By now you’ve all heard about Metro-North’s quiet car program… unfortunately, on the 5:27 Harlem Line train from Grand Central, there is no quiet car. There is, however, a crazy car. Over the three years I’ve taken this train, we’ve had lots of crazy things happen: from cheesecakes and cannolis, to magicians performing tricks, and Yankees trivia nights. Yesterday evening the crazy car was serenaded…
All of this usually happens after we leave Chappaqua, since by then most of the people on the train are gone.
When you carry thousands of people together in a tin can, you are inevitably going to have some that don’t exactly know what to do with themselves. Some people read, some people mess around on their iPads, or even listen to music. But then there are also some idiots that can’t help writing things on the advertisements. Metro-North is usually really good about defaced advertisements, somebody usually takes them down after a short time. But every time I see one, I usually snap a photo. Here is a little collection of randomness, of stupid things people have done to posters on the train, and other stuff. I do claim responsibility for the dog in the Conductor’s cab, but all the rest are things I just happened to see while riding the train…
Bob the builder needs a beer after riding all day on the crazy train.
This dog was found hiding inside a conductor’s cab
I’ve certainly mentioned it on this blog before… I’m terrible at finishing things. Oh, I am so brilliant at starting them. I always have the most wonderful ideas for things, for projects. But the majority of the time, they never make it out of my head and into reality. And the few that I do happen to act upon, well, many of them are never completed. I am very bad like this.
At least a year ago, maybe even longer, when I first became interested in railroad timetables, I made a little poster showing some of the New York Central’s system timetables over the years. I had just begun to appreciate the functional art that is a timetable, and the little portion of me that endured many art history classes began connecting the stylistic choices with the events of the time. And probably just like every paper I wrote for an art history class, it was comprised of complete and utter bullshit. It seemed to make sense at the time, at least I think it did. Maybe it makes some sense. Hell, maybe it makes complete sense, and logically explains why there were so many stylistic changes on the timetables over the years. I had every intention of posting it, after it was completed. After I, I don’t know, verified some of the grandiose claims that I made? But I never did that. And this sat. And sat. And sat some more, in the dark little recesses of my hard drive, covered in spiderwebs, with crickets chirping merely to hear their own voices, out of complete and utter loneliness.
Today, however, I am crazy enough to post this, mostly because the former project, which I had high hopes for, was calling out to me for some reason. It wants the chance to see the light of day. I doubt I’ll ever do anything with this beyond this post, but if there are any other art-slash-rail-history folks out there that would like to discuss this, I might enjoy that.
I’ve mentioned it a few times on here, but I absolutely hate Metro-North’s phone information line. Back in the day you would call up and hit the first few letters of the station you were going to on your keypad. It was rather simple. Unfortunately, the system was “upgraded” to a voice recognition system that worked like crap. You would say your station name, and provided there was no background noise, only then would the system understand you. Anotherwords, if you were anywhere in the entire fricken city of New York, the schedule system didn’t work. But it would sure as hell patronize you… Can you repeat that? For folks without fancy phones with internet capabilities, this was pretty much the only option for getting train times on the go, besides having a timetable in your pocket.
Last week Metro-North announced a new way to access your train schedules: CooCoo. I had heard of it, as it had already been put to use for the Long Island Railroad, but had never used it. However, from the various articles written about it, I never quite realized how absolutely awesome CooCoo is. All you have to do is send a text message to 266266 (the number for CooCoo) with your stations like this: Goldens Bridge to Grand Central. Then CooCoo texts you back with the next five trains. Simple. Easy. Want to know the trains for tomorrow? You can do that too: Goldens Bridge to Grand Central 7am. Each train that CooCoo comes back with has a letter assigned to it… respond to the text message with just that letter, and it will text you more information about that train, like the duration and fare price, regular and onboard. CooCoo will also tell you if any of the trains are delayed or cancelled, which can also be a big help.
Now that I’ve started using CooCoo, I’ve come up with a few reasons why I absolutely love it:
CooCoo is easy to remember
I’ll be honest, I don’t even know what the phone number for the Metro-North info line is anymore. They got rid of their 800 number, and even THAT was confusing. Oh, and before they got rid of the 800, if you screwed up and dialed MTA-INFO instead of METRO-INFO, you found that you had called a sex line.
CooCoo, on the other hand, is pretty easy to remember. 266266. CooCoo on the number pad. Easy.
CooCoo is harder to confuse
Whoever tested Metro North’s phone system was probably in a white room with padded walls and there was no sound whatsoever. If you were anywhere outside a sterile setting, the system couldn’t understand the station you just said… which I previously mentioned is incredibly difficult in a city as loud as New York. It got frustrating really fast.
I purposely tried to confuse CooCoo. And you know what CooCoo said to me? “Emily, I am not that stupid.” Whether you typed Purdy’s or Purdys, Grand Central or GCT, CooCoo knew what the heck you were talking about. Want to really try to confuse it? Enter something like White Plains to New Haven. Instead of crapping out, CooCoo has the answer for you- with info on where to change trains, and what time your connection comes. CooCoo isn’t messing around.
CooCoo is quiet and quick
In a restaurant and want to know when the next train is? Text CooCoo. Quiet, and quick. If I was sitting at a table next to someone shouting into their phone “GRAND CEN-TRAL TO GOL-DENS BRIDGE” I would probably want to slap them. Oh, and for stupid dyslexics like me, you can always look at that text message again if you forget or happen to transpose a few numbers in your mind (“Damn, was that train at 7:15 or 7:51?”).
CooCoo is so much more than train schedules
Want to know your horoscope? Sports scores? Weather? Flights? Movies? Even the schedule of the tides? CooCoo knows it all. Find out all the nifty things you can do with CooCoo.
While some news outlets have introduced CooCoo as a replacement to train departure boards, I don’t think that is the service’s niche. For instance, it doesn’t tell you what track your train is going to be on in Grand Central. Departure boards aren’t going obsolete anytime soon. CooCoo is instead a great service for anyone on the go, and to check if your train is on time – and I’m glad it has come to Metro-North.
Observant commuters may have noticed something new in Grand Central in November – a little booth by the ticket windows labeled Audio Tours. Or you might have seen it mentioned in the Mileposts, or perhaps in a poster on your train or at your station? Either way there is a new way to tour Grand Central – and I’m not talking about a giant tour group where you have to strain to hear the tour guide. Grand Central now has an official self-guided audio tour. While I was at Grand Central the other day I took the time to give the tour a shot – a review of sorts.
Audio tour booth, Metro North employee Patrick mans the booth during my visit
Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much. I know a lot about Grand Central, and I figured that I wouldn’t learn anything new. But I was a tad curious to know what would be included in a tour of Grand Central, and how it would be described. There are a lot of things I know about the history of the place. And I am also aware that there are folks in the hardcore railfan community that are of the opinion that there have been some… shall we say, anecdotal embellishments added into the lore of the Terminal. But there is just so much that can be said about the history of this building, what exactly do you say to fit into an hour, and what parts do you leave out?
Handheld device for the audio tour
I must admit though, I enjoyed the tour. The technology used is great. If you don’t want to borrow the device and headset for the tour you can download it to your own mp3 player – or at least you’re supposed to. I’ve been unable to purchase it on the website, not to mention it lists the prices only in Euros, which irrelevant if the company that made the tour may be foreign, it just looks poor in a US market. The actual devices that you can borrow for the tour are not only audio devices, they have a small screen in which to show a photo of where you currently are on the tour. I love the fact that it really is a self guided tour – you enter the number of the location you currently are in to hear about it. If you don’t want to hear about it, you can always skip that location. Or you can go in whichever order you please. Plus if you want to learn more about something, you can hit the green button. You can customize the whole thing and do whatever you want to.
Plenty of important places are described on the tour – from the obvious 42nd Street façade, to the clock and sky ceiling to the somewhat lesser known whispering gallery, spiral staircase in the information booth, and the walkways in between the glass panels. I loved that there were mentions of the 20th Century Limited, as well as Jackie Kennedy and the fight to save Grand Central. There were also plenty of things that I thought the tour could mention, but didn’t. Since the tour sends you outside anyways to see the façade, why not make another outdoor stop to see the majestic eagle – older than the Terminal itself – which once stood on the original Grand Central Depot? I also don’t recall hearing anything about William Wilgus. Wilgus was the railroad’s chief engineer, and the conceptual mastermind behind Grand Central. The tour briefly mentions that the Terminal ushered in the era of electric trains, but fails to mention why – and this is important! Would the railroad have undertaken such a massive project if steam locomotives were not banned on Manhattan island? Would the massively expensive project have been considered if not for Wilgus’ concept of air rights, of covering over the formerly open-cut railroad tunnels and building on it to recoup expenses and make money?
The tour does fall more on the side of artistic/architectural than railfan. But just the fact that the purpose of the building is for servicing rail, I think more of that rail history ought to be thrown in. What makes Grand Central a great railroad station, and not just a pretty building? (and I am talking more about dual levels and loop tracks, as opposed to ramps, which were mentioned)
Eagle originally from Grand Central Depot
For the most part the main narration of the tour was great. It was informal, like you were listening to an actual tour guide as opposed to reading one of the many books on the subject of Grand Cental. There were amusing little anecdotes thrown in, like the person asking the person at the information booth where to rent a horse. A lot of the extra details and stories on the “secrets” were recited by Dan Brucker… and I mean no insult to Dan, but there were times where it was tiresome to listen to his voice. He spoke loud and slow, perhaps as one would speak to a non-english speaker, hoping that over-enunciating words will help them understand. “This. Is. Not. A. STA-TION. It. Is. A. TER-MI-NAL. Be-cause trains. TER-MI-NATE. Here.” Now although I’ve never formally met Dan Brucker, I’ve overheard him doing tours. He is animated and it is obvious that he loves this place. But I don’t think that gets through in the tour. (Sorry Dan, please don’t be insulted, I’d still love for you to give me a tour any day!)
One option on the tour, which I believe was called Visual Experience has not been completed yet. The device mentioned that it is being worked on and will include clips from shows filmed in Grand Central. I hope they’re talking about audio clips and not video clips, because even though the device has the capacity for video the screen is so small. And if I had a hard time seeing what was in the tiny picture, then I am certain the little old ladies that took the tour right before me would have a major difficulty. Something on the other hand that might actually work would be a small companion brochure or booklet that accompanies the tour. Right now you just get a big clunky sheet of laminated paper with a map, which you can’t keep. I’m sure tourists would love something that can actually be kept. If cost is a prohibitive issue I’m sure an extra dollar or two could be charged for the nicer booklet.
Well, this certainly turned out to be the long-winded review. Basically it comes down to this: Do I recommend the tour? Yes. The tour is ideal for people that enjoy the architecture and might not know a lot about Grand Central. If you know a lot about the place you’re probably not going to get as much out of it, but you’ll still probably enjoy it. Did I learn anything on the tour? Yes. Somehow I had never even noticed the mural on the ceiling of the Graybar Passage.
Despite the fact that I started this blog to talk about all the crazy people I see on the train, I don’t really do it all that often anymore. But that is not to say I still don’t see crazy people. The coat guy is still around in White Plains, sporting his new favorite accessory: a big red cowboy hat. I rode in this morning with a skinny guy that dreams of being a bodybuilder. He had about ten bags, along with a few magazines that had photos of greased up men with muscles so enormous they must be taking steroids. The seat next to him he used as a table, as he buttered his bagel and mixed up his protein shake with the cup of milk he purchased from Starbucks. Bag Lady still rides the shuttle bus, as does the whiny girl that moans in some foreign language on her cell the entire ride. Yesterday I had to sit through the entire shuttle ride listening to her whine – she does not talk, she whines – and she continued to do so in the waiting room of the train station. I couldn’t stand to hear it anymore, so I went exploring.
There aren’t too many places in the White Plains train station I’ve never been. But I figured, why the hell not, I’ll go to the top of the parking garage. Up at the 8th level you can look down at the city of White Plains, listen to the rumble of the diesel engines as they head to Wassaic, and hear the whine of the M7 as it brakes and stops. And besides all the bits of trash (used condoms, eew) it is actually kinda nice up there. And quite peaceful, since I never seem to see anybody up there. Anyways, here are some photos of the view, morning and evening.
You know, the only thing I’m afraid of now is that someone is going to see me up there looking down and think I want to jump. Thats the last thing I need – cops coming after me. With all the stories I hear about photographers getting arrested and such for taking pictures, I really have a fear of the police, and I don’t trust them one bit.
It isn’t hard to take a guess as to which train station in the Metro-North system is the most used. Although Grand Central receives the most traffic, White Plains is the second most used station – for the Harlem Line and Metro-North as a whole. It is the station to which I head every morning and evening. It is almost a microcosm of commuter culture. Large enough to have a steady stream of unknown faces, but small enough for there to be “regulars” – the folks you see every day. And there certainly are somecrazyones. But there are nice ones too. Falling into that category is Gary Waxman, who operates the news stand in the station. Although he has a few people help him out, Gary is at the new stand almost every day and night, certainly a fixture in the local culture. People from all over converge at this location, whether it be for the trains, or the buses across the street. Westchester’s Bee-Line, CT Transit’s I-Bus, as well as Greyhound all stop there.
White Plains may not be the prettiest station – it has no Arts for Transit pieces, the bathrooms are absolutely horrible, and there are pigeons everywhere – but it feels a little bit like my other home. For those descending south from the upper Harlem Line, it is your first taste of the city, and of the big buildings to come. Alliance Bernstein has a large building that overlooks the station, and is visible from the platform. But as my friend would put it, everything north of here is “the bush”. Gradually turning more rural the further north you go, the land opens up into into large farms and rolling green hillsides, the Harlem Valley (Named for the railroad, of course).
White Plains is an important transportation hub of the Harlem Line. Almost all trains stop at here – every local, and even most expresses make the stop. It is a common place to have to change trains, switching from express to local, though most people don’t have to. Along with North White Plains, the station forms a dividing line between the local trains that service the Bronx and lower Westchester, and the locals that serve upper Westchester and Putnam counties.
Unlike most stations that I take a short visit to, I spend a lot of time at White Plains. Although most times I don’t really feel like taking photos, I do have a lot more than the other stations. And definitely more panoramas. I picked a bunch that I liked best. I must admit that my new favorite vantage point is the upper walkway over the track that leads to the parking garage. Except for the fact that there are security cameras everywhere. I am expecting that one day I’m going to get apprehended by cops for being a photo taking terrorist. In reality I am just a dork that is going to every station on the Harlem Line.
Dear all passengers: I love seeing your feet. I couldn’t even work on my Japanese adventure photos, I had to stop and take pictures of your feet, so everyone can see how wonderful they are! The woman on my train last night really took the cake. Feet way up in the air on the back of the train seat all the way up to Mount Kisco. Not long after I snapped the photo, she took her feet down and put her boots back on in order to leave the train. When she stood up, she just looked like the picture in my mind of a stereotypical Westchester woman. She appears all prissy… she’s the kind of woman that would easily spend two hundred and fifty dollars on boots without a second thought. Except when on the train, those boots just won’t do. They need to come off!
The following lady didn’t really show me her feet. But she fuckin’ loves Metro-North, so she wore her happy socks, and put them up on the seat so everyone can see:
The following picture is old, and I’ve posted it before. But when I think about showing your bare feet on the train, this is what I think in my mind:
In other news, quite a while ago I found this blog called You Parked Like a Jackass. There is a high likelihood that at some point in your life you’ve seen someone park like a jackass. Horribly crooked, taking up two spots, or three, or (the horror!) four! People submit photos of horribly parked cars in lots, and you can even print out “Jackass cards” to leave on the windshield of those cars.
Many mornings in Goldens Bridge I see a van that really parks like a jackass. Well, I can’t really say that they park. Whoever is driving goes to the station, assumedly to wait for someone getting off the train. Instead of waiting in line at the entrance like most cars, the driver attempts to park. Horribly. If you are not handicapped, you are a real asshole to park in a handicapped spot. But a true asshole takes up multiple handicapped spots. What if there really was a handicapped person that needed the spot? Most days there are several other spots available when this person is around. But still, I just have to wonder why someone feels it necessary to diagonally park over two handicapped spots and a place you aren’t supposed to park. Mind you this is not an isolated incident. Note the snow in the picture on the left. This happens all the time.
Just add that to the list of people that probably abuse handicapped spots at the station. Kinda like the guy that is late for the train, parks in the closest handicapped spot, and runs like hell to catch that train that is pulling into the station.
I sort of realized that I haven’t taken the time to make a post on the blog since I’ve returned from my adventures in Japan. But I am back now, back to the normal schedule of work, and riding Metro North, and encountering crazy people. I bought a lot of cool stuff in Japan… though I’ve unfortunately brought home an “unwanted visitor” from the land of the rising sun in the form of the cold I have right now. I’ll definitely be posting stories, and photos, and videos (yeah, I have around 10gb of data in total to weed through), but I’m trying to feel a little bit better first.
So what were some of the highlights of my trip? I checked out the Hachiko statue outside of Shibuya Station, and went to a Cat Cafe not too far from there as well. I took a ride on a Super-Express Nozomi Shinkansen (bullet train). I rode, and sat in the front seat, of the sixth-tallest roller coaster in the world (was 5th until last month, boo). I saw the tame deer of Nara, geishas in Kyoto, and the cosplay-dressed girls in Akihabara. I saw Tama, the Station Master cat, and delivered my gift, and took a ride on what I certainly think is the coolest (or at least the cutest!) railcar ever. I took pictures with some cool Japanese people, whose uniforms I thought were the cutest things…
Like this train conductor…
They wear white gloves!
…and of course, I saw lots of beautiful cherry blossoms.
I swear more pictures and stories are coming… when I feel a little better. I promise!
In other news, this site officially turned 1 on April 10th. Blog posts started in February last year, but many of them were backdated when I first started. April 10th was the actual “create date” – so Happy Birthday, I Ride The Harlem Line.
So this trip certainly started off interesting… I was debating whether I should leave to go to the airport really early or not… the fact that I woke up at around 4am and couldn’t sleep sort of decided that for me. Everything was sort of unremarkable on the first part of the ride in, I took the train that conductor Peter is on, he used to be on my train in the evenings. Honest to god though, a 5am train? I don’t know how he does that every day… and stay so chipper the entire time. He’s ever the optimist.
The subway was where the fun began, however. When I got on the E train it was pretty packed full of people, so there was no place to sit. And there was a guy with a ginormous backpack that prevented me from really moving around or grabbing onto a pole for support. There was a man sitting in one of the seats stretched out, and he moved over and offered me a seat. I sort of didn’t want to sit next to him, he was acting strange. And even if I did, backpack man was preventing me from really moving.
I kept swaying back and forth attempting to hold my luggage as the train was moving, which wasn’t working too well. The guy in the seat kept saying I was going to fall over, and I should sit next to him. I ultimately gave in and sat next to him. It was then that I was close enough to smell that he had alcohol on his breath. Definitely drunk.
The real hilarity began when the train stopped and new people entered. The guy seemed starved for human attention. Whenever someone walked in he had to ask them a question. And really stupid questions, too. “What time is it?” — Well the board with the station stops has that right on there. “Is this an express train?” “Is this train going to Jamaica?” Those are also repeated over and over by the train. Then there were the especially lucky females that he turned his attention to. He asked them all, “Do you remember me? I remember you.” One lady played along. Another lady ignored him completely. He kept saying, “Miss? Miss? You don’t remember me?” She turned and looked the other way, and he saw the back of her head. And she just happened to have her hair pulled back in a ponytail. “Oh yeah, I remember you. I remember that ponytail. Uh huh, oooh that ponytail, baby.” I wanted to burst out laughing.
After that lady got off the train, he got up, placed his bag on the seat, and opened the car doors leading to the other car. I was wondering what the hell he was doing. Did he have a bomb in the bag, and was leaving it on the train? The whole “if you see something, say something” and look out for unattended bags thing is deeply ingrained in my mind. After a minute or two that he spent riding in between the two cars, he reentered my train car, while pulling up and zippering his pants. He fucking peed out the subway doors as the train was moving.
My name is Emily, though I am known by many who ride the train simply as Cat Girl, for the hats I customarily wear during the winter time. I am a graphic designer, a former Metro North commuter and lifelong Harlem Line rider. This site is a collection of my usually train-related thoughts, observations, photographs, and travels, as well as my never-ending hunt for intriguing historical artifacts.