Chatting with the “Conductor to the Stars”

Last week I had the pleasure of hanging out with one of Metro-North’s coolest conductors – Bobby McDonough, author of the blog Derailed. On the way to South Norwalk, and then back to Grand Central, we chatted about life, family, and of course trains. As he collected tickets, he almost thought he saw someone famous, but was mistaken. Bobby’s alter ego is the Conductor to the Stars, due to his many encounters with famous folks in his duty to the rails. In another era perhaps he would be a conductor on the 20th Century Limited, standing atop the red carpet as the rich and famous boarded the train. Alas, Bobby works the New Haven Line and his passengers range from Wall Street businessmen to sketchy characters and drug-dealers. Though he loves his job, it isn’t fun and games all the time – he’s even had his nose broken by a disgruntled passenger before.

I was pretty excited with the interview – as this is technically the first one I’ve done on the blog. I must thank Bobby for taking the time to answer my questions, and serve as my first interview “guinea pig.” Though the interview is a bit long, many of the stories Bobby tells are quite funny. And if you haven’t read his blog Derailed before, I definitely suggest it. Although Bobby has been busy and hasn’t updated it much, the archives go back several years and are filled with hilarious tales from the rails.

There are a lot of different types of conductors – some like trains, and others just see it as a job and a means to a paycheck. You mentioned growing up near the rails, and had family members that worked for the railroad – were you interested in the trains as a kid? Are you a little bit of a “train buff”?

No, I’m definitely not a train buff. In fact, when I was growing up, I was deathly afraid of the railroad tracks. I grew up six houses south of the tracks in West Haven, CT, and whenever a train went by, our house would shake. It was as if we lived on the San Andreas Fault. Guests would regularly hide in closets or stand under secure thresholds every time the Turbo Train went by.

My grandfather lived next door to me. He was a retired car inspector for The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. He always warned me not to go anywhere near the tracks, and he’d frequently tell horror stories of kids getting their feet stuck in track switches. Trapped like wild animals, they’d ultimately get run over by express trains whose engineers were going so fast they couldn’t stop in time. As if to prove him right, shortly after one Papa’s warnings, a middle-aged neighbor was killed while crossing the tracks coming home from a bar late one summer night. A few months later, on a cold winter’s morning, I watched the railroad police as they searched the body of a neighborhood friend as his body lay frozen along the tracks at the end of our street. He was always doing crazy things, and I later learned that he’d climbed the catenary pole and innocently touched a high voltage wire. I guess my grandfather knew what he was talking about.

Though it isn’t nearly as true as it was in the past, there have been many “railroad families” – sons following in the footsteps of fathers and grandfathers in the service of the railroad. Since you had railroading family members, was this a career path that was encouraged for you and/or your siblings?

I’m a fourth generation railroad worker, so in the back of my mind, I guess I always considered a railroad career an option.

I shared a bedroom with my brother Brian who is eight years older than me.. He started as an fireman with Penn Central in 1974, and a short time later became a locomotive engineer for Conrail which eventually became Metro North. I knew firsthand what a railroaders life was like..i.e. getting called for work in the middle of the night, long hours, working seven days a week. I wasn’t sure I wanted that kind of lifestyle. I graduated college in 1985, and still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. Brian told me that Metro North was hiring, so I sent in a resume. A few months later I got hired as an asst conductor. At the time I thought a railroad career beneath me. After all… I was a college graduate. I told myself I’d only stay until a real job came along. That was 25 years ago….still here… and don’t regret it.

“…we carry some of the most fascinating people in the world. From the captains of industry, to Wall Street billionaires, Hollywood celebrities to street corner drug dealers. Our passengers come from all walks of life…”

You mention that you got a job with the railroad “until a real job came along.” Was there a particular reason that you decided to stay?

I know it’s cliche to say, but I truly am a “people person,” and when you think about it, we carry some of the most fascinating people in the world. From the captains of industry, to Wall Street billionaires, Hollywood celebrities to street corner drug dealers (okay, maybe drug dealers aren’t fascinating, but they are interesting). Our passengers come from all walks of life, and I love to chatting with all of them and learning their life stories. Also, it’s a steady job with good pay and great benefits. I love my job… not many people can say that.

My favorite question to ask train conductors is “what is the craziest thing you’ve ever seen someone bring on a train?” The Wassaic portion of the Harlem Line has almost an “urban legend” that people bring their goats on the train. Have you seen anything nutty over on the New Haven Line?

One afternoon a guy got on in Bridgeport and had something hidden under his leather jacket. I watched as he sat down and pulled a baby bottle out of his front pocket. I assumed he had a small child inside his coat and was keeping him warm against the cold winter winds…I was wrong. When I approached to collect his ticket, a giant brown snout poked through his jacket zipper. I jumped back a step. “What’s THAT?” I shouted. He chuckled, unzipped his jacket and produced a Wallaby!!!! (as in a mini Kangaroo). I half expected him to reach inside the joey’s pouch and produce his ticket. “Where did you get that?” I asked. “I picked her up at Kennedy Airport last week” he said, as if everyone owns a exotic animals. “Is it even legal to own a wallaby?” I asked. “Yeah” he answered unconvincingly. (BTW, I just Googled it. Apparently it is legal).

As the “conductor to the stars” you’ve encountered quite a few famous faces while working the rails (though admittedly, I may be too young to recognize all of the names). Do you have a favorite, or most memorable, encounter with anybody famous?

In the early 1990’s, comedienne and ex-Saturday Night Live cast member Victoria Jackson used to ride my train on a regular basis. She is as sweet and wacky as she appears on TV, and I always got a big kick out of talking with her. Our conversations weren’t always light and funny though. Sometimes she’d confide in me about the messy divorce she was going through, once telling me her husband was evil. Other times she’d complain about not getting enough airtime on SNL. I felt bad for her, and sometimes I’d pitch skit ideas to her (she never used them).
One afternoon, Victoria generously offered to get me and my wife tickets to her show. I told her that we’d love to go but my wife was 8 months pregnant and we’d have to make it very soon. About a week later, Victoria called my home and told my wife that she had two tickets with our names on them waiting at NBC Studios. It was the last show of the season. I called her back and asked what time the show ended, and if I would have enough time to catch the last train back to New Haven (01:30AM). She arranged that we’d drive to Westport, then take the train to New York from there. She’d have her limo drive us back to Westport at the end of the night.

We did as she instructed and drove to Westport, then took the train into NYC. Just as she said, there were two tickets waiting for us at 30 Rock. The guest host that evening was John Goodman and Garth Brooks was the musical guest. We loved the show, but couldn’t help but notice that Victoria was never on stage during the entire show…not once. After the finale, we reported to the security guard as instructed and gave him our names. He called upstairs to her dressing room, then nodding his head in agreement, pointed us to a bank of elevators. When we stepped off the elevator , we immediately heard muffled sobs coming from one of the dressing rooms. We knocked on the door and found Victoria slouched over a bottle of wine, with streams of black mascara running down her face. She was crying her eyes out. She sobbed loudly, saying that Lorne (the show producer) had cut her out all her skits and she was going to quit show business.

Victoria got the call that her limo was ready, so she led us, and the wardrobe women, the hair stylist and the make up artist downstairs, where we all piled in the back of her stretch limo for the ride home. We shuttled through Manhattan dropping off the SNL crew members on their respective street corners. Once we were on I-95, she got on her car phone and called her boyfriend in Miami (this was pretty amazing to me, cause this 1992 BC… before cell phones). She cried all the way back to Westport, and in famous baby doll voice, told her Miami cop boyfriend that she hated show business and was going to give it all up, move to Miami, and marry him. She said she wanted to be just like the sweet railroad conductor and his adorable pregnant wife who were sitting across the seat from her.

And that’s just what she did. She quit show biz, moved to Miami, married the cop and had more children. I guess we inspired her.

For every famous person you’ve encountered, you’ve met quite a few more “ordinary” people. What is your most memorable encounter with a regular “run of the mill” train rider?

My most memorable “ordinary” passenger was probably the extremely grouchy woman who often rode my evening rush hour train home. This curmudgeon complained every time she saw me, and for some reason, she always seemed to sit in my car. She’d complain that the train was either too hot or too cold. The PA was too loud or she couldn’t understand my announcements. She groused about the the train being dirty or that it smelled like a urinal.

One particular night, she rattled off a laundry list of complaints as I stood patiently by waiting for her to finish. She went on and on till the surrounding passengers began rolling their eyes. Some commuters shook their heads and took pity on me. When she finally finished, I took a deep breath and asked, “Did you have a tough day at work today?” She suddenly burst out laughing, and I could see the tension leave her body. “As a matter of fact I did… it was a horrible day” she said with a big smile on her face. She loved me from that day on, and I never heard her complain again… well, almost never.

“A female conductor friend of mine once said that in order to be a conductor on a late night train, you have to have come from a dysfunctional family.”

Metro-North nights (especially on the NH Line from your stories!!) sound like they can be pretty crazy… yet you seem to prefer the evening trains. I know a conductor’s schedule can be difficult with family – does the evening schedule help, or do you like the punishment from the crazy drunks?

A female conductor friend of mine once said that in order to be a conductor on a late night train, you have to have come from a dysfunctional family. Her theory is that we’re survivors and are the only ones who could put up with all the craziness we encounter. She may be onto something here.

As far as my schedule goes, I hate getting up early in the morning, and in the railroad world, in order to get home at a decent hour, you have to start work at in ungodly hour…like 4AM. No thanks. I’ve missed a lot of my daughters’ field hockey/lacrosse games, and parent/teacher conferences (fodder for their therapists sessions someday), but I do get a lot of yard work done during the day.

You’ve mentioned that you knew a conductor that had a complaint letter written about them because of chewing gum. I’ve heard some other complaint stories about a conductor that let a bug fly into the train, and that after collecting tickets would spend long periods of time in the bathroom (passenger didn’t realize it was the cab!!). Has anyone ever written a complaint about you, or have you heard any other crazy complaint letter stories?

In my 25 years as a conductor, I believe I’ve only have one complaint letter in my file…but it’s a doozy. I heard it was double spaced and eight pages long. It was sent to the the Railroad Superintendent, the President of Metro North, and the Director of the MTA. The prose was a group effort, written by a posse of obnoxious bar car patrons who thought Metro North rules didn’t pertain to them (i.e. smoking on the train). I heard they called me a “fascist”.

I recently heard that a woman on the upper Harlem wrote a letter of complaint, saying she counted 183 automated announcements on her very early morning M-7 train. I guess she shows up to work a little bleary-eyed. Not sure how the railroad responded.

Have you gotten the chance to ride any M8’s yet, and if so what do you think about them?

Yes, I’ve worked the M8’s, and I like them. They’re shiny, bright and new… what’s not to like? I just hope I still like them were they’re no longer shiny, bright and new.

Do people on the train ever recognize you based upon your blog? Are any of your passengers aware of it?

Once a passenger saw me walk by and he got very excited… almost star-struck. “Is that Bobbyderailed?” he asked my assistant conductor. I was flattered that he recognized me, so I walked to where he was sitting and thanked him for reading my blog. He showed me what he had just tweeted: “Wow! Bobby from ‘Derailed’ is the conductor on my train.” I think I stood a little taller that night.

On the flip side, I once overheard one of the female conductor sharing a funny story in the stationmaster’s office. It seems she had a male passenger on one of her morning trains and the gentleman had an explosive episode of diarrhea in one of the train bathrooms. He left the whole area a terrible mess, and at the last minute, he ran out of the lavatory with his pants still unbuckled and scurried off the train just as the doors closed. She said she didn’t know the guy’s name, but she was kind of surprised cause he was one of her regular passengers. “He sounds a little irregular to me,” I joked. I’m leaving out a lot of details, but her story was funny in a disgusting, over the top kind of way.

I took this story and embellished it a humorous blog post and did my best to portray the irregular passenger as weirdo…a real deviant of society. I must admit, my story was pretty funny and it was a favorite of my readers.
About a week later, the alleged deviant wrote a letter of apology to the female conductor. It turns out he’s one of my regular readers and he read, and recognized himself in my blog story. He’s also someone I happen to know and like (small world, huh?). To make matters worse, I learned he’s battling colon cancer and has problems controlling his bowels. As you can imagine, I felt horrible about how I portrayed him… still do.

Was there any particular reason you started blogging in the first place? Does your family ever read it/what do they think of it?

A few years back, my nephew’s journalist fiancee started writing a blog. They lived in North Carolina and I had never met her, but felt I did since I read about the daily minutiae of her life. I liked her blog so much that I started commenting on her posts on a regular basis. Her readers found many of my observations humorous and some petitioned me to start writing a blog of my own. I was working late night trains out of New Haven at the time, and I knew I had plenty of material to write about. That’s how “Derailed” was born.

My extended family loves my blog, since I often write about family lore. My nieces and nephews tell me they’ve learned a lot about our collective family history from my stories. They often tell me to cut back on railroad stories and write more about the family. I had to give my immediate family (particularly my daughters) veto power over of my stories, since I sometimes “over-share.”

Have you ever thought of joining twitter?

No thanks! Facebook consumes too much of my life already.

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Nobody likes a late train… and other such twitter nonsense

One of the things I hate more than being dull and serious is a late train. To amuse myself while waiting for late trains, I began using twitter to invent odd reasons for the lateness. Derailed circus trains, planking customers, and rabid pigeons have all been presented as reasons for lateness, despite their relative insanity. Although it started as a joke, I now feel the obligation to come up with something crazy every time I hear there is a late train.

Below you will find some of my favorite nonsensical tweets about late trains, several of which have been designed to annoy @MetroNorthTweet. Over the years, Metro North’s twitter account has been operated by several individuals – the most recent of which has decided twitter is absolutely pointless and is not a platform in which customers can be helped. Their current modus operandi is to copy and paste to everyone “call 511, idiots, twitter sucks.” The new tweeter also made it a point to unfollow me, though to my immense amusement they are still best pals with @fuckedcommuter. A fine endorsement for the railroad, I see. If you want to read more about my thoughts on Metro-North’s attempts at social media, you can find it here. But now, onto the insanity:

Note: Gregory, occasional blog reader, railfan, and photographer was that week arrested for train photography at the Virginia Road crossing in North White Plains. He claimed that while this was all ensuing, police asked him if he knew “the cat girl.”

Based upon a factual incident, where 3 young females attempted to fit into an M3 bathroom. Clearly they should have waited for a train using M7 equipment.

By all means, if you have a suggestion for a future reason for a “train delay” – please comment. And if you’re not following me on twitter, you totally should.

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Crazy stuff always happens on the 5:27…

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.

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My date with an M8…

To say my train journeys this past weekend were a bit interesting seems like an understatement. I got to take some cool pictures of Grand Central’s exterior because the road was closed to cars for Summer Streets. I photographed the New Haven Line station Mount Vernon East, which is the 70th Metro-North station I’ve taken pictures of (if anybody is keeping track, lol). Oh, and I also got to ride on an M8. But see, those weren’t really quite as interesting as the nutjobs I found I was sharing the train with. On Friday an absolute genius of a woman decided that it would be a good idea to chase the departing train after forgetting a bag on board. She either jumped off the platform, or weaseled through the fence at Southeast, and ran after the train as it entered the yard. How monumentally stupid. I thought to myself, had she gotten flattened by a train or fried herself by tripping on the third rail, her family most likely would have sued Metro-North. Despite the fact that it would totally have been her fault, her family probably would have been awarded some amount of monetary compensation… and when our fares would go up again, we’d all know why.

On Saturday I again found myself on a northbound train heading to Southeast. It was dark, and near impossible to see anything but blackness out the window. I was in the very rear of the train, the portion that doesn’t platform at Brewster (yes, I totally think it is acceptable to use platform as a verb, thank you). Because it was so dark, I couldn’t really tell whether we were stopped at the station, or at some point before it… but I was certainly wondering what the heck was going on. Turns out a man in the front of the train decided to, how should I say this, basically he thought it would be a good idea to whip it out and begin pleasuring himself – the rest of the passengers present be damned. Girls were screaming, conductors were running, and it didn’t take too long for the train to be stopped until the police arrived. The public masturbator had apparently hidden himself in the train bathroom, but was thankfully apprehended by the police and removed from the train. I’ll call that the Metro-North Harlem Line Pervert Express – I have no desire to ride that train again.

Unfortunately the story of the M8 was slightly overshadowed by the stories of the crazy people. I took a short ride – from Grand Central to Mount Vernon East – though I took quite a few photos of the train before it went into motion. It may not have been the most memorable event of the day, but it was certainly the most positive highlight of the day. The aesthetic of the train is pretty similar to the M7’s found on the Hudson and Harlem Lines, but obviously in red. There is a lot of red. The outside is red, the floor is red, the seats are red. Clearly the decision was based on the New Haven Line’s signature color, but for those who believe that color can effect mood there might be a little bit too much red. A lot of sites have commented on the features of the M8, so I will try to keep this as short as possible, and let the photos speak for themselves. I will say that the lighting, large overhead storage racks, and numerous power outlets are really great additions. Now if we could get more of them in service, and iron out all the remaining glitches we’d be all set…


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Searching for sanity… and other random questions.

Hello readers. I know you’re out there. You send me emails sometimes (and occasionally freak me out, yes, I’m looking at you, person who divulged their fantasies of doing nasty things on trains. Why?!) And I sure as heck know you’re searching in Google. I have mentioned it previously, but the things that people type into search engines are incredibly hilarious. And the things that people type in to find this site, well, needless to say, I question the sanity of my readers sometimes. But there are also times you guys ask me some valid questions, so I figured I’d put together a post combining some real answers along with some real “what the hell?” type moments.

Searching the crazy internet

Some “well-educated” internet searches
If you had to take a guess as to the number one thing that people have been searching for (in google and other search engines), and finding this site, what would it be? If you said Hermon Raju, then you would be totally correct. When I first posted about this “well-educated” Metro-North rider, I refused to mention her name. But since she has not only publicly admitted that the woman in the video was her, tried to hire a PR rep to repair her reputation, and went on record saying that she feels she was “raped by the internet,” I’m pretty much declaring her fair game. All of the terms below wound up bringing people to this site, so I must say, Hermon Raju, thank you for the visitors! Despite how well-educated you think you are, you clearly didn’t have the sense to just keep your mouth shut… not only on the train, but also by making yourself again a news story by searching for a person to “repair your reputation.”

educated girl yelling at conductor
educated woman kicked off train
well-educated train rider
crazy lady arguing with conductor
followup to educated obnoxious woman onthe metro north train
identity of the “well-educated” women who snap on metro-north
lady with an education arguing with train conductor in ny
metro north commuter well educated identity
mta girl well educated metro north
woman arguing on metro north train identified
do you know how well-educated i am, i ride the harlem line
rude woman in metro educated
train rider more educated than you
viral woman arguing with train employee

And for everyone other than Raju that is looking for yet another laugh, rumor has it the conductor in the video was reprimanded for not wearing her hat at the time. Oh, Metro North. Always thinking about the important stuff.

You seriously typed that into a search engine? WTF-worthy searches:
Sometimes when I look at these search keyword lists, I sincerely worry about the people that are inhabiting this planet we call Earth. Apparently the intelligence level of some of the inhabitants is dangerously low. I can’t believe people typed in this stuff:

body of drunk found in wassaic
wetting my panties on the train story
cool lesbian on a train
getting my 6th gun in westchester county
girls doing the cat work with metro north
groping on bus and train vids
japan fuck on a subway train

Questions that people search for:

How do you ride free on metro north?
There are a lot of strategies for riding free on trains. My best suggestion is for you to ride in the sixth car of an eight car train, and to look for the special conductor’s bathrooms. People always try to hide in the regular bathrooms, and not only do they smell, you will most likely have some people bothering you at some point. However, nobody ever looks in the conductor’s bathroom. If you knock on the door a few times, usually the door will pop open with no trouble, and you can hide in there for as long you want. Enjoy the free ride! In case you weren’t sure what a conductor’s bathroom looks like, I have a picture for you.

Ignore the window – it is just there to throw you off

Do you have to pay to ride mta from harlem to grand central?
Not if you follow the steps listed above.

Is it safe at goldens bridge train station?
The good majority of Harlem Line stations are fairly safe. I wouldn’t worry about much at Goldens Bridge – but if you see a guy that looks like Santa Claus hanging around, I’d probably run away. He has been known to show up at the station with no pants on, and is miserably drunk about 99% of the time. Don’t worry – he can barely walk, let alone run!

Does the harlem line have bathrooms in the train?
Provided that no dipshit is hiding in it to get a free ride, yes the trains do have bathrooms.

Do sketchy people board the harlem train line?
Well, it depends on what you mean by sketchy. If your definition of sketchy includes women who push their cats around in baby carriages, then yes, sketchy people do board trains. My personal favorites, however, are the artistic types that sketch people on the train (though I guess they would be sketching people and not sketchy). You can find a few of them online, but my favorite is James Napoleon who sketched me one morning a few months ago.

Is being a metro north conductor a shit job?
Difficult question! Conductors certainly get paid more than I do, as well as get a whole lot more vacation and sick days than me. But they also have long hours, and are harassed by people like Hermon Raju. And people that don’t want to pay the fare. And people that are drunk and vomit everywhere. And people that can and will harass them with racial epithets. Do I need to continue? As passengers we merely observe these people. Conductors have to deal with them.

Plus, somebody needs to get your drunk ass home on days like New Years, so conductors are often stuck working holidays. As a public worker, the salaries of conductors are also publicly available on the internet. Inevitably, at least once every year, some media outlet will write a story complaining about how much money conductors make, much of it in overtime. What they fail to realize is that these conductors work every day of the week, and every holiday. They have no days off. Sure, it is by choice, but if (for example) you are trying to pay your kid’s way through college and you’re offered overtime, wouldn’t you take it? Honestly, I think the weekends are probably the only thing that keep me relatively sane – I can’t even begin to imagine working every day nonstop for months.

Other questions & things…

What kind of camera do you use?
Because I post so many photos, this is one of the most common questions I get from people. I’m also asked how I do my panoramas, and why I don’t use a panorama viewer (like this) to present them. Firstly, I don’t use a fancy camera, nor a fish-eye lens. Any distortions are based upon the stitching process (which I use Photoshop for). My main camera is a Fujifilm HS10, and I have a waterproof Fujifilm Z33WP which I carry around in the rain and snow. As for panoramas – photography is a lot about capturing a freeze-frame of something you see with your eyes, and panorama viewers tend to mimic how the eye sees, except with a large vista. I rather like making long and semi-distorted panoramas solely because they are not something you can see with your own eyes as a normal human being.

Where do you get your hats from?
Almost all of my hats come from Boshi Basiik. Susan Nguyen is both wonderful and talented, and has created a few custom hats for me. Not only are they quality made, they are also affordable. And no, this is not a paid advertisement, I just think that Boshi Basiik is that cool.

Why do you like the Harlem Line?
Why is water wet? Why is the sky blue? Why are you asking me silly questions? How could you not be a fan of New York City’s oldest railroad? Maybe I like it because it was the first railroad I was ever a passenger on. I’m not really sure. All I know is that when I started this website, it was about the crazy people I observed, not about the railroad itself. Somewhere along the way I fell in love with the history, and maybe even the saga of the Upper Harlem (even though it didn’t have a happy ending).

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Be nice to your conductor, or you’ll wind up on the internet…

By now you’ve likely seen the video that last week became a viral sensation – namely a woman arguing with a conductor (and getting kicked off of) a Metro-North train. Uploaded Tuesday by YouTube user Zanzibar78 (real name Casey, age 33, who has now gone “missing”), the video was picked up by a wide range of websites, including the Huffington Post, Gawker and Gothamist. The person that uploaded the video likely had no clue how popular it would get, and has since shut their YouTube account down. But of course, this is the internet. Nothing ever really gets deleted here. Other people who downloaded the video have reuploaded it… and in case you didn’t actually see the video, here it is:

Again, I must say, this is the internet. And most unfortunately for the obnoxious woman, the video was sent to so many people (especially locals) that by Friday afternoon she had been identified. I’m going to refrain from posting her name, but it isn’t hard to find via a google search. Information from her internet profile coincides with information she stated in the video (namely, she’s originally from Garrison), so the ID is likely accurate. Her LinkedIn profile as well as her presence on Twitter and Facebook have been deleted, but need I say it again? This is the internet. People took screenshots of it all before the deletion, and you can find those easily via search as well… including some rather strange photos taken from her Photobucket account before that too was deleted. Someone has even made a fan page for her on Facebook, touting some of her best quotes.

Does this whole situation sound familiar to you, though? It does to me. Have you heard of the “Dog Poop Girl“? The woman was a subway rider in Seoul, South Korea, where she would occasionally take her dog. One day, the dog pooped on the floor of the subway, and despite other passengers asking her to clean it, she refused and got off the train. Someone, of course, took pictures, and she too was identified and harassed via the internet.

And yes, I said harassed – as much as I love this video, as much as I know that maybe, just maybe, this girl will have some sense knocked into her, I also know that someone will take it too far. It doesn’t take much to figure out her address, or even her phone number. But all of that would be, most definitely, going too far. The whole internet now is familiar with what education this girl has had – but she is now becoming “well-educated” in the school of internet vigilantism.

Here is my public service announcement to everyone – you should be nice to your conductor. If you’re an asshole, your picture might just wind up on the internet… especially since there are plenty of sites like Subway Douchery, and Kiss My Commute that would just love to post your picture. Even I’ve been known to post pictures of obnoxious people from time to time. Honestly though, I really shouldn’t have to say this. When you get off the train in the evening, why don’t you say “Good Night”? Or in the morning say “Good Morning.” And maybe “Please” and “Thank You” too. It isn’t hard. After all, it is a conductor that gets your drunk ass home on New Years, and put up with so many people’s crap on a day to day basis. I’ve heard people say things to conductors that I would never even type on this blog (and I certainly have no qualms about using the f-word, these are way beyond that).

Seriously though. Good morning, good night, please, thank you – this is basic stuff you should use throughout your life – not just on the train. Be a nice person, and don’t wind up on the internet. You probably won’t enjoy it if you do.

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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line – Waterbury

Ah, Waterbury… also known as the Brass City, or most affectionately the “Dirty Water.” Yes, Waterbury and I have a history, we go way back. Many years ago I attended UConn’s Waterbury Branch, and it was there I acquired my first job as a slave to the computer. From there I just went downhill, into the realm of phone line computer technical support (“my ethernet cord has a virus!”), and fixing college students’ virus-riddled computers after they downloaded copious amounts of pornography. But back then at Waterbury I was just a lowly computer monitor, though I would occasionally get called on various errands. One of those errands was to head down to the library and check out a computer that wouldn’t start. Now the campus was right in the middle of the city of Waterbury, and we’d frequently have crazy people just walk right in. Apparently one of them decided to walk right into the library and cannibalize the inside of one of their computers. It was no wonder why their computer didn’t start – anything easily accessible after whoever it was managed to get the case open was taken. There was no memory, they even managed to get the hard drive. I’m not completely crazy for telling this story – because I sort of hear the parking lot at the Metro-North station is pretty similar. If a random stranger off the streets of Waterbury had no qualms about stealing the innards of a computer where the librarian was right around the corner, they really will think nothing of theiving your car, especially when they know you’re on a train heading in the opposite direction. Apparently the situation has gotten bad enough for commuters to say they are boycotting Waterbury station. Plus, I haven’t seen a station as full of these signs as Waterbury:

I’ll try to not insult Waterbury too much (every time I go there I see another store has gone out of business!), but instead bring up an observation. Even if you’ve never actually been to Waterbury, even if you’ve just driven through, there are probably two landmarks that you are familiar with. The first is the big cross up on the hill, the mostly-abandoned (for the most part, except for brave urban explorers, and lawbreakers) Holy Land. The most iconic landmark in Waterbury, however, is the clock tower. Amusingly, most people don’t even realize the clock tower is part of what used to be Waterbury’s railroad station. The tower itself was a late addition, after construction on the structure had already commenced. Waterbury’s tower is modeled after Italy’s Torre del Mangia, and was designed by architecture powerhouse McKim, Mead and White. Today the building serves as the home of the Waterbury Republican-American newspaper, a wonderful example of iconic rail architecture being repurposed and given a second life (I’m not going to go too in depth here, as I’m hoping to arrange a tour of the place and devote an entire future post to the old station itself).

Alongside the old building is Metro-North’s small Waterbury station, which is, as you could well deduce, the terminus of the New Haven Line’s Waterbury Branch. At 87.5 miles from Grand Central, Waterbury is the furthest Metro-North station from the city (excluding the west of Hudson service). Although there are at least ten tracks by the station, few of those are actually used – a reminder of Waterbury’s status as a once-busy rail hub (in its heyday, Waterbury Union Station would receive more than 50 passenger trains per day). Today on a normal weekday the station has just eight trains departing for Grand Central, running approximately every three hours.


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White Plains, Level 8, My new favorite place

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.

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Coney Island Nostalgia Ride

After spending a day riding trains on Saturday, I have unfortunately come to the conclusion that my mother never wants to ride the subway again. My mom was born in Brooklyn, grew up in Queens, but when she was in high school her family moved to Connecticut. Despite all that, she never had been on the subway until later on in life. I’m sure most subway riders dislike the crazy folk that occasionally share the ride with them, but by now are used to it. My mother, on the other hand, is not used to it. The ride began normally… until a beggar boarded the train. At the start I was unsure as to whether the beggar was male or female… but I did notice a rather odd shaped stomach. After a few moments I realized that it was a woman, and that she was wearing no bra. Her breasts sagged to waist level, and under a rather baggy shirt it gave her the appearance of a really messed up stomach. As she began to sing religious songs and praise god, the subway rider reflex kicked in: everyone in the vicinity pretended to be asleep. Except for one man, who shouted, “Nobody give her money! She’s going to use it to buy drugs!” And then the fights began…

A white trashy looking lady gets on the train, and instead of walking in, just stands in front of the door, blocking it. Aman behind her keeps saying “excuse me” to try and get her to move, so he can also board the train. She does not, and he drops the f-bomb. Between the two, words begin to fly, as she shouts “You messed with the wrong girl, punk!” I was totally on the side of the man, until he started going batshit, screaming about the “white devil” and how the lady should go “lick a pussy.” As the woman’s stop neared she attempted to convince the man to exit the train with her, so she could fight him on the platform, which he did not do. But what he did do was to team up with the aforementioned braless beggar, singing religious songs, and harassing the man who said she was going to use any money given to her to buy drugs. “You don’t know me! Go back to Africa!” she shouted, as she exited the train.

Soon after that my mother and I arrive at the Transit Museum, and wait to board our Nostalgia Train heading for Coney Island. It was a great trip (though it did feel as though a particular person was missing, if you’re still out there…), and had significantly less crazy people, though there were a few. Railfans are an… interesting bunch. The old man who on the previous nostalgia ride grabbed another man by the neck and told him he’d kill him was back, this time announcing the stations we passed and repeating “pretty, pretty, pretty” over and over again. But other than that, it was another grand adventure riding the old trains, and taking photos. Everyone had the option to either stay on the train for photo opportunities, or to go off and explore Coney Island. Many people chose the explore part, several of which I saw waiting in line for the Wonder Wheel (and one apparently vomited his guts out while on the Wonder Wheel).

Anyways, that is enough overly-verbose babble from me, what you really wanted to see I am sure are the photos…

I’m not sure when the next Nostalgia Ride with the Transit Museum will be, but they are always very enjoyable, and I highly recommend going on one if you get the chance.

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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: White Plains

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 some crazy ones. 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.

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