Thursday, July 30, 2009
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
Sunday, July 26, 2009
“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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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
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.