Enjoying the sun on the platform…

Yesterday was a pretty great day. On the platform in White Plains at around 5:45, the sun was shining. And all the riders that had formerly been hidden in waiting rooms and other dark places, came out to enjoy the sunlight. I was seriously amazed at how many people were out and about. Of course I had to take pictures.

I also passed out a bunch of cards. At times this was really hard for me. I’m not exactly sure what people think I am like based on what I say in this blog, but I can be incredibly shy at times. When you ride on the train you have a routine. I take the same train, and generally sit in the same seat. And you cross paths with other folks that also have routines. When I see these people often, it isn’t too hard to just go up to them and have a chat. But just going up completely cold, to a person I’ve never seen before, and handing them a card. Well it is a little hard. I was deathly afraid someone was going to totally reject me. I will admit I got a lot of funny looks. But there were also people that really enjoyed it. I even encountered the guy who runs the site TrainJotting and gave him a card. This is only the second time that I’ve been recognized by someone because of my blog. Too funny.

As for this morning, it was a little bit chilly, but it is supposed to be another good day. I haven’t seen any St. Patrick’s drunks yet, but I expect to see that tonight. I did, however, see the guy I refer to as Johnny. He was standing in front of the White Plains station and kept asking people walking in and out whether they wanted to see a baby hawk. He kept pointing. “It’s right there, look!” He pointed to the area over the door where the pigeons enjoy roosting. I only saw pigeons, no hawks. I figured he was joking, because after that he said, “There is a leprechaun up there too! And he was this tall,” as he motions to show that the aforementioned leprechaun was about a foot in height. I got Johnny to produce this amateur sketch:

If you happen to see the leprechaun, please let me know.

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Good Eats at the Former Valhalla Train Station

Imagine that, today I get to be a food critic! My friend Despina is fasting for Lent, and was looking for a decent place to eat (her variety of “fasting” is essentially eating vegan), and suggested Valhalla Crossing, which right next to Valhalla’s Metro-North station, and historically, was the original station building. I see the place just about every day on the way to work, yet had never gotten a chance to eat there.

Of course I brought my camera for documentary purposes, and the decor was quite nice in the place, so I took quite a few pictures. Our waitress told us that most of the woodwork in the room where we sat was not original, but the floor of the bar is the original station floor. Trains regularly pass by the place, which is kind of cool to watch. The noise from said trains was not bad at all, I’ve heard and felt worse in the city when subways pass by underneath. Though thinking about it, during the lunchtime hours mostly M7’s were going by… I imagine one of the diesels passing by is sure to jolt you from your reverie.

Throughout the place were framed prints and photographs of train-related memorabilia, as well as original photos of the Valhalla station, with the original platform. There was a caboose room in which you could eat, which we took photographs of. Of course all the people eating in the room had pause their conversations to turn and look. This is why I often feel shy about taking photos in public. I quite liked the large painting of the steam train that was not far from our table, but my friend kept saying to me that the plume of steam looked like an umbilical cord. Delightful imagery for lunchtime.

The food itself was pretty good. I am notoriuosly picky about my food, of which most people who know me can wholeheartedly attest to. I ordered the “Third rail” mostly because I was amused with the name. It contained chicken with buffalo sauce, bleu cheese, lettuce and tomato on a wedge. If I had to find a fault in it at all, I would have to say, “you call that buffalo sauce?” Weak and hardly spicy. The bleu cheese should complement the buffalo sauce, not overpower it. Alright, perhaps I am just bitter because my friend’s wrap looked better. If you go to Valhalla Crossing, try a wrap, they look good. And the onion rings look better than the fries. But they’re so awesome that they’ll allow you to get a little bit of both if you want. Either way, the Valhalla Crossing is pretty cute, and I’d certainly go back. They get major points from me because there were no big, black hairs in my food, which happened to me down the road at the North Castle Diner. There’s a place I’d never revisit.

Anyways, be sure to take a look at their website, ValhallaCrossing.com. My web designer nature must make me of course say that with the interesting decor of the place, they really could have carried that over and made an awesome website, but unfortunately they chose an out of the box template look, which saddens me slightly. (I can redesign that for you guys. Call me!) But really, go take a visit. Valhalla’s got some nice little places to eat, all in walking distance of the train station. Another favorite of mine being Mughal Palace, an Indian restaurant across the street from the station. Yummy.

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Pigeon Trapping in White Plains & Video of Pigeon Riding the Train

Apparently Metro-North has gotten fed up with the pigeon problem in White Plains. Maybe they were embarrassed by the fact that people were videotaping, and blogging about it. Or maybe they were getting a little pissed off that birds that have pea-sized brains were outsmarting them. Either way, last week I noticed something new at the station. Pigeon traps. With all the snow I didn’t really get a chance to post anything about the traps. But I did happen to get into a conversation in the waiting room with a woman about them. Really, the pigeons aren’t harming anything. In fact they are eating the crumbs off the floor, which is more than what some of the cleaning people manage. Their antics are amusing, and Metro-North could probably be spending money worrying about other things, rather than purchasing pigeon traps to put throughout the station. Even if they had the traps on hand, someone had to place them, and that takes time. Time that could have been spent doing other things. Like cleaning the bathrooms? Or going after the annoying people that smoke in the waiting room, or beg for dollars? I’d prefer the pigeons over those.

Now, remember whose blog you are reading. Obviously, I had to put up a sign about this. Someday I may use my talents for the good of man-kind. Today? Not so much.

Here are higher resolution images so you can see all the text:

So far I haven’t seen any pigeons dumb enough to get caught. Traps are located behind the benches in the waiting room, and on top of the ticket machines by the window. Truly the question is, what happens to the pigeons if they are in fact caught? Taking them outside the station and letting them go would do little, they’d probably come right back in. Do they get sent up the river to pigeon prison? Are they gassed by employees in a dark, back room? Your guess is as good as mine. In a few weeks the problem will work itself out anyways, traps or no traps. The weather will be warmer, and the pigeons wont need to be inside. They aren’t dumb. They come inside because of the cold. Hell, I know a lot of crazy people that do that too!

As an unrelated bonus, I figured I would include some amusing video I saw on YouTube, of a pigeon riding public transit. The pigeon’s name is apparently Henry Goodfeathers. Looks like the video was filmed somewhere on the subways of Toronto.

More polite than a lot of human subway passengers

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New York & Harlem Railroad’s Pigeon-handling strategies

If you haven’t noticed by now, I’ve become pretty engrossed in this whole researching and finding old railroad related stuff. I’ve apparently been referred to as a “closeted railfan” (and the “mascot of the Harlem Line”, but that is a different story). Honestly I have never thought of myself as a railfan. Railfans seem to have all this information tucked away in their brains about types of trains and how they function, and could probably tell you the model of whatever locomotive they’re looking at and a good portion of information about it too. I don’t know much about trains other than what I’ve visually observed. In fact sometimes I am a bit shy to post some of my train photography online, because all the railfans always identify their pictures with all that info they know. I am just sort of like, here is a picture. It is a train. The train says Metro-North on it, and I saw it at White Plains station. And thus ends my description of said train. I will admit that I like riding on trains, though I think for the most part it is more that I like watching people on trains. Or getting to know people on trains. I’ve met a lot of nice people on trains. And a lot of crazy ones too. But if you’ve been here before, you don’t need me to tell you that.

However, all this digging in the history books I’m doing may be enough to warrant the title of “railfan”. I assure you, I was not this way before I started writing this blog (nor did I take anything I said seriously at that point, but that too is another story). So I suppose this is my confession to the world. This is me coming out of the closet, if you will. I guess… well… I guess I am a railfan. Okay, I said it.

One thing that I did feel like sharing though, were some interesting postcard images that I encountered in my research. It is interesting to note that pigeons are such a nuisance today, and they certainly were a nuisance back in the late 1800’s for the New York and Harlem Railroad. Some things never change. Here is a postcard from Copake, which back in the day was part of the “Upper Harlem Line”. The Harlem Line no longer extends that far up.

I imagine the photographer there was attempting to get a picture of the station, when all of a sudden that one pigeon jumped up in the foreground. I do believe that is a historic example of what is known today as a photobomb.

One of the things you may not have known, however, is that when it started, the New York and Harlem Railroad operated streetcars in Manhattan. And some of these were in fact pulled by horses. A failed, not often talked about, alternate method was also tried, using specially-bred larger pigeons (of which were plentiful in the city). Here is a never before seen photograph of prototype streetcar #00, being pulled by one of the aforementioned large pigeons.

Pigeon-cars, as they were called never really seemed to “take off” in the city. I think the whole oversized bird thing turned off quite a few people. Plus the temperament of horses was a bit better than the birds. The pigeons’ downfall was an early outbreak of the Avian Flu, which led the city into a complete panic, and many helpless pigeons were “purged” for the sake of humanity. The year after an early version of the Swine Flu struck, leading New Yorkers to endeavor to purge another species, but the pigeons never came back into favor. It does seem that the larger variety of pigeon was driven to extinction, as we are familiar today only with their smaller brethren.

Well, I suppose that is it for today’s history lesson. It is at this time I must admit to you all that back in the day when I was a struggling graphic designer, I always figured that if I failed at design, I could always work in the photography department at the Weekly World News. I was quite heartbroken when they ceased print production in 2007, which led me to seek out “a regular job”.

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Me and the Pigeons: Dreaming of the Rainbow Over Mount Kisco

I just happened to be looking through my photos on my cell phone, and I came across one that I had forgotten about. It is above. There had been a storm raging that day, but on the ride home it had begun to clear up. I snapped that photo when we were at Mount Kisco station. I was sitting near the door, and the train conductor, Guy, said to me, “come out and look here,” as he was standing on the platform. I ducked out of the train for about two seconds to gaze at it. Then engineer was wondering if he could go, and the conductor in the back, Dave, was like, “Wait, I think they’re looking at the rainbow. Isn’t that nice?” The whole thing took a matter of seconds, and my recollection of the dialogue is probably pretty off, but I smile when I remember that time. And really, I wish it was a nice day with a rainbow outside, instead of the cold and the snow.

I know a lot of people would agree with me. And a few of my avian friends. That would be the pigeons in White Plains. They of course are sick of the cold, and have begun hiding inside the station again. Apparently a recent addition in the past few weeks to the station were spikes added to the inside windows, a former popular spot for the pigeons. Now the pigeons have taken to some other spots, one being the ticket kiosks. I bet the machinery keeps those nice and toasty for the birds. I work for FUJIFILM, and we have photo printing kiosks in places like Walmart and RiteAid. And I’ve heard horror stories from techs that have to go out to service those machines, and have found animals that have made homes inside the machines because of the warmth. I can only imagine, and feel sorry for the poor chap that is going to have to service or clean those ticket machines at some point in the future.

I even have video, hooray!

I was amused though, on the MTA’s new site, they have a list of Frequently Asked Questions. One of which is how they are working to deter pigeons from roosting inside trains and stations. Their answer?

To address the problem of pigeons in our stations, we are testing a new system that drives away pigeons by sending a harmless, low-voltage electric shock through wires installed in areas where they perch.

Yeah, I wonder how that is working out for them… zap.

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The Attempted Hijacking of Bus 702

This morning marked the arrival of our new shuttle bus. Within minutes of waiting, however, it seemed as though we were about to get hijacked by a masked man. Upon further scrutiny it seemed as though we were mistaken: it was just another passenger waiting out in the bitter cold for a bus that was going to be late. Typical.

Though the new bus is nice, I must admit. It turns out that the robot man is not our driver, it is some other guy. And we thought the robot drove slow, this as yet un-nicknamed fellow is even slower. Even poor bag lady missed her train (boo hoo). Just the part that the bus no longer picks us up in front of the train station isn’t the most fun. At least there you could wait in the vestibule, which is at times warmer even than the waiting room. Now we get picked up across the street by the Greyhound stop, and thus have no warm place to wait. (and now I deserve a good sarcastic boo hoo for myself).

Another side effect of the cold weather is that the pigeons begin to sneak inside the train station. I had been wondering where they were for a month or so now. Most people think pigeons are dumb, but they have to have some smarts to know they’d rather be inside than out in the cold, and practice amusing methods of getting in. I hadn’t seen any of them inside until today. A pigeon tore through the upstairs waiting room earlier this evening, flying over the people waiting for their (late) trains. Just in general freaking people out. Terrorizing the train riders, though today nobody ran off screaming. One of these times I need to capture that on video.

After writing all of this, it seems that everything is pretty normal over in White Plains. But on the home front, Goldens Bridge, it seems that everything is not. Here we don’t have pigeons, but people terrorizing the station. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is the obnoxious area skater kids, drunk on a weekend with nothing else better to do. They’re probably the ones to blame for the graffiti I mentioned before (and some new graffiti that appeared this afternoon), but maybe not for the weekend’s escapade of kicking in all the glass panels on all the doors of the south side vestibule. Maybe it was creepy, perpetually drunk Santa Claus. Who knows? Though, uhh, Metro-North? I can live with the fact that you never wash the windows. I suppose I will live, albeit a little frustrated, when you don’t clean up the graffiti. But umm… will you at least fix the glass? Is this train station even safe? Should I be carrying mace around on my keychain?

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Not the best way to start the morning…

One woman at White Plains today had a terrible start to her morning. She was pooped on by a pigeon. Guess they didn’t like her too much. Cue the obligatory pigeon photo…

House painter lady was back again at the train station. “Housepainter! Housepainter! Ma’am do you need a HOUSEPAINTER?!” She just doesn’t quit! Despite the fact that I don’t think I actually saw a single person take one of her cards. At least the politicians hand out their papers, people take them, and promptly throw them in the trash once they get into the station. But hey, at least it feels like they did something!

I saw more delightful youngsters from *unnamed school* at White Plains again… what a wonderful lot of young men. The soccer team felt it would be necessary to brag to everyone on the platform about how they bullied this other young man during lunch, and it turned into the “best lunch ever.” They also laughed about how they would probably end up driving that young man to suicide. And to think that I laughed at the guy who was singing quite loudly the day previous on the platform. I would have much preferred him. Come back singing guy!

I decided to finally get a twitter account for the blog. I just started it out, we’ll see how this goes. If you want you can go and follow me :D

Oh, and before I forget, today is train conductor Guy’s birthday! If you see him, wish him a happy birthday!

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Around White Plains…

When it comes to crazy people, White Plains station has no shortage of them. From now on I think I will officially dub the man which I’ve talked about a few times as Mr. Chicago, as he always seems to be talking about Chicago. This morning I was sitting waiting for the shuttle, and he sat down next to me. He was having a long conversation with himself, parts of which sounded like they were complete gibberish. He also described a fat woman that looked like Johnny Damon, and about how he would have beaten someone up, had he not been “drugged into submission.” I imagine this guy knows all about being drugged.

I never got around to mentioning it, but a few weeks back White Plains got some new signage. The old signage had a black stripe on the top, not the blue stripe consistent with the rest of the Harlem Line stations. Here is a delightful photo I took of an M7a coming into the station, you can see the new sign over on the other side of the tracks.

Unfortunately, the schedule board signs around the station have not been working too well. If anyone was curious, they are apparently run on Windows XP:

Though it would have been a little bit more amusing had it been like this:
Usually they work pretty well, and I’ve certainly talked about how I liked them before… of course I only like them when they are working properly.

And for no apparent reason, here is a picture of Peggy, my favorite one-legged pigeon.

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Pigeons: 1, Humans: 1

At one point during the colder months I began to keep score with the pigeons. Quite a few places have structures to deter pigeons and other birds from building nests. On the covered entrance portion of the White Plains station, there are metallic looking spikes that serve this purpose. But the pigeons have maneuvered through them and began nesting anyways. While waiting for my bus in the icy rain, I saw a pigeon fly to a nearby bush, break off a twig, secure that twig in its beak, and then fly back to the nest. This pigeon could have won prizes for endurance. I seriously saw him do this about a million times, and he was still doing it while I got on the bus. For outsmarting the humans who tried to deter birds from building a nest? Pigeons: 1, Humans: 0.

The next day, I found myself sitting on the shuttle looking out the window. Recalling the previous day’s pigeon outsmarting humans event, I noticed that the humans had tied the game. A pigeon had gotten run over by a Bee Line bus… with wings completely outstreched, desperately trying to make it away in time. Failing. And becoming a pigeon pancake.

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Alright, so from all my posts about pigeons, you may think that I have a little bit of a thing for them. Not really. They are just amusing animals. Something about the way they bob their heads back and forth… which they do even faster and in an even more amusing way when you just happen to be chasing them. And with little kids, and little idiots (like myself), it is a much more likely scenario to see a human chasing a pigeon. But one incredibly amusing day, I definitely saw the opposite. I have a coworker that apparently has a phobia of pigeons. He normally doesn’t take the train from White Plains, he takes the bus to Stamford to pick up a New Haven line train… so he doesn’t normally hang out in the White Plains train station with my friends and I. On this fateful day however, he had to go to the bathroom. Unfortunately, the upstairs hallway on the way to the bathrooms was being patrolled by a pigeon looking for handouts. My coworker cowered against the wall, and pointed to the pigeon. Another coworker said “Oh just go by him, he won’t do nothin’ to ya…” And so he timidly stepped forward… and the pigeon launched into the air, and flew straight at him. In truly hilarious fashion, he screamed, and ran the rest of the way to the bathroom, as fast as he could. He may be ridiculed about this day from now until the end of time.

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