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!