Being the most obnoxious train passenger…

Every month in Mileposts there is a lovely little section that mentions etiquette for people riding the trains. Keeping your feet off the seat and to refrain from conversations on cell phones are almost always mentioned. Although I don’t think Mileposts has made note of it, nail clipping on the train is generally frowned upon, and seems to be a pretty big pet peeve of commuters. But what if you could do all of those things at once? You would probably be the most obnoxious train passenger ever. Sort of like this:

I’ve always wanted to do this on a train for quite a while, but timing was always difficult. Every time I’ve done a photo like this in the past, I would put my camera on 10 second delay, hit the shutter and run to the spot I needed to be in… relatively time consuming. However, I recently bought a wireless remote for my camera, and realized it would make my scheme a whole lot easier.

As my evening train arrived at Southeast last night, I quickly set the camera up on a tripod and took various pictures of myself in the train car. It took me about four minutes to get all of the photos. If it wasn’t for people liking the photo on twitter, I probably would never have posted it here, as I’m not tremendously happy with how it turned out.

I definitely want to attempt this again when I have the ability to take my time, not rushing through because the train is about to go into the yard. Plus, I think it is hard to notice in some of the pictures I am clipping my nails, and combing my hair. But for the most part, these are the obnoxious things we commuters tend to see every day. And for a couple of moments in time, I was that most obnoxious passenger.

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Taking the Grand Tour: A Review of Grand Central’s New Audio Tour

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.

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The curious story of the ghost horse in Grand Central

For some time I’ve wanted to write a post about a particular odd topic, and have waited until now to do so. I figured Halloween would be an appropriate time of the season to mention it, as not only does it have to do with Grand Central, but a ghost in Grand Central. An equine ghost.

I’m not exactly sure how I first came across the story of racehorse Maud S, but it was likely when randomly reading about some of the Vanderbilts’ extravagant and expensive possessions. Without a doubt, Cornelius Vanderbilt was a true master at making money, and his son William Henry was quite adept at adding to that fortune. Cornelius’s grandchildren on the other hand, William Kissam and Cornelius II, were quite the masters at spending money. Though that is not to say that their father William didn’t purchase some pretty crazy things. One such purchase was the racehorse, Maud S. At the time Maud S was one of the fastest racehorses in the world, and held the record for the fastest mile. Her sale to Vanderbilt infuriated some in the racing world – he was taking this amazing horse away from the races to instead be privately corralled outside of Grand Central so he could ride her whenever it struck his fancy. Of course, this is the 1880’s and much of the area around Grand Central Depot was rural, and in terms of the city of New York, considered well “uptown”. But the fact of the matter was, if one of the richest men in the world wanted one of the fastest horses in the world to pull him around in a carriage, it would be done, and William Henry Vanderbilt certainly had deep enough pockets to pay for it. Plus, he was probably never late to New York Central board meetings.


This entire post was merely an excuse to post a picture of William Vanderbilt’s amazing facial hair

I’m not exactly sure what fascinated me about the story of this horse… maybe the fact that even today, a bed and breakfast has a room named after her? Or maybe how a windmill manufacturing company was also named after her? Perhaps it was her big obituary in the New York Times and other papers across the country? (Several internet sites claim the obituary made the first page of the Times, though this is false – it made the 12th page on March 18, 1900) Nope, I think it was the article in City Scoops that said that she is currently roaming the halls of Grand Central near the Oyster Bar – as a ghost.

Of course, the story is most likely a joke. The author even describes herself as a “professional storyteller”. Whether a joke or not, there are actually tourists that believe this shit! I had no idea that there are actually New York City ghost tours, and ones that even visit Grand Central! Perhaps I am a Halloween party pooper to say it, but there is no ghost of a horse wandering the station. I’d be more likely to believe that ghosts of some commuters haunt the station. In fact maybe that should have been written as a warning in Mileposts – don’t run to your train as you might trip, fall, die, and become the next ghost to wander the halls of the station come next October! And way before Metro North, I’m sure plenty of people have died in the station. It was, after all, built in the early 1900’s, railroading was hardly the safest occupation, plus it was being constructed as the previous station was being dismantled, all while maintaining train service. People certainly have died there. But those deaths are hardly as glamorous, and frankly amusing, as a fancy racehorse.

For all of you that happen to be in Grand Central on Sunday, have a Happy Halloween… and do keep your ears open for suspicious neighing…
…coming from me standing in front of the Oyster Bar.

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Change of the season…

When I started out this blog, it was sort of just a portion of my own personal website. It had the same layout as my site, and was fairly integrated. I have been thinking for quite a while now though, this blog has really taken off in another direction, and is pretty much standing well on it’s own. So I felt that in order to reflect that new identity, the site needed a little bit of change in the aesthetics department. Enjoy the new layout that I’ve made, which I’ll probably be tweaking for a little while now that it is up. I’m not much of an illustrator, but I did want to try doing a little sketch for the title, with the Sky Ceiling in Grand Central in the background.

So what else is changing? Next week brings new schedules to the MTA, and conductors will be changing around their jobs… so you may see some new faces on your trains. I’m quite bummed that all the conductors on my train all got bumped off and had to take jobs on other trains.

Conductor winter wear will also make it’s comeback… though my proposed new hat for MTA conductors was denied.
winterhat

If you do like changes though, especially changes in the leaves, you must check out the Fall Foliage Rail Excursion, over on the Hudson Line, which will be happening on the 24th. You can find more information about that tour here.

Lastly, if you missed October’s Mileposts, you may have missed some nice deals. When buying tickets for Cirque Du Soleil’s Wintuk, and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, you can save ten dollars, and get a free round trip train ticket. Just be sure to use the promo code METRO.

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Don’t Call This Number! (part 2)

If you rode the train yesterday, you may have noticed that it was the distribution day for the June version of Mileposts. The MTA detailed some cost cutting measures, one of which will be the elimination of the 1-800-METRO-INFO telephone number. I did mention in the past that I accidentally called a sex line, when I intended to call that number but instead called 1-800-MTA-INFO. In a couple of months someone else may have purchased 1-800-METRO-INFO. Instead of train schedules, you’ll hear… “Hey there sexy gentleman…”

Thaaaaanks Metro North.

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