November 28, 2020

"Getting There" - Conductor Writes Tell-All Memoirs

 Are you nostalgic for the “good old days” on Metro-North… the crowded trains, the inevitable delays, your often-times crazy fellow passengers?   If so, you’ll want to check out former conductor Michael Shaw’s great new book, “My Rail Life”.

Shaw has just retired from a 36 year career as a conductor on the New Haven line.  His father also worked for the railroad as do 5 of his siblings.  And he clearly loved his job.

He once told passengers on a standing-room only train: “OK, folks.  We are half way to Grand Central.  It’s time for everyone who’s been seated to get up and give their seats to folks who’ve been standing.”

Asked by a passenger boarding at Grand Central, “what times does this train arrive in Stamford?” he answered, “Usually about 20 minutes after the schedule says”.

On another train he announced: “Folks, I have good news and bad news.  The good news is that Metro-North fixed the air conditioning you complained about not having all summer long.  The bad news it’s now winter.”

Honest to a fault, he turned in everything left by passengers on his train to the Metro-North Lost and Found… even an envelope containing $400 in cash. (The lost money wasn’t claimed so he got it back.)  On many occasions he’d find a lost briefcase or cell-phone and personally return it to the owner’s home the same day.

He also loved razzing his fellow railroad workers, once announcing, “If you have any railroad questions or would like to take your picture with a real railroad engineer, come to the front of the train and say “Hi”.  My name is Jerry and I love people.”  Shaw’s name is not Jerry and the real Jerry hates people.

Approaching Bridgeport Shaw announced the connection for the Waterbury train, adding “Be sure to ask your Waterbury conductor for one of the free 100 Years Commemorative pins.”  There were no pins.

On late Friday night trains Shaw would hold a contest with his fellow conductors watching drunk passengers boarding at Grand Central, guessing who would be first to throw up.  Shaw immediately chose a 95 pound blonde he saw staggering to the nearest car with her equally inebriated boyfriend.  Even before leaving the station his co-worker came and gave him his winnings.

Shaw always went out of his way to keep passengers informed about delays.  In the horrendous winter of 2014 when the railroad almost ground to a halt, he printed a one-page apology for the previous day’s delays and did his own seat-drop of 500 copies before the train left New Haven.  Passengers were so grateful for his candor they gave him a standing ovation as he entered each car to collect tickets.  The railroad bosses were not amused.

Approaching an obviously senior citizen to collect his fare, the old timer asked if Shaw needed his ID to prove his age.  Saying that wouldn’t be necessary, the old timer asked “Are you saying I look too old?”  “No,” said Shaw. “You look honest.”

On another occasion he approached an elderly, grey-haired woman who wanted to buy a senior-discount ticket.  “Are you over 65?,” he asked, knowing the answer. “Actually, I’m 82” she said.  “Well, you look marvelous!,” said Shaw, asking  “What’s your secret?”.  Without a smile or batting an eyelash she said “Rough sex.”

If you need a good chuckle, you’ll love this book.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media

 

November 14, 2020

"Getting There" - Gasoline is Too Cheap

  Gasoline is too cheap.

Wait!  Don’t turn the page!  This is not another tree-hugger train-guy rant. Hear me out.

President-elect Biden has made the argument for weaning us off fossil-fuels, mostly for environmental reasons.  Anybody who remotely believes in science or has witnessed the cataclysmic changes in our weather, knows we must do something to stop global warming.

But I still drive a car (albeit a hybrid) and am not ready to give it up for a bicycle or skateboard like some crazed Gen-Z’er.  We need cars to get around in Connecticut despite our meager attempts at mass transit… especially in the time of COVID.

My argument is that price of the fuel we use (gasoline) doesn’t cover the real cost to our environment (or each other) when we drive.  Gasoline is too cheap.

Why does a gallon of gasoline, which moves us 20 – 50 miles (depending on your car’s efficiency), cost less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks?  Enjoying your java doesn’t destroy the ozone layer.

Why does a gallon of gas in the US cost roughly half of what it does in Canada?  Or a third of the price in Europe? 

The answer is taxes.  Other nations put huge taxes on fuel and reinvest the proceeds into mass transit, subsidizing the fares.

OK, so you don’t want to take the train or a bus.  That’s fine. Drive your car and enjoy the crowded highways… and our polluted air.  Those are the cost of cheap fuel too.

Did you know that Connecticut’s air quality is, by many criteria, dirtier than Los Angeles’?  Sure, a lot of that airborne crud is floating our way from New York City, but we’re not helping ourselves by adding to it.  Nor are we aiding our residents who have conditions like asthma.

Caring parents obsess about protecting the health of their kids by buying organic food, but drive to the supermarket to acquire it in SUVs. There seems no incentive for buying a car, truck or SUV that uses less fuel with gas prices so low.

When I visit Europe again (soon, I hope) I won’t see SUVs, but smaller, cleaner, much more fuel efficient cars.  With the higher price of gasoline reflecting the actual cost of driving, European motorists don’t waste fuel the way we do.

The oil companies get it.  That’s why BP (British Petroleum)  is investing in solar and wind, expecting to produce 40% less fossil fuels in the next decade.

Wall Street also understands it, witness the more than quadrupling in the share price of Tesla (maker of electric cars) in the last year.

So why don’t we get it?  Why is gasoline so cheap?

Depending on whom you talk to, we have about 47 years worth of oil left before we run out.  That assumes current consumption levels.  If we use less, it will last longer.  That’s why the price of gasoline should go up so we are incentivized to drive less in smaller cars and make our oil last longer while we transition to renewables, right?

Of course, what do we care?  We won’t be around when the oil runs out.  That, along with the rising sea level and coastal flooding, will be the next generation’s problem.  I’m sure they’ll figure it out. Good luck, kids.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media

 

BUILDING GREAT (AND REALLY EXPENSIVE) THINGS

Grand Central Madison, the new train station bored into the rock beneath Grand Central Terminal, is finally open.  When it’s fully operation...