believe there's so much open space down here. Where are the housing developments? Where are the malls? Where are the Starbucks?

We plan on stopping for the night in "The Royal Inn" in Selma, NC. A motel that a friend has recommended, saying it was only $40 a night and a "real bargain." I told him that a $40 motel scared me, but he assured me that the place was clean. "Not fancy...but clean." Boy, was he wrong.


It's 12:30 a.m. and we're beyond exhausted. We find the motel which looks like it was built sometime in the 60's and hasn't been renovated, or cleaned since. When I check in, I find the front door locked and a skinny man walks from behind the counter, and meets me at the door. I think he's going to unlock the door, but instead, he points to a small mouse hole opening in the Plexiglas (this should have been my first clue). I hand him my credit card and confirm my reservation, he then hands me the key, points, and in a thick southern accent, tells me that the room is 14 doors down.

As we step into the room, we're hit with the powerful stench of cigarette smoke. It's supposed to be a "non smoking room", but there are ashtrays on the bureau and night stands. The room totally reeks of smoke. My daughters walk into the bathroom and I hear them yell, "Yuck!!!" I go to check out what they are yelling about, and find them pointing at the shower, which has mold and mildew climbing its walls and the bathroom faucet is caked in soap scum.

I say that we'll only be here for a couple of hours, and we can live with it till morning. I climb into bed, and find that the mattress is ripped open on the sides, exposing springs and padding. I'm sure if I had one of those ultra violet lights, I'd find blood splattered on the walls and bedspread.

"I'm sleeping in the car!" my wife says as she grabs everything she can carry and starts heading for the door, with my daughters in tow.
"Yeah," I agree. "We're out of here!" I grab everything else they haven't already grabbed. We drive another 20 minutes to Dunn, NC, and stay in a Hampton Inn. The hotel is shiny,new and clean, and serves free hot breakfast in the morning. The first thing we do is take showers, trying to wash the imagined bed bugs, lice, fleas, whatever off our skin. As we climb into bed, my daughters laugh and ask what kind of friend recommends the Royal Inn? "What did you ever do to that guy?"

After a good night's sleep we jump in the car, and head for South Carolina. We start seeing those familiar (and
politically incorrect) "South of the Border" signs, which feature an overweight, mustachioed Mexican bandito named "Pedro." Apparently, Pedro wants... no insists, that we visit "South of the Border," because he has placed his billboards every 100 feet or so.

When we get near the South Carolina border, I see a giant Sombrero tower in the distance. I get excited, but my wife, who has visited "South of the Border" in the past, is less than enthused. By the 80th Pedro sign, my daughters and I are brainwashed and I can't help but pull off the exit ramp.

"South of the Border" is everything I'd hoped it would be. It's a tacky, kitschy, white trashy Disney World and reminds me of something right out of "Pee Wee's Big Adventure." It's gift shops sell South of the Border toilet paper, t-shirts, switch blade pocket combs, shot glasses, pink flamingos, sombreros, and every cheap little tchockes you can think of. I smile and proclaim Pedro "the man." Before we leave, my wife snapped a picture of my daughters and I posing before before his 30ft likeness.

We jump back in the car and drive, what is supposed to take two hours to Myrtle Beach. As soon as we leave I-95, we hit a wall of traffic on Rt 501, where roadside stands sell farm fresh Peaches and Watermelons and something called "boiled peanuts." We're definitely not in Connecticut anymore.

After four hours of bumper to bumper traffic, we finally reach our beach side condo in Myrtle Beach. It's owned by a coworker who proclaimed it, "not fancy...but clean" (where have I heard that before?) Thankfully he's was perfect.

We spend the week shopping, sunbathing, body surfing, reading and eating everything in sight. It was a delightful week.

Friday, August 15, 2008

A little help from my friends

I don't like to steal other blogger's post, but since I'm on still on vacation, I'm going to make an exception. I found this video today on Sandi Kahn Shelton's blog. It's hysterical!!!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Walking the dog

"Girls, I'm late for work again. Can one of you PLEASE take Brenna (our cocker spaniel) out for a walk?"

My 16 year old daughter is lost in cyber space and too busy instant messaging to hear a word that I've said.

I then look to my 14 year old daughter, a girl soooo obsessed with the Jonas Brothers, that she can't pull herself away from the 15th rebroadcast of "Camp Rock."

When I get home at 3:30AM, I invariably find Brenna with her legs crossed and a few pounds heavier. "Did anyone let you out girl?" I ask.
She looks up at me with her big brown eyes, tilts her head and says... "What do you think?

This same scene is played out almost daily. The website or TV show might change, but in the end...the poor dog never gets walked.

Yesterday, my daughters had a surprise for me. I give you "Walking the Dog" starring Brenna (who loves me) and our cat Tara (who hates me).

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

"The Exclusive Details" or The Week in Review 07/28-08/02

07/28/08 Train 1388:

A middle aged man, stinking of booze, got on the train at Fordham. Jason, my assistant, asked him for his ticket. The guy said he didn't have one. Jason offered to sell him a ticket, but the man said he didn't have any money (he obviously spent it all at the package store.) The man was then told to get off the train in Mt. Vernon (the next stop). The guy laughed and said, "No, I'm going to New Rochelle, and that's where I'm gonna get off."

True to his word, when we reached Mt. Vernon, the man refused to leave the train. I called for police assistance but there were no MTA police in the area (as usual). This forced me to use plan B....acting. Faking a radio call, I stood before the guy and yelled..."We have a non-payment of fare in the second rear car." The man, now nervous, saw that I meant business and got off the train in Pelham.

I don't like to brag, but I hear there's some "Oscar" buzz.

Because railroad workers are so widely dispersed, gossip is critically important to getting the news out. For example, when something happens in New Haven, a conductor might tell an engineer in Stamford. That engineer might tell a car inspector in Grand Central. The car inspector might tell the half-truth to a Harlem Line conductor.....etc.....etc....etc. This continues until the rumor is spread over the greater metropolitan region. It's kind of like that old game "telephone," the final story given, usually bares no resemblance to what really happened, but that doesn't stop the rumor mill from grinding. Having said is what I heard happened on Monday:

It seems a woman conductor asked a passengers to take his feet off the seats. The man ignored her. She asked again. Again, he ignored her. When she asked a third time, the guy stood up and punched her in the head. He then ran off the train and disappeared into the shadows. The bruised and battered conductor is now back to work.

July 23, Train 1500:

A handsome couple boarded the train in Grand Central and sat down in my car. I remembered them from the previous evening's commute, mostly because the guy was a Derek Jeter look-a-like and his girlfriend wore a low cut blouse.

The man showed me his monthly pass, but I was surprised when he asked to buy a ticket for his companion. I was sure they both had passes on the previous evening's commute.
"Excuse me, but didn't you both have passes last night?" I asked.

The woman frowned and said "Last night?...I wasn't on the train last night."

Derek Jeter look-a-like hid his face in his hands, and the woman began to interrogate him:

"Who were you with last night?...Who is she?"

I gave the guy a "sorry about that" shrug, and continued on to the next passenger.


July 23, 2008 Train 1583:

A family with several suitcases boarded the train in New Haven. I helped them lift their luggage into the overhead racks and they thanked me in what I thought was a heavy German accent.

"Are you from Germany?" I asked.

"No, ve're und holiday vrom Austria," they said.

Excited, I began singing "Edelweiss" half expecting them to join me in the chorus.

"Edelweiss-Edelweiss, blessed be my homeland forever."

The family looked at me like I had a third head. The oldest daughter, a Yale Student, stepped forward and explained that Austrians aren't familiar with "The Sound of Music." In fact," she said, "I didn't see the movie till I came to The States."

"Really?" I said. "I thought Edelweiss was the Austrian Danny Boy. You know, one of those nationalistic songs that people sing when they're drunk (whether they know the words or not.)"

They said that one of Von Trapp family members visited Austria recently, and the media made a big deal about it. The excitement was lost on most people though. So few have seen "The Sound of Music."

I guess it's that whole "Nazi" history thing.

08/01/08 Train 1388:

While boarding the train in Grand Central, five mechanics in orange vests walk past me. One of the mechanics asks:

" Where's the lady trapped in the bathroom?"

"What lady trapped in the bathroom?" I answered.

"We got a call that there's a lady trapped in the bathroom."

This was the first I'd heard of it, but I followed the mechanics and we searched all the lavatories. We eventually found a small crowd gathered around the lavatory in the third head car. There we found a woman, dying of embarrassment, trapped in the bathroom. Panicked, she had called 911.

They, in turn, called the railroad.

After a few pushes of the pry bar, the woman was released from her odoriferous prison. If it weren't for cell phones, she might still be there.

08/02/08 Train 6554:

Celebrity Corner:

I was standing in the vestibule waiting for the train to stop in Stratford, when an attractive blond woman stood next to me. She looked familiar, but I figured I had just seen her on the train before. Then it dawned on me...

"You look a lot like that newswoman...Rita Cosby." I said.

"Maybe that's because I am her." She replied.

Rita couldn't have been nicer. I'm not Anna Nicole Smith's "Baby Daddy"(that I know of!) but she still seemed genuinely interested in me. She even asked my name and where I was from. She told me that she was originally from Greenwich, and that she rides the train on a fairly regular basis.

I asked if she was still on Fox,. "Not anymore," she said. "Now I'm on Inside Edition."

She said she has also been doing a lot of writing lately. I told her that I had a blog and asked if she minded that I mention her. She seemed excited and asked me for my blog address. I was happy to give it to her.

When I become famous, I'll be sure to give her the "Exclusive Details" of my life. lose

And I thought my passengers were crazy:,2933,396537,00.html