Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Three pilgrims driving through Rhode Island

We're driving my older daughter to Newport, RI to tour Salve Regina University, and about to cross the bridge into Newport when I launch into this monologue:

"This is Narragansett Bay...named for the Narragansett Indians who once inhabited this area."

My wife doesn't react, instead she reaches into her pocketbook and pulls out $4.00 for the bridge toll.

"Further to our east, lived The Wampanoag Tribe, led by their sachem, Massasoit. Massasoit felt threatened by the powerful Narragansetts, because his tribe had been decimated by a small pox outbreak (thanks to encounters with European fisherman off the New England coast), and their numbers had dwindled down to almost nothing."

My wife looks at the Google map directions and tells me to watch for road signs. I look in the rearview mirror and see that my daughter has plugged her Ipod earbuds in, and is missing my rousing history lesson.

"Massasoit needed allies against the Narragansetts, so he befriended a group of English settlers that had just settled in Plymouth. It was these settlers, or Pilgrims, who joined Massasoit and the Wampanoags in the first Thanksgiving feast."

"How do you remember these things?" My wife asks.

"Well...I just read a book on the Mayflower and..."

"Why didn't you major in History in college?"

"What do you do with an History degree? Well, now that I think about it... probably the same thing I did with my English degree...become a railroad conductor."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

One off the disabled list...and another goes on.

This is the scene that unfolded in front of my wife and I, as we returned home from my "return to work" physical following double-hernia surgery.


"Achoo!" A man standing the vestibule convulses in a sneeze. He's carrying an armful of boxes, and is stricken so suddenly, he's unable to cover the burst that spews forward.

"HEY...TRY COVERING YOUR MOUTH WHEN YOU SNEEZE!" Shouts a man in a nearby seat. "I just got back from a week off being sick, and I don't need you sneezing on me."

The man with the boxes chooses to ignore the seated passenger's protests, and when the next station stop arrives, he steps out into a clear cool to spew wherever he chooses.

"BARBARIAN!" The seated man shouts after him.


Margaret is a 60 year old construction worker who rides my train on a regular basis. Like the lone apple amongst the three bananas in the old Sesame Street game..."One of these things is not like the other" Margaret looks out of place amongst the grizzled hard hats she boards the train with; looking more schoolmarm, less material elevator operator.

"Hey Margaret," I ask. "How are things on the elevator?"

" know Bob. Not bad...

"No Margaret...Wrong answer!" I chastise. "Remember the answer we practiced?"

"Oh yeah...what is it again? Something about... up and down?"

"Ugh... Okay, let's go over it again." I instruct. "Whenever someone asks: How are things on the elevator? You answer...It has its ups and downs."

Margaret gives me a nervous smile, and I tell her that this joke is pure gold. "Think of it as one of the benefits of your job...a kind of perk, like an HMO or a 401K plan. It's kind of like when someone asks me 'Are you still working on the railroad?' I answer... 'All the live long day."

Pure gold!


*Names have been changed in the following story to protect the innocent.

Garth, my assistant conductor, approaches me with a weekly ticket in his hand. "Look at this " he says, holding out the ticket for me to inspect. I briefly peruse the ticket and see that someone has taken a magic marker and crudely altered its expiration date from 11/13 to 11/18.

Garth says that he told the ticket holder (a high school aged girl) that her ticket was obviously altered, and that she'd either have to pay the fare or get off the train at the next station stop. The girl refuses to do either, so I call for police assistance. The rail traffic controller tells me that the closest available police are in Westport. We're in Darien.

At South Norwalk, two stops before Westport, I notice three girls stepping off, and then back on the rear car of the train. Step off...step on...step off...step on...step off...etc. Finally Pam, a 61 year old assistant conductor, appears at the door of the rear car. From a distance, I watch as silent words are shouted and fingers pointed. All at once the situation escalates. The girls (one being Garth's fare evader) rush Pam with flailing arms and swinging book bags. Pam raises her hands defensively, but the girls are on her like bees on honey. They slap, punch and pull at her with all their might.

Like a play by play announcer, I get on the radio and describe the unfolding situation to the rail traffic controller and say that we need police assistance at South Norwalk station.

Garth pokes his head out the window, just in time to see his fare evader (and two others) run into South Norwalk Station. I'm too far from the altercation to give chase and the perpetrators soon blend into the departing crowd of commuters, never to be seen again. Well almost... remember folks, this is 2009...and big brother is always watching. The MTA police have surveillance photos of the three girls running through South Norwalk Station and today they distributed "Wanted for assault" flyers throughout the railroad.

Unfortunately, Pam suffered two broken fingers, scratches, bruises and bumps. She is now at home resting comfortably. Godspeed Pam!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Home for the Holiday

I spend a lot of time bashing the ne'er do wells who ride my trains, so today I want to praise Pvt. Luis Feliciano, Army-82nd Airborne. He was on my Waterbury train on Friday night, September 11th (of all days), returning from a stint in the God-forsaken mountains of Afghanistan. He told me that he was heading for his home in Winsted, CT for 30 days of R&R before reporting to Fort Bragg, NC.
"I'm surprising my wife" he said," she has no idea I'm coming home, and hopefully, I can talk her into coming to Ft. Bragg with me."
I thanked him for his service and asked how things were in Afghanistan. He said conditions were rough, considering we had to climb snow covered mountains, twenty five thousand feet up where the air is makes it hard to breathe. "We were trained for these conditions at Fort Drum," he said, "but nothing prepares you for those mountains."
When I asked if he'd seen any action, he nonchalantly said that he'd been in a few fire fights...only one scary one...but he acted like it was no big deal. He then changed the subject and asked how much a cab ride would be from Waterbury to Winsted. I was about to say that I had no idea, when another passenger, a fellow Army vet, chimed in saying that Winsted was about 30 miles north of Waterbury...and that a cab ride would cost a bundle..."but don't worry," he said, "cause I'm driving you home tonight."
I helped Pvt. Feliciano take his bags off the train, while the army vet got the car and a soft rain began to fall. A street lamp shone upon two silhouettes walking to a late model Ford and loading duffel bags into the trunk. I thought about Luis' unsuspecting wife waiting at home and the surprise that awaited her. I thought about all the members of the service who never made it home. I thought about the families of those lost in the terrorist attacks on that clear, crisp morn eight years ago. It was September 11th...and I got a sudden lump in my throat.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

National Geographic Presents...The week in review


An agitated man meets my train in Waterbury and asks what the fare is to Bridgeport. I tell him that it’s only $2.25 and he looks relieved. He tells me that his wife is six months pregnant with their first child and she was just rushed to Bridgeport Hospital with labor pains. He then offers a little too much information, reporting that her doctor just implanted a stent into her uterus to prevent the baby’s head from pushing down on her cervix.

“It’s called a pessary,” I say. “My wife had one when she was pregnant with our youngest daughter.”

“And everything turned out all right?” He asks.

“Yeah,” I said. “It’s no big deal.”

“Thanks conductor…. you give me hope.”

OB/GYN advice…Just another service we Metro North conductors provide.


Like a pollinating honeybee, a young man is flitting from one female passenger to another. I watch as he briefly hovers over each young flower, each time briefly showing them whatever he’s typed out on his cell phone’s display screen. Once rejected, he buzzes off and lands on the next available petal. Just as I’m about to reach for the Raid, he spots me and flies my way. He points to his ear, grunts, and shows me his disability card. He’s a deaf /mute. He then shows me his cell phone’s display screen:

I am single…do not wish for relationship…but I would like to get together with you…

Boy this guy must be desperate, I think, but then I notice something written in small print at the top of the screen.

How much for disabled fare from WTBY to STAM?

I find a slip of paper, and scribble… $2.50. He says “Thank you” in sign language, then zips off to sip the sweet nectar of a new and unsuspecting blossom.


When I was in 5th grade, Sister Adele introduced our class to the reference room of our library at St. Lawrence Grammar School. Before long, we boys discovered a pile of National Geographic Magazines hidden in the deep recesses of a corner bookshelf. Huddled in pods, we’d pour over the well-worn pages of the African tribe pictorials like Anthropologist studying for our doctoral thesis. Margaret Meade had nothing on us. Here we’d see multi-tasking, bare breasted women nursing their young, while carrying clay pots of water atop their heads. Tribesmen were bejeweled and covered in war paint, sitting by campfires, sharpening spares before the big rhino hunt, some flashing toothless grins at the strange and foreign camera. This is how I envisioned the denizens of the African Continent. But Mayan says I have it all wrong.

Mayan is a 40 something nurses aide who rides my Waterbury train. She originally worked as a journalist back in Africa, but says it was a dangerous job where criticizing the government could cost you life and limb. She said she now regularly works 100-hour weeks to help support her two sons and fifteen brothers and sisters back in Nigeria.

One day Mayan told me that Nigeria is a polygamist society and that her father had four wives.

“Wow,” I said. “Four wives. That must be great.”

“Really?” said Mayan, seeming surprised.

“Yeah”, I mean, what are the chances that they’d all have headaches on the same night?”

She laughed a deep hearty laugh, glanced at my name badge, and in a thick African accent said:

“Oh, you bad man…Mr. Mc Donuff. McDonuff…That Irish?”


“Then you like the Guinness?

“No…I don’t drink.”

“What?” She seemed shocked. “I’m more Irish than you. I love the Guinness. We Africans love the Guinness.”

“Really? I said. “I thought you only drank milk from cocoanuts.”

She laughed again, saying that we Americans are so self-absorbed that we know nothing of other people’s culture.

“Do you like the country music?” she asked.

“You mean like “Ladysmith Black Mambazo?”

“Nooooo!” She laughed again. “Like Kenny Chesney, Randy Travis, Reba McEntire?”

“Wait a minute…you mean to say that Africans listen to American County Music?”

“See what I’m saying about Americans….Yes, we Africans love the American Country Music. In fact, Dolly Parton… She is very big over there.

“Dolly Parton is very big everywhere.” I said.

This took a minute to register, and then she let out a big hearty laugh.

“Oh… you are bad man.. Mr. Mc Donuff.”

“Okay, I said. “When you Africans are drinking Guinness and listening to Dolly Parton, are you usually naked and sitting around a campfire?

“What! She laughed again. “Where do you Americans get these crazy ideas?

I was going to tell her about Sister Adele, 5th grade and the National Geographic pictorials, but she had shattered enough myths for one day and I moved onto the next passenger.

-The next passenger was a woman, Bible in hand, holding a revival meeting in the head car. She shouted that we were all fornicators who needed to be saved from are sinful ways. She implored Jesus’ name several times, saying that the wages of sin were heavy and we would all suffer eternal damnation and perish in the fires of Hell. She testified that her husband was in captivity (i.e. jail) because of his lust and fornication. I was about to step in at this point, but the woman was on a roll. Besides, I remembered her from a month earlier when she sang gospel songs all the way from Bridgeport to Waterbury. I recall that I interrupted her during a rousing version of “Amazing Grace” and asked her “pipe down.” She did momentarily, but then raised her palms, stared up into the fluorescent lights and broke out into “Nearer to Thee” as a tear rolled down her cheek.

Sometimes it’s easier to walk away.


“Yo, conductor…remember me?”

I didn’t at first.

“Yeah man I’m the guy with the pregnant wife from last week.”

“Oh yeah,” I said, “How are things going?”

“Not so good. We lost the baby.”

“Oh, I’m very sorry.”

“Yeah so am I.” His eyes now filled with tears.

“Well…you can always try again.”

He wiped a tear from his cheek with the back of his hand, then said, “Yeah, I’m good at the trying part.”

Grief counseling…just another service we Metro North conductors provide.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dominick Dunne 1925-2009

News came yesterday of the death of bestselling author Dominick Dunne. He was of 83.

Mr. Dunne had been an occasional passenger on my train, and I wrote about him back in May of 2006. Here's the link:

We've lost two of my favorite writers over the past couple of months; first "Angela's Ashes" author Frank McCourt, now Mr. Dunne. I was fortunate enough to have met both of these fine gentleman. I'm sure St. Peter is being charmed by these two wonderful story tellers.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Trespasser Gone Wild and Ashleigh

If you happened to be listening to the railroad radio channel at 8PM on 08/13/09, this is what you would have heard:

Train 1107: Metro North train 1107 to Central District G...

Rail Traffic Controller: District G to called?

Yes sir. I just spotted two trespassers by the side of the tracks in the vicinity of Catenary 874...just west of Milford station. Over...

You got a description. Over...

Two Caucasians, maybe in their 20's. One male. One female...blond...and she's topless. Over...

She's what? Over...

Yeah, I just got a quick glimpse...but she appears to be topless. Over...

Roger. I guess today's your lucky day.

Train 1107 was just two trains ahead of mine and we were rapidly approaching caternary 874. "Did you hear that transmission?" I asked my engineer over the PA. Then..

Central to train 1591 (the train immediately ahead of mine).

Metro North 1591 to G...go ahead. Over...

Be on the look out for two trespassers in the vicinity of cat 874. One male. One blond-topless female. Over...

Rogggger! (chuckles)

And let me know what you see. Over...(I've never heard an RTC express such interest in a trespasser before.)

(ha! ha!) Train 1591 to Central G. Over...

Go ahead 1591. Over...

Yeah...they're still there...caternary 874. She flashed me just as we passed.

Roger. Central district G to the train 1109 (my train). Be on the look out for trespassers in the area caternary 874. One male Caucasian. One female Caucasian, blond- topless.

"I'm glad he cleared that up." I said to my engineer. "I wouldn't want to confuse this topless woman with a brunette, or African American one."

Safety is always my first priority, so I positioned myself at the barrell end door window at the front of the train...uh, for safety sake...yeah, that's it...for safety sake. "Caternary 877-876-875" I was counting down. My heavy breathing fogged up the window and I had to wipe the condensation from the glass. "Here we are ...caternary 874 and...and...and...nothin'.

Train 1109 to Central G. There are no trespassers in the area. Just two Metro North trucks.

I turned to my engineer and asked, "since when does the track department chase trespassers off of the right of way?"


After a month of service disruption, the Waterbury train returned to service, and as if to welcome me back, the very first customer I encountered paid the $2.25 fare with 225 pennies.


I was boarding the train in Grand Central, when a woman who looked exactly like former MSNBC reporter Ashleigh Banfield ran past me. A few years back, the bespectacled Banfield was the hot rising celebrity journalist, and her reports were all over the cable news channels. But then she criticized NBC and ticked off the studio brass. They fired her, and now she works for Court TV (Tru TV).

When I collected the woman's ticket, I thought that I was mistaken. Now, up close, this woman looked too young and blond to be Asleigh..

"For a minute there, I thought you were Ashleigh Banfield." I said.

"Yeah," she said. "I've heard that before."

"But you're much younger."

"Bless you." She said.

The woman's husband was sitting next to her, he looked up, laughed and said, "You're kidding...right? This is Ashleigh."

"Wow. You're younger than you look on TV."

"Well," she said. "I like to tell people that I'm 50 ( she's 41), then they think I look great for my age."

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Maybe Obama will invite me over for a root beer (I don't drink)

This whole Henry Louis Gates/Officer James Crowley controversy has got me thinking about two incidents that happened to me several years back.

Some 18 years ago, I was collecting tickets on an early morning train when I came upon a bench/row where all three seats were occupied by passengers. Being observant, I noticed that I had previously placed two seat checks in front of two of the passengers here. This meant that there was a recent arrival and someone owed me a ticket. I used logic and assumed that the gentleman sitting on the aisle was the last to enter the row...therefore, he was the one who owed me the fare.

"Tickets please!" I addressed the well dressed African-American businessman in the aisle seat. He ignored me.

"Excuse me sir...can I get your ticket please."

The man slowly folded his newspaper and looked up at me with daggers in his eyes and smoke coming out of his ears.

"Let me ask you something conductor...There's three of us sitting here." He pointed to his two seatmates, a white woman sandwiched next to him, and a white man whose face was crammed against the window. "And yet... you only ask ME for a ticket."

I'm a little slow, especially at 6AM, and I wasn't catching his drift. The woman seated in the middle seat nervously rummaged through her pocketbook and handed me her ticket.

"That's right," he repeated, now knowing he had an audience. "There's three of us sitting here...and yet you only ask ME for a ticket. Hmmmm....Why is that???"

I finally realized that he was accusing me of racial profiling.

"Sir." I felt insulted. "I asked you, because you're on the aisle and I assumed that you must have been the last to enter the row."

"Yeah," he said. "You and I BOTH know what you assumed." With a snap of his wrist, he unfolded his newspaper and continued reading.

I stood there hurt, stunned and amazed and I didn't know what to say next. I finally blurted out... "You're paranoid" and I walked away.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that racial profiling doesn't exist or that it isn't a major problem in the minority community. I'm just saying that sometimes...sometimes...sometimes a guy is just trying to do his job.

The second incident happened over 20 years ago. It's a tale about my short lived life of crime. I've covered the story before on these pages, so instead of repeating myself, I'll give you the link from my archives:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Car plunges onto tracks in New Rochelle

Thanks for the link Marcellus.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Helter Skelter

It’s Friday afternoon and I’m standing outside a Connecticut Transit bus in Waterbury. A little guy who’s covered in paint, maybe 60-years old, approaches me. He looks a lot like mass-murderer Charles Manson.

“Yo dude!” He says. When’s the next train to Derby?”

“There is no train,” I explain. “They’re doing track work on the line. You’ll have to take this bus.”

He takes a puff of his cigarette, chokes back his alcohol tinged breath and asks, “Yeah…but when’s the next train to Derby?”

“Oh…sometime in mid-August” I say.

He exhales, blows smoke in my face and says, “Yeah…but really, when’s the next train?”

We went on like this for several minutes till I finally lost my patience, raised my voice and said, “Listen…either get on the bus or stay here.”

Charlie doesn’t like my attitude, but he finally puts out his cigarette and climbs on the bus/train. He sits down next to me, and the smell of smoke and stale beer permeates the air. His cell phone rings:

“Yeah…I’m on my way,” he yells into the phone. “I’ll be there in …” He turns and asks, “how long till Derby?”

“About half an hour.”

Yeah… I’m on my way…I’ll be there in half an hour.”

Charlie pushes the end button on his phone, apologizes, and explains that he’s a painting contractor and his crew is working on a house in Derby. He complains that they’re dogging him, since they’re only painting a five room house…and it’s taken almost three weeks… and they’re still not done. He says that all of the crewmembers are homeless, but he’s worked out a deal with the homeowner that allows them to stay in the house- free of charge- while they’re doing their work.

“No wonder it’s taking so long,” I say. “If I had that deal…I’d be painting with a toothbrush.”

“Yeah, I know” says Charlie, “But three weeks is long enough. I need to get paid. So today… I’m paying them a little surprise visit and I'm gonna see what's up.”

Charlie’s phone rings again: “Yeah…don’t get nervous…I’ll be there in like 15 minutes.”

“Sorry about that,” Charlie says, “but the crew’s picking me up at the station, and they’re a little nervous.”

“That’s not much of a surprise visit,” I say.

“Yeah…well” he stammers. “I have to make do. The cops took my license a few months back. All because of a burned out tail light.”

I sit there waiting for part two to this statement. Something like:

“All because of a burned out tail light …and a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit.”


“All because of a burned out tail light…and a dead body in the trunk.

But no part two is offered, and I’m afraid to ask any more questions. Instead I imagine different contractors plying their trade from a Connecticut Transit bus…maybe a mason storing bricks in the overhead rack…a carpenter piling 2x4’s in the aisle…an electrician with romex wire wrapped around one arm while pulling the stop cord with the other.

I awaken from my day dream and say, “It must be hard to be a painting contractor, and have to rely on public transportation. I mean, what if you were a plumber? Where would you put your pipes?”

Charlie ignores me and his phone rings again. “Jesus Christ!” He shouts.

“Yeah…I’ll be there in like five minutes. Don’t forget to caulk the nail holes on the molding. Just take a wet a rag and wipe off the excess.”

Ten minutes later we pull into Derby Station where Charlie’s minions are anxiously awaiting his arrival. They seem happy to see him…maybe a little too happy. A bearded man greets him with an “I’m not worthy” bow, while a braless woman bounds out of an green Chevy van with a ladders on top. She plants a big wet kiss on his mouth.

I check their foreheads for swastikas.

Charlie’s “family “jubilantly jumps into the van, and it recklessly swerves in front of our bus. It’s then I notice…a tail light is burned out.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The month in review

6/20-Train 6362-

So this guy approaches me as I’m making my pre-departure announcements on a jam-packed Stamford local train in Grand Central. He complains that the train is crowded, and says that a woman in the next car has packages on the only available seat on the train. He says that he politely asked her to remove her belongings, but she patently refused. I tell him that I’ll talk to her, and he follows as I walk to the next car to confront an attractive, nicely dressed, Asian woman.

“Excuse me ma’am… but this gentleman would like to sit here and you’re bags are on the seat. Can you please remove them?”

She’s looks out the window and pretends she doesn’t hear me. Again I repeat my request.

“Hello…Can you please remove your bags?”

“No,” she says finally. “I’m tired and I need my bags here.”

“We’re all tired ma’am…Especially this gentleman.” I point to my left… “That’s why he wants to sit down.”

“I’m sure he can find a seat elsewhere.” She says defiantly.

Surrounding passengers overhear our conversation and they look astounded by this woman’s attitude.

“Listen,” I say. “This gentleman wants to sit down…and if you’re not willing to remove your bags, I’m going to charge you for the obstructed seat. And… if you refuse to pay… I’ll call for the police and have you removed from the train.”

With that the woman snatches her bags off the seat, turns, glares at me and says: “You’re only picking on me cause I’m Asian.”

The surrounding passengers break out into laughter. “Oh give me a break!” Says an Asian woman in a nearby row.

“Is that the best you got?” I ask.

“Yep!” She says sheepishly, now realizing that she may have overplayed her hand by pulling the race card.

With that, the male passenger plops down in his seat, and the car breaks out in thunderous applause.

6/25-5:51PM-Train 1464- Grand Central-Two minutes before departure time:

Ring-Ring-Ring! I answer my cell phone:

Me: Hello!

Wife: Channel 8 just came on with a special report, saying that Michael Jackson has died of a heart attack.

Me: No way!

Wife: There are conflicting reports…but channel 8 says he’s dead.

Me: Wow!

I grew up listening to Michael and I’m truly stunned. His song catalog begins playing in my head.

It’s now 5:53PM, leaving time. I make my final announcement, and look out over the unsuspecting passengers, none of them knowing that the world has changed forever. I briefly think of sharing the news over the public address system; a news bulletin of sorts…. hot of the presses. I eventually think better of it, deeming it too unprofessional. But still, I have hot news and I feel an obligation to share it…even if I have to use non-sequiturs.

“Tickets Please!” I shout. “Thank you…Thank you…Hey buddy, did you know that Michael Jackson just died?”

“That will be $3.00 extra ma’am…and did you hear that Michael Jackson just passed away?”

“Really?” They say. “Where? When? How?”

I puff out my chest and say thing like, “Well I don’t have all the details, but…”

Other passengers peer over their newspapers… “Who died?” They ask looking shocked.

“Michael Jackson” I answer proudly, now shaking my mournful head for added effect. “A real tragedy...and so young.”

I’m starting to take perverse pleasure in sharing this shocking news.

As I progress up the aisle, passengers begin getting tweets, texts and emails from family and friends telling them of Jackson's untimely death. Others have discovered the news on their laptops through websites like TMZ and Perez Hilton. The further I progress up the aisle, the staler my news gets.

Damned technology!

07/02/09- train 1464:

My train is deadheading (no passengers) from South Norwalk to Bridgeport when we get a call from the rail traffic controller in New York. He asks us to bring our train to a safe stop and wants my engineer and I to inspect our equipment for evidence of a “possible hit.”

Apparently, a homeless man has just been found decapitated under the platform at South Norwalk Train Station and the RTC believes that our train may have hit him. We were one of the last trains through the area and it’s possible that we could have hit someone and didn't even notice.

After taking a hold on the adjoining track, we inspect the engine and brake shoes for blood, hair, or other body matter. Luckily, we find nothing but a starling with its feathers flattened against the engine’s air hoses. I climb back on our train, radio in hand, and hear the train that's immediately behind us report “hit evidence” on their equipment.

Five minutes later, I back my train out to Jenkins Curve. Here the tracks are elevated and overlook the outfield of Harbor Yard Ballpark in Bridgeport. Baseball great Tommy John manages The Bridgeport Bluefish minor league baseball team. It’s the 7th inning stretch and I watch as three

grown men dressed as hot dogs race down the first base line.

One minute I’m looking for body parts…the next I’m watching racing weenies.

I have a strange job.

7/09/09-train 1464-

We’ve just left Grand Central and I’m collecting tickets, when a businesswoman asks if I’ve met “the stewardess” yet. “Stewardess?” I ask.

“Oh…you’ll see,” she warns. "She’s one car up.”

I look forward and through the window I see a short, impish looking, middle-aged woman with dyed blond hair. She’s standing in the aisle and all passenger eyes are turned toward her. She turns, spots me, and comes racing back.

“Hey darlin” she says. “What are you called?”

“I’m the conductor…Can I help you?”

“What’s that on your face?” She asks, then rubs my cheek with a manicured fingernail.

“A bit of poison ivy,” I say.

“Bullshit!” She screams. Startled, I jump back. "You cut yourself shaving."

She then shifted gears and went in a whole different direction:

“I’ll have you know that I’m a porn actress, and I was in the movie “One Night in Paris” and I made $100,000. All my friends here (she points to the passengers), they was in the movie too. These woman, they’re jealous cause they only made $1000 and the men…they did it for free.”


“Yep…and I can see you’re jealous too. Now let me see your pecker…go on …whip it out.”

“No ma’am,” I say. “I think you need to take a seat and stop bothering people.”

“You can’t tell me what to do.”

“Where you going today?” I ask.


“Well then you’re on the wrong train.”

“Really?” She seems surprised.

She then becomes distracted, and starts staring at a pretty young lady who is one of my regular passengers.

“Hey,” she says, “You see that blond bitch over there…the one with the sunglasses on top of her head.”

“Yeah.” I say playing along.

“Those are my sunglasses and that bitch stole ‘em from me.”

With that, she goes racing toward the woman and starts screaming at her. “Those are MY sunglasses…give ‘em back, bitch.” The girl looks terrified…and I realize that this woman is not only a danger to herself but others as well. I get on the radio.

Me: Metro North train 1470 to district E. I have a mentally disturbed woman on board and I’m going to need police assistance.

RTC: Standby.

While I’m waiting for the RTC to respond, a businessman approaches and says that earlier, the woman was lifting her shirt and exposing herself to all the male passengers.

RTC: There are no police in the area… The closest cops are in Stamford.

(Stamford was 15 minutes away)

Me: Okay…I guess it’ll have to be Stamford.

The woman finds her sunglasses in her pocket, and apologizes to the blond bitch. She then moves to a group of male passengers who are standing in the vestibule area She yanks a Budweiser from one guy’s hand, chugs it, and throws the empty can over her head…narrowly missing a pregnant woman and showering surrounding passengers in beer foam.

“Hey! Stop that.” I demand.

“F*&K YOU!” She says.

Next she finds an abandoned can of Red Bull. Chugs it, throws it to the floor and crushes it below her foot. She then spits on the floor and smears the yellowish-green puddle with the sole of her shoe.

“Please don’t spit.” I say.

“Don’t worry,” she says. “ I ain’t got no AIDS.”

She then begins ripping the pull cord from a windbreaker that is wrapped around her waist.

“Gordie Howe is my father.” She says, apropos of nothing.

She takes the cord and begins wrapping it around her waist like a belt.

“Gordie Howe the hockey player?” I ask.

“Oh he can’t play hockey for shiiiittt!”

Suddenly, she runs to the head car of the train and I follow close by. “Hey everybody,” she shouts. “This prick is stalking me.”

She stops her march, turns and announces “I am a porn actress and I was in the movie One Night in Paris. I earned $100,000 for my performance. She points to a college-aged girl who was sitting near by:

”You was in the movie too, weren’t ya…tell ‘em.” She points at me. “Don’t be shy…tell ‘em.”

The girl seems nervous, and nods her head in agreement.

“Ha! Told ya.” She looks vindicated.

“By the way…did I tell you that Gordie Howe is my husband?”

“I thought you said he was your father?”

“Oh…never mind.”

My new friend tugs at the cord she’s fashioned around her waist and announces:
“Folks…I’m gonna strip for ya now.” She then removes her belt and lifts her t-shirt exposing her drooping breasts. Luckily, we’re pulling into Stamford and four MTA police officers are waiting on the platform. They interrupt her performance, each grabbing an arm and removing her from the train without incident. We pull out of the station and I watch as an EMT wheels her stretcher down the platform.

And how was your month at work?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Train vs. Tornado

My bet was on the train...boy was I wrong.

Saturday, July 04, 2009


In December of 1990, my wife and I purchased a brand new 1991 Acura Integra. It was one of the best purchases we ever made.

Yesterday the ol' Acura hit a new milestone and I captured it on my cellphone video camera (it was filmed on a deserted country road.) Please excuse the wind tunnel noise you hear, but the car windows were open since the air conditioning compressor is shot. I thought about playing "Star and Stripes Forever" in the background as the odometer turned (for dramatic effect) but then I remembered that the radio/cassette player got fried last year when I spilled a cup of Diet Coke all over the dashboard. The car also has a cracked windshield and plenty of dents and dings, and my daughters refuse to be seen in it. But hey... it's paid for.

My friend Frank always criticizes me for buying Japanese cars. He calls me "unpatriotic" and "un-American " and he says that I drive a "rice burner." Well Frank, when Detroit starts making cars as reliable as Honda and Toyota...I'll be happy to buy one.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Life on the Waterbury Branch

During the 19th and 20th centuries, the Naugatuck River Valley was one of the main manufacturing communities of New England. Brick factories dotted the landscape and straddled the banks of the twisting Naugatuck River. The Waterbury Branch of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad weaved the river like a ribbon and supported the area's burgeoning manufacturing base. The 28 mile long line provided raw materials for the brass, plastic, latex and rubber plants that lay between Bridgeport and Waterbury.

Sometime during the 1970's the valley's factories slowly began to disappear. Most relocated overseas or "down south" where labor and operating costs were much cheaper. The final death knell came with the explosion of the Sponge Rubber Products Plant in Shelton in 1975. The fire that ensued is one of the largest arson fires in U.S. history. Thousands of valley residents lost their jobs and much of the valley became a economic wasteland.

The once mighty freight trains that rumbled up and down the Waterbury Branch have now been replaced with sparse commuter service provided by Metro North Railroad. This is where I come in; for the past couple of months I've been working the night shift on the Waterbury line. Here's a portion of my conductor's log:

6/1: A distraught woman boards the train in Seymour wreaking of booze. Her skin is pale white but her eyes are vibrant red and bloodshot. She tells me that her boyfriend just threw her out of the house and she needs to get to her sister's place in Naugatuck. I say "no problem" and tell her that I can bill her for the fare. I hand her the billing pad book and she sits down. She begins sobbing uncontrollably, so much so, she can't fill the billing form out. I take the pad from her shaking hands and I begin filling the form out. I ask for her name and address, but instead she gives me her life story.

She says her name is Penny and she's 46 years old. She has a son and two daughters but they're all crack-heads. The daughters each have two children, but the state has taken the babies away from them. She goes on and on like this for ten minutes until we reach Naugatuck (her stop). As she gets off the train gently touches my hand and thanks me for understanding and the free ride. I look down at the blank pad in my hands and realize that I've been duped.


6/2: When we pull into Waterbury Station I notice an older African American gentleman waiting on the platform. I assume he's there to pick up a passenger, but instead he walks up to me and begins telling me a tale of woe. He says he just got a call from the Torrington police department and they have his son locked up. He says he needs gas money to drive up to Torrington to bail him out.

" I know my son is wrong," he says. "But I have an empty gas tank and I got to get up there ."

I reluctantly reach into my pocket and give him a five dollar bill. He looks down at the bill in disappointment. His face brightens when he sees my engineer climbing down from the locomotive. Screaming over the engine's roar he repeats his well rehearsed story and again pleads for "gas money." My engineer looks him square in the eye... and tells him to "get lost".

Why didn't I think of that?

6/3: There's a methadone clinic in Bridgeport and several of their patients travel from Waterbury to Bridgeport to get their daily fix. Later in the day these pale and lethargic patients return to Waterbury. I notice that one of the patients, a woman with Don King hair, is staring at me. It isn't till I collect her ticket that I find out why..

"Baby" says the woman. "You got you-self a cute little mouth."

"My mouth isn't really little" I say. "It's just that I have no lips...I'm lipless."

"Ohh baby...You lucky."

"Well, I guess I do save on Chapstick."
6/5: Penny is standing at Seymour Station again. She gives me that "deer caught in the headlights" look, and she cautiously says that she doesn't have any money again. I begin to reject her... but she starts to cry. "Okay," I say, "get on." Once aboard her tears begin to dry and she apologizes for all the drama. She says she suffers from depression, but can't take anti-depressants because they make her suicidal.

"A few months back," she says, "I laid down on the tracks, but someone saw me and called the cops."

I try to counsel and tell her to go see a doctor and find the right meds. She admits that she's a horrible alcoholic and that she'd have to quit booze in order to take anti-depressants. She says her doctor told her that liver is shutting down and if she doesn't stop drinking...she'll soon be dead. It's hard to tell if this news makes her happy or sad.

I tell her it doesn't have to be that way and she should go into rehab.

Penny says that she used to be a crackhead, but she quit cold turkey. It happened after she saw her drug dealer's luxury condo. "My habit paid for that condo" she says. "It really pissed me I quit...just like that."

6/5: I walk to the north end of the train in Waterbury to perform a brake test before departure. It's pitch black out and I use a flashlight to find my way. The path is littered with old brake shoes and railroad ties, so I have to be very careful and watch my step. Suddenly, I hear a loud grumble to my right. I quickly spin and the flashlight beam catches three homeless guys sleeping alongside the track.

The Waterbury Branch is beginning to depress me.

6/8: A young man hands me his prison release papers and asks me to bill him for the $2.25 fare. It seems that most of the males up here are somehow involved with the criminal justice system. They've either just been released from jail, or they're on their way to visit their probation officer. They all seem to be short money, and the fare is only $2.25.

Former Governor John Rowland once said that it would be cheaper to buy all the commuters on the Waterbury Branch their own minivan than to continue funding it's operation. I'm beginning to think he was right.
6/9: I've seen a lot of "quick turners" on this line. Young guys travel south to Bridgeport then, 20 minutes later, return to Waterbury. Just long enough to make a transaction with their dealer.

6/10: A woman in a motorized wheel chair boards the train in Bridgeport and asks me to plug her chair's battery into the AC outlet. I do this, but find that the electrical outlets are dead in that car. I then check the electrical cabinet and find that someone has broken the circuit breaker that feeds juice to the outlet. I tell the woman about my findings and she begins cursing me out. She says that she has to drive herself home and she "sure ain't gonna push herself up the hills of Waterbury." She tells me that I'd better figure something out. I try to wheel her to another car, but the chair is too wide for the aisle, instead I help lift her out of her chair and place her in a seat. I then disassemble her chair and roll it to another car, reassemble it and plug it into an electrical outlet. Another passenger tries to help me, but she yells at him when he turns the wheel chair seat in the wrong direction. Just another example of "No good deed goes unpunished."

I'm one of the most absent-minded guys around and I'm forever forgetting to charge my cell phone and hand held radio battery, but if my mobility depended on it...I'm pretty sure my wheel chair battery would be charged.

6/9: Penny and a younger woman are running for the train in Seymour. Penny is hyperventilating and sobbing uncontrollably. The younger woman, one of her daughters it turns out, tries to calm her down. Penny's hands are shaking as she takes a prescription tablet from a brown bottle in her purse. She pops an anti-anxiety pill and takes a swig from a water bottle. She says she spent all day in court with her 19 year old son who has been arrested on 3rd degree burglary charges. She spent her last $5 on a Subway sandwich and neither she nor her daughter have the fare.
6/10: The methadone patient with the Don King hair is back. We reach Waterbury and she fails to get off the train. She says it's too cold out and asks if she can stay on the train and go back to Bridgeport. I tell her it's the last train of the night and that we don't go back to Bridgeport, unfortunately she has to get off. "But it's cold out there" she says. I tell her that I'm sorry, but we have to yard the train in New Haven.

After she leaves the train I go into the garage at the Waterbury Republican newspaper building and call the rail traffic controller in New York for my train orders. I return to the train some 10 minutes later and find "Don King" sleeping in the dark against the side the building.

On the way back to New Haven I stand in the engineer's cab, looking out the front window at a turbulent Naugatuck River. A hard rain begins to fall and my thoughts turn to Don King huddled against the building. The train's headlight catches a lone fawn in the distance. "Run Bambi..Run!" I shout, but Bambi doesn't hear me, and steps right into the gauge of the rail. I close my eyes and hear the crush of bones beneath my feet...It makes me think of Penny.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Vote for Dan...again!

Yes's that time of year again. The time of year when I ask you to go over to the Animation Magazine webpage, and vote for my nephew Dan Contois and his latest animated cartoon pitch idea:

A note from Dan:

So here is where I can use your help. This year my submission is titled "Harold and the Walrus." It is about a boy and his walrus who find themselves in over their heads when they inherit a run-down aquarium and try to return it to its former glory. You can see my submission along with many others by clicking on the web address below. Take a look at it, and if you like what you see I sure would appreciate your vote. Every vote counts!
Voting ends 6/26/09.
Thank you for your time and your vote!


Somehow...and don't ask me how, Dan did not win last years contest with "ROCKET" (We wuz robbed!!!) but, in partial thanks to you, he did come in second place in the online voting.

I really don't understand why Dan hasn't won this contest yet, and I may be a little partial because he is my nephew... but really, look at his amazing artwork. Read his clever and creative story lines. Wouldn't you want to watch cartoons like these. Just look at this pitch from two years ago:

For all that is right in America...for Mom, hot dogs, apple pie, Chevrolet (okay, skip Chevrolet). I urge you to go over to Animation Magazine and Vote for Dan and "Harold and the Walrus."

May God bless.

P.S. Dan, if you win, I want a piece of the Harold and the Walrus merchandising. Just think of it...Harold and the Walrus action figures. Harold and the Walrus lunch boxes. Harold and the Walrus Happy Meals. Harold and the Walrus bed spreads. etc. etc. etc. Then maybe I can quit the railroad and update this blog on a regular basis.

***Update...Voting results are in and unfortunately Dan did not win this year's "Pitch Party". He did, however, come in third in the online voting poll. Dan plans on pursuing his pitch ideas to the networks. There's always next year.

The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson 06/18/09

Oh yeah... Well we can't understand Scots either!

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Glory Days of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad

Grab a bag of popcorn, a box of Junior Mints, and step into yesteryear.

My sister Sheila sent me this newsreel video that dates back to the 1940's. Look for New Haven's Union Station in the background.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A cautionary tale of how a teddy bear killed my grandfather...and eventually led to my existence.

A teddy bear killed my least that's the story I was told.
The truth is a little more complicated.

It was an unseasonably cold evening in early October, 1918 when Emmett McDonough (my grandfather) stood before his orchestra at a Wallingford, Connecticut dance hall for his clarinet solo. He was well known in the area as a musical virtuoso and everyone was eager to hear him play. The crowd was in especially good spirits that night, since newspaper headlines shouted that World War I would soon be at an end.

A group of teen-aged girls began to foxtrot in front of the bandstand and one girl (I'll call her Mary) began tossing a teddy bear to her friends. Teddy bears were all the rage in 1918, so it was no surprise that she'd bring one to a dance. After several tosses, Mary lost her grip and the bear tumbled airborne toward the bandstand. Emmett, now finishing his solo, was hit square in the face. He picked up the teddy bear and handed it back to young Mary.

Just two days after the dance Emmett began to cough and felt a general malaise. By mid-week he was bedridden. Jimmy, his three year old son, was sent to stay with relatives. Emmett's wife Nellie (my grandmother) could do little more than drape him with cold compresses and put Vick's VapoRub on his chest (yes, it was around then). By week's end he'd taken a turn for the worse.

The flu was now wide spread and people were dropping left and right. Young Mary, the teen-aged teddy bear owner, was one such victim. Speculation says that Mary must have sneezed into her teddy bear's fur, leaving droplets of live virus that my grandfather inhaled.

*The Spanish Influenza started as an avian virus which spread from bird to man, then horribly mutated and spread from human to human. It was an especially virulent strain. The dead included not only the elderly and infants but also robust adults in the prime of life. It's estimated that this pandemic killed 675,000 in the United States and as many as 100 million world-wide.

The country was now in panic mode, and all of the area hospitals were full. Sister Winifred, my grandmother's sister, was a nurse/nun at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford and was able to pull some strings to get Emmett admitted. It was too late though, by now his lungs had filled with fluid and he was essentially drowning. He died from pneumonia on October 10th 1918. He had just celebrated his 29th birthday.

Nellie never remarried, which left their son Jimmy (my father) an only child. Without any substantial means of support, they shuffled from house to house living with a series of Nellie's sisters and family in Wallingford. My father would later say that it was a lonely existence and that he hated being an only child. That, in part, is why he had nine children. The youngest being me.

So when you think about it, I guess I owe my existence to...a teddy bear.

*New York Times -04/28/09

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Paris Hilton

As all my fellow conductors know, my alter ego is "The Conductor to the Stars"; A near legendary railroad phenom, with an uncanny knack for spotting rail- riding celebrities. Because of this, coworkers are eager to share anecdotal stories of their brushes with fame with me. Mark and Bob, two Danbury Branch conductors, told me a whopper of a story in Grand Central last night:

"Hey Conductor to the Stars" Bob yelled from the platform on track 16. "You're not going to believe who we had on train Friday night."

I've been in a big celebrity sighting drought lately, and I felt an immediate pang of jealousy.

"I assume it was a celebrity?"

"A BIG celebrity," Mark said.

I didn't have time to play 20 questions, so I cut to the chase.

"Okay...Who was it?"

Mark and Bob shouted in unison:

"Paris Hilton!"

"NO WAY!" I yelled back. Now I was really jealous.

"Not only that," Mark said. "But she didn't have any money and I had to bill her,"(now he paused for dramatic effect,) "and then I had the cops take her off the train in Stamford."

"Get out of here," I said incredulously.

"No really," Bob said.

Bob then had Mark show me the "pink slip"(a billing form used when passengers have neither ticket or money). Sure enough, there on the form was written:

Name: Paris Hilton

Address: 200 Main St.

City: Hyannis, Ma 02530

Paris's signature was emblazoned across the bottom in big girlish loops. She'd even placed hearts over the "i" in Paris and Hilton.

"That's HOT!" I said, doing my best Paris Hilton impression.

'Not really," Mark said. He then 'fessed up' saying the story was only partially true. As it turns out, truth was much sadder than fiction:

"I was collecting tickets on my train, when I came across an old white haired lady, who was about 70 years old. I asked for her ticket, but she said she didn't have time to buy one, and that she didn't have any money."

"No problem," Mark said while handing her a pink slip, "Do you have any form of identification?"

The woman reached into her over sized purse and pulled out a clear laminated ID pouch. In the lower right hand corner was a photo of Paris Hilton lounging in a skin tight dress. In the middle of the pouch was an aluminum lid from a Jello pudding container. This lid was in place of an official seal or hologram.

"The woman looked clean," Mark said. "I thought she was putting me on."

When the woman finished filling out the pink slip, she handed it to Mark.

"M'am," Mark questioned patiently. "You're telling me that your name is
Paris Hilton?"

"Yes!" The old woman answered matter of factly.

"THE Paris Hilton?"


(surrounding passengers began to roll their eyes.)

"And this is your picture on the ID?"

"Yes!" She was starting to get annoyed. "I used to be a model."

There were a few moments of uncomfortable silence then, and Mark and Paris stared at each other down.

"Okay Paris," Mark finally said. "I'm going to have the police talk to you in Stamford."(Mark was concerned about the woman's mental stability and thought that maybe she was suffering from Alzheimer's or dementia.)

"Is it because I'm Jewish?" The woman asked. "Is that what this is all about?"

Mark said that he called the rail traffic controller and asked for police assistance. He explained that he had an old woman on board who claimed to be Paris Hilton and unless the hard partying had finally caught up with her...the last he knew, Paris Hilton didn't look like a 70 year old woman.

When the train arrived in Stamford, two MTA police officers were waiting.

"Is there a problem officers?" Paris asked.

"We'd just like to speak with you m'am. Maybe get your name and address."

"I already told the conductor...My name is Paris....Paris Hilton."

"Okay m'am...Can you please come with us?"

The officers each grabbed an arm and escorted Paris off the train.

Before stepping on the platform, Paris turned around and addressed the
entire car:

"See ya later...bitches!"

(Okay, I made that last part up...but wouldn't that have been a great exit line?)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Centraal Station-Antwerp, Belgium

Found this video on Sandi Kahn Shelton's blog (which I highly recommend).

How long before this breaks out in Grand Central?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

What we have here...Is a failure to communicate

"Conductor," said the woman in a thick southern drawl, "Could ya' please tell me when we get to Grand Central? I can't make heads nor tails of that man on the loud speaker."

"That Man!" I said indignantly. THAT MAN...happens to be ME."

The woman and her four friends burst out laughing. "No it ain't" one of the women said (I guess she thought I was teasing).

"No, really." I said.

I was a little hurt since I pride myself on my clear and concise announcements. Passengers compliment me all the time.

"Sorry Darlin," another said, "But we're visitin' from Alabama and we can't understand a lick of what you was sayin'."

"Would it help if I slowed my speech?" I asked.

They nodded their heads in agreement.

"Maybe make the announcements in a s-l-o-w southern drawl?"

"Go fer it!" They said.

The next station stop was rapidly approaching. I quickly raced to the cab and made this announcement:

"This here," I drawled, trying to sound like the prison warden in Cool Hand Luke. "This Mt. V-e-r-n-o-n East."

I heard a loud cheer come from the other end of the car. Looking down the aisle, I could see my new friends giving me the thumbs up sign.

"The next station stop," I took a pregnant pause here..."The next stash-i-u-n is fixin' to be Fordham."

The cheers were even louder now and they were interspersed with guffaws of laughter.

They were egging me on now. After Fordham :

" I a-reckon that Harlem 125th Street is gonna be next."

They were actually clapping now... wavin' and a hootin' and a hollerin'.

One of the woman waved me over. "Darlin, where'd ya learn to talk like that? I mean ....Fixin'?"

"We watch a lot of 'Reba' reruns in my house." I said matter of factly.

"Reba!" That's our favorite show. (no surprise there)

We were almost to Grand Central when one of the ladies thanked me for giving them a good laugh. Another said I made their night. I thanked them as well, saying they were good sports. They could have just as easily been offended.

"So. You think we Yankees speak too fast?" I asked.

They all nodded their heads in agreement.

"Then you should be happy that you didn't have a New York conductor. I'm from Connecticut, and even I can't understand them."

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Biohazards Please!

"Sorry dude!" Said the passenger, now showing me his thumb which was dripping with blood. "I sliced it at work today and it won't stop bleeding." I looked down at the ticket he'd just handed me, still not comprehending his apology. There, between my index finger and thumb, lay a crimson colored piece of paper. It was the size and shape of a powder blue Metro North ticket, but streaks of plasma had left it unrecognizable.

"Where are you going today?" I asked curtly, not trying to mask my annoyance.

"New Rochelle." He answered with a shrug of his shoulders.

"Ugggh!" I grumbled in disgust.
I ran for the bottle of Purell hand sanitizer that I keep in my railroad bag and squirted several droplets into my palms. While vigorously rubbing my hands together, I thought about Bill, a germaphobic coworker who collects tickets in latex gloves, a practice I once thought of as eccentric, but now think of as ingenious.

I wish I could say that this disgusting episode was unique, but I can't. For example; I frequently catch passengers holding tickets in their mouths. Sometimes they'll go as far as using them as dental floss, spending the better part of the ride mining molars for forgotten bits of a $200 business lunch and then handing me a ticket covered in spit and shreds of steak tartar.

Frequently, I spy someone coughing or sneezing into their ticket. They act as if nothing untoward has happened and try to pass their mucus covered ticket to me. I'll usually hold up my hand and say something like: "Today's your lucky get to keep that ticket as a souvenir."

A passenger on my morning train passes his time by picking his nose and then eating it. Every morning it's the same thing, picking...eating, eating...picking, picking...eating. Luckily, he has a monthly commutation ticket and there's no hand to ticket contact between us. If he ever forgets his pass...he gets a free ride.

A few years back, on a hot August afternoon, a young man boarded my train in his high school basketball uniform. "Tickets please!" I asked, as I watched droplets of sweat pour down his face. "One minute" he said. He then reached down for his size 13 Air Jordans. I waited as he slowly untied his shoe, took it off and reached inside for his ticket. Once retrieved he proudly displayed a sweat soaked ticket. It drooped in his fingers, looking as soggy and limp as a cornflake left in day old milk. "You can't be serious" I said. "Sorry man," he said with a smile, "Ain't got no pockets."

There is an upside to this story. Because of all this bacterial exposure, I believe I've built up immunity and I rarely get sick. I guess that's what happens when you work in a Petri dish.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A pictorial week in review

I thought I'd share some images from the "My pictures" page of my cell phone. Most of these shots were taken in the past week:

This is Noah (at least I think that's what his name is) and he's a real rail aficionado. Each week his mother brings him to Grand Central to see the choo choos. The jar in his hand is filled with seat checks that he collects from all the conductors. He knows that each conductor has their own punch design and he likes to see all the different shapes they create.

This was the scene outside Grand Central on Tuesday as high school bands and The Orange County Ancient Order of Hibernians lined up on Vanderbilt Avenue, getting ready to march down 5th Avenue.

This is a video I shot of the Westchester County Fire Department's Emerald Society bagpipe band. Sorry for the poor quality, but they were standing outside Grand Central in what used to be the taxi stand. There wasn't much natural light there.

Fairfield, CT- (AP)March 17, 2009
Tragically, "Lucky" the Lucky Charm's leprechaun mascot, was struck and killed by a Metro North train today. MTA police pieced a suicide note together from multi-colored marhsmallow bits found at the scene. Pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars and green clovers, were strewn across the tracks. According to General Mills, Lucky had been despondent and suffering from paranoia. He was recently overheard complaining: "They're always after me Lucky Charms...ALWAYS! ALWAYS! ALWAYS!"
An MTA police sergeant claimed the suicide note was "magically delicious."

I found this fedora in the luggage rack on one of my trains yesterday. I noticed it was my size, so I thought I'd try it on before turning it in to Lost&Found. I'm bald, so there's no chance of cootie transferal. A name was embossed on the leather head band, so if it's yours...and you can prove it, you can pick it up in Grand Central.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mea Culpa

Sorry folks...It seems that I owe my loyal readers an apology for neglecting this blog. You see, a few months back I decided to switch my work schedule from late nights (think drunk...yet entertaining passengers) to early mornings (think sober, curmudgeony passengers). This was quite a difficult transition for me, especially since my body was more accustomed to climbing into bed at 5AM, not climbing out. Add to this that I'm now working 11 hour days-5 days a week, and then usually one (sometimes two) 8 hour shifts on the weekend...
Oh! and the gym...did I mention the gym? My New Year's resolution was to drop 20lbs, so January 1st I joined the New York Sports Club gym in the MetLife building in Manhattan. Every morning I spend the entirety of my swing time on a treadmill or an elliptical machine, headphones plugged in, whilst I pretend that I'm on The Biggest Loser and that Jillian is screaming in my face and telling me to pick up the pace. It must be working, cause I'm down 16 lbs so far. Two weeks ago, I pulled a muscle in my back and I'm beginning to to backslide...maybe I should switch to Bob's team.

At any rate, by the time I get home from work... I'm exhausted. There have been times when I've sat down at the computer, wanting to share a story with you, but inevitably, one or both of my daughters ask for a ride to one of their many high school activities. I've spent so much time chauffeuring these two around, that I now know all the words to latest Taylor Swift CD.

No wonder I'm exhausted.

In early April, we conductors pick new schedule assignments. I'm hoping to go back to the night trains, where the passengers really know how to put on a show. When they do...I'll be sure to write about it.

Friday, January 30, 2009

In the market place

Lately Grand Central has become a marketing Mecca...not that I'm complaining. Just before Christmas, elves were passing out free samples of "Bag O' Coal Popcorn" (chocolate covered popcorn). I got two bags.

Yesterday I picked up a free t-shirt from a women dressed as a big red ball. She was promoting a new ABC television show called "Wipeout" (Super Bowl Edition).

Today I was walking through Grand Central when eight blonde-wigged models slowly marched in formation through the terminal's main concourse. They circled the floor and then each of them struck a pose:

Okay...I get that they're pushing small laptop computers... but which brand? It's still a mystery to me. There were no signs, no t-shirts, no pamphlets, nothing to signify the brand. What a big waste of money! But I guess it's better than paying 3 million dollars for 30 seconds of Super Bowl commercial time.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Say it loud...I'm 47 and I'm proud.

Here is a transcript of the conversation my daughter and I had as I drove she and her sister to school yesterday. It was my birthday.

Daughter: So...Dad...How does it feel to be 47?

Me: Huh?

Daughter: I said...How does it feel to be 47?

Me: Eh???


Me: Oh! Well...aside from the whole hearing's pretty much the same as being 46.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Look to the Cheesecake!

Can we celebrate this historic presidential inauguration with our favorite fatty baked good? YES WE CAN!!! (for 29.95). I was buying a coffee at Junior's in Grand Central today when I spotted these cheesecakes.

You would think that Junior's would also make an "Obama" Black and White cookie:

A black man on a white cheesecake...look to the cheesecake!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Curious Case of John Ruggiero

Good Evening, I'm your host Rod Serling.

Submitted for your approval:

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Case in point: A Mr. John Ruggiero, a middle aged railroad conductor from Connecticut, takes his wife on a Sunday afternoon date to the movies. They have purchased two tickets to see the latest Brad Pitt blockbuster, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"...little do they know...they have two aisle seats in... "The Twilight Zone."

First some background:

"The Curious Case of Bejamin Button" is based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, in which a man ( Benjamin) ages in reverse. He is born old, but for some reason his internal clock runs backward, so the more he ages... the younger he gets.
At times, the movie detours from the main narrative and tells a parallel story of a blind clockmaker, who has lost his son in World War I. The clockmaker's great masterpiece is the newly unveiled clock tower at The New Orlean's Train Station. The clock in the tower runs backward and serves as a memorial to the war dead, whose lives have ended much too soon.

Okay, this is when the story gets weird:

Conductor John really enjoyed the movie and when the lights came up in the theater, he checked his watch to see how long the movie had been. This is what he saw (this video is of John's actual watch):

If you missed it, the second hand is running counter clockwise.

John was understandably freaked out at what he saw. He's had this watch for 10 years and it has never given him a lick of trouble. He plans on bringing it to a watch repair shop for answers.


"Einstein said that time is relative and it could never be totally understood. The same can be said for John Ruggiero and the time he spent in ...The Twilight Zone."

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Plugged In

What the modern conductor's countertop looks like.

L to R: Cellphone, radio, Ticket Issuing Machine, Printer,Keurig coffee maker.

The 1/2 week in review

Monday, December 29:

It's a frigid morning as I back the 6:47 AM train out of the yard and onto the platform on track #8 in New Haven Station. The platform is usually packed with commuters, but this morning everyone is standing over on track # 14 platform...that's three tracks away. I toot the horn and glance over at the trembling, huddled masses, yearning to commute. They stare back at me, throw their hands up, mouth four letter words and begin racing for the stairwell. A minute later they file onto my train, most give me dirty looks, others grumble, a few ask:"What happened to the 6:40 train?" I try to look concerned, pull a schedule out of my jacket pocket and read:


I get on the PA and announce: "Folks, this is the 6:47 local train to Grand Central...those of you looking for the 6:40 express... search no more. According to the schedule...the 6:40 will not run today or tomorrow."

"UGGHHH!!!" The huddled masses let out a collective groan.

After leaving New Haven, Kathy, my assistant conductor, walks back to me and says:

"Bob, I need you to talk to a passenger in the head car. He insists that we're really the 6:40 train, and that we're lying about being the 6:47. He says we're running late and we're just trying to cover our tracks...I need you to talk to him."

I hand Kathy a schedule and say: "Give this to him and tell him to read the small print....the devil's in the details."

Tuesday, December 30:

Train 1531:

We pull into Riverside Station and "The Greenwich Country Club Member", stumbles onto the train. He's wearing a stained pair of sweat pants, Top Siders (no laces) and no socks. He's grossly overweight, disheveled and looks not unlike the homeless people who wander through the halls of Grand Central.

The New Haven Line has a regular cast of ne'er do well passengers, and one of them is this guy. I call him "The Greenwich Country Club Member," (hereafter called the TGCCM.) He is a tall, heavy, white haired man in his 60's. He regularly rides the Stamford local trains where he drunkenly pesters and verbally assaults other passengers. He rarely has the fare, and when a conductor challenges him, he'll say: "My good man...I'll have you know that I'm a proud member of The Greenwich Country Club." I guess he thinks we'll be impressed and let him ride for free. We don't.

About two years ago, the TGCCM took the cure (got sober) or possibly started taking anti-psychotic medication. Suddenly he was a model citizen. He began appearing on my trains in tweed jackets with ascots. He was polite, unassuming and quiet as a church mouse. He'd meekly board the train, sit in a corner and read the newspaper for the duration of the trip. It was a refreshing change.

But that was then, this is now. I don't know what happened, maybe he invested with Madoff, at any rate TGCCM has fallen off the wagon. After boarding the train today, he immediately starts fighting with Kathy, the assistant conductor. He has a canceled Senior Citizen ticket and he insists that it has never been punched. Kathy wants me to throw him off, but I don't want to delay a rush hour train and offer to bill him instead. He reluctantly fills out the form, then dismisses me with a wave of a bloated hand.

Everyone files off the train in Grand Central, and I notice TGCCM milling through the cars and picking up newspapers. I momentarily think of asking him to get off the train. A relief crew will soon be here to yard the train and I want to close the doors. But then I figure that this will start a fight and I decide to let him be....big mistake.... (to be continued.)

Wednesday, December 30:

Train 1531

When my train reaches Grand Central, a group of passengers run up to me. "Conductor," one says, "A guy in the rear car just fainted. He stood up, then dropped like a ton of bricks." I run to the last car and find a seated 47 year- old man whose skin is pale white and he's staring out into space. His pupils are dilated and he's sweating profusely. "Sir," I pull on his arm, "Are you alright?" No response. I begin to panic and run to the radio to call for medical assistance. The only problem is....I suddenly can't remember my train number or who I'm supposed to be calling:

Me: Train 1529 to District U...uh, I mean train 1571 to District L...I'm here on track 109 and I have a medical emergency."

District L dispatcher: Track 109? You must be train 1531.

Me: Uh, yeah. Train 1531 has a medical emergency. I have a guy here and I think he's having a seizure or something.

District L: We'll send somebody right over.

I run back and find that the stricken man has gotten off the train and is staggering down the platform. I chase after him..."Sir...Sir...are you alright?"

"I think so," he says.

"I have medical personnel on the way. Why don't you take a seat?"

The man takes my advice and sits back down on the train. The paramedics arrive a few minutes later. The paramedics ask if he has eaten breakfast and he says that he only ate a banana. He says he was feeling weak and when he stood up he must have fallen back down and hit his back on his chair's armrest. He says it knocked the wind out of him.

I give the paramedics all the train's pertinent information and I'm released. While walking down the platform I run into Paul, a fellow conductor who yards my equipment. Paul seems annoyed with me. He is from Queens and he peppers his language with colorful expletives.

Paul: Did you leave that fat gray haired F--K on the train yesterday?

Me: You mean "The Greenwich Country Club Member?"

Paul: You know what that F--K did? Huh?

Me: No, but I have a feeling you're going to tell me.

Paul: That fat F--K put newspapers on one of the seats and took a big sh-t.

Me: Oooohhh!!!

Paul: That's right. The fat F--k took newspapers, put them on the seat, took a dump, and left a big pile of steaming sh-t right there...he stunk up the whole car. I gagged...I actually gagged.

Me: I guess those Greenwich people are wrong. Their sh-t does stink.

Paul: That disgusting fat F--k-piece-a-sh-t. I shoulda had him arrested.

Me: Well....sorry about that..... Um...Happy New Year?

Paul: The disgutin' fat F--k-piece-a-sh-t.

Train 1538

Susan, one of our regular passengers, meets the train in Stratford and hands David (my assistant) two small wrapped packages. One is marked "David" the other is marked "Bob." I open the package and find a beautiful hand painted egg ornament. This is the first time I've been given a Christmas gift by a passenger and I'm genuinely touched. I'm reminded that there are still nice people in the world and I forget all about the TGCCM.

Happy New Year!