February 07, 2008

The morning commute just got better

How did that happen, you might ask? After persistently, but really nicely, asking the newspaper guy at the train station to start carrying the New York Sun in addition to the New York Times -- I cannot stand the Times anymore -- he has kindly agreed to order ONE copy of the Sun for me every day. How cool is that? My very own special order.

Yup, the commute just got a whole lot better.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:17 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 08, 2007

drip, drip, drip

It is now almost exactly three hours since I stepped off the train at Grand Central Terminal this morning and walked up Park Avenue to the gym.

I am still wet.

My shoes sit stuffed with paper towels and my socks are lying next to them. I am wearing borrowed socks from the gym. I hung the clothes in the sauna and they are still wet.

I have not experienced a downpour like this since I left Louisiana. The sky opened up and the streets become rivers with water so high that the gutters overflowed on to the sidewalks, sweeping all debris off the walkways. I sloshed with each step.

My briefcase, and contents, are wet. My pants are still wet and my shirt is still wet.

I sit here not quite dripping but far from dry.

Another day in paradise. You betcha.

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July 23, 2007

View from the bridge

I found a lovely picture on the internet that shows one of the views I enjoy from the train on my way home. I think this is really quite nice. There is just something about the water I find very soothing. And by the way, that big cabin cruiser? I've never seen it move.


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January 08, 2007

Adventures in public transportation

I generally stand on the train from somewhere in the Bronx until we reach Grand Central. I usually chat with a train buddy ot two from that point in. It is a nice way to start the day.

Today, I was chatting with one guy, the other was absent without excuse, when this nicely dressed older woman decided to vomit her breakfast (and perhaps her dinner, too, come to think of it) into her copy of the New York Times. God knows, while I have often been tempted to do that, I have always been able to resist. One wonders which article set her off.

Either way, a delightful beginning to the morning after the baby kept us up just about the entire night with his own vomiting problem. And he can't even read the Times yet! I wonder what his excuse was.

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May 31, 2006

Lives of quiet desperation

I may be reading too much into this, but, with that caveat at the forefront, let me jump right in.

I have often thought commuting by train from the suburbs of NYC to Manhattan was, for a certain type of person, a kind of death. It is a suspension from reality, it is time away from work, fun, family. It is a time spent, for most, in avoiding human contact as they pretend no one is sitting next to them and they nurse their silent resentment of the inch or so extra that their seatmate requires. These kinds of commuters, let's call them ghouls, shall we? These ghouls have sold their souls to live where they live. Well, since we all have mortgages out there, I suppose we all have to a certain extent. But it weighs more heavily on some than on others.

For instance, last night, I had a chance to observe one such ghoul. He was dressed in some kind of dockers-like pants, old ones or ones that had missed the last wash day, a button down shirt against which his paunch strained and in the chest pocket of which he had a pack of smokes and some pens. He wore metal framed glasses of no discernable style. They did not flatter the planes of his face. His skin was grayish in tone -- probably because of the cigarette smoking. At his feet, 3 empty Coors light tall boys -- the equivalent of 4 beers in an hour. One beer every 15 minutes. That's a lot of beer, it seems to me. I hope he wasn't driving home. I hope someone was picking him up. But a beer every 15 minutes, by yourself, that is not an expression of joy and happiness. It smacks of desperation and sadness -- like he was trying to dull the pain of his day or even his life.

I hope not to become one of these people. I worry sometimes that I could be well on my way to doing so. There are days I hate my job and days I worry that my daily life (read: work life) is so crushing that I could easily find myself destroyed by it. And then I too would be one of those gray people, sucking hard on a beer. Well, I hope I would at least have the good taste to make it a Scotch. I mean, a girl has to have her standards, you know.

What is it about people that they allow themselves to get caught up entirely in prisons of their own making? This is a serious question. I have been applying it to myself and not in a very coherent manner so this may not make sense. I sometimes look at these other people on the train and wonder if they are tied down by lines only they can see. Maybe its a failure of imagination, that they cannot articulate a solution so they cannot envision a path to accomplish it. Maybe its all about me, there. But the ties that hold you down, I think, are self imposed limits. Maybe you can do whatever you want, if you are prepared to take a risk.

Maybe not.

Maybe this makes no sense and I will cut it off here.

If this made any sense at all, or if you think I am totally full of it, feel free to say so.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:18 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

March 30, 2006

Proust never contemplated this, did he?

I know I've written about the power of smells before. Smells/odors have the power to transport you temporally. I had that experience a couple of nights ago on the train. It had been a very hard couple of days at work and I had spent that particular day in front of a very demanding judge so, by the time I hit the train, I was more than ready for my nap. In fact, I was out before the train left the station. When I awoke, and I did so sort of gradually and grudgingly, it was to a smell. It was a kind of clean, at first, odor. And then, as I become more conscious, I was struck by memories of 9th and 10th grade study hall, sitting in the back left corner of the room that we dubbed the swamp. I vividly recalled the space, the arrangement of the desks, the appearance of my friends, and the smell of the Kodiak dip we regularly (me, not so regularly) put in our mouths and spit on to the carpet behind the radiator. And that's when it hit me, the nicely dressed, gray haired fellow with the respectable spectacles sitting next to me was spitting dip or chewing tobacco into an empty bottle.

Uh, yuck?

While I appreciated the nostalgia trip, I was actually mildly grossed out.

Just the same, we had a short but very pleasant conversation and he told me that a lot of the people he worked with, bond traders, used it. A lot of them are ex-baseball players and picked up the habit there. Also, as a trader, its hard to step away from your desk for long enough to have a smoke. Hence, the smokeless stuff.

Funny experience, though. Even if it was a little icky.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:29 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 22, 2005

Where you at?

I'm not quite sure how to go about this particular entry. See, often, I have either an idea of where I want to end up at the end of an entry, and no idea how I'm going to get there, or no conception of the destination but the journey is clear. This one? Well, neither. I'm trying to figure something out about myself with this one and, truth be told, I neither know how to do it nor remain entirely convinced that the trip is worth the trouble. Enough travel references?

It has to do with my relationship to space and time. There. That sounds nice and broad and perhaps a touch pompous.

Ever take the train? At night? All you can see is the very occasional glimpse of light as you rocket along. And from that glimpse, you can sometimes discern more or less where you are on your journey. Some silhouettes are enough to tell you, some half seen shape, some peculiar configuration. Well, to me, for some unknown reason, this is important. I like to know where I am in terms of time and space.

I can't really do the time part, actually. Ask my wife. She'll tell you that I am curiously unable to calculate and internalize and apply to myself travel time or the amount of time needed to get ready or get others ready or, well, the list could go on. Like putting the kids to bed. She claims I have no idea how long it takes. She may be right. I think kids expand time to suit whatever latitude indulgent parents give them. I can say, dear, that when I have the kids to myself and you are away, I can get them to bed happily and efficiently, no muss, no fuss. I just don't, upon reflection, know how long that takes me to do. Ok, enough digression. Although, since I don't know where this post is going or how its getting there, this may not have been a digression. I reserve judgment on the digression thing until I reach the end. And even then I may not know.

So, I like to know where I am. Even on the train ride. The train ride never varies. The rails were laid out many years ago and they don't move or change their route on a daily basis. So, chances are good that yesterday's ride was the same as today's ride, etc, ad infinitum. That just hints that my needing to know where I am is not rational. Well, that does me no good. I never claimed to be completely sane.

No, maybe I need to know where I am because I have an internal clock, totally divorced from the watch I wear on my wrist. I know, kind of, by some strange calculation, that if the train hits the Greenwich station going in, that I have scads of time left to read. That if I'm at a certain point in the Bronx, starting a new chapter is an exercise in optimism, a second marriage ("triumph of hope over experience"). That, on the way out, a nap from 125th Street to Stamford is a darn fine thing, one to be bragged about at home. I calculate time by knowing distance. I could, I suppose, look at my watch. But I don't. Pretty much ever.

Ok. I can accept this much -- I need to know where I am because I use it to tell time. Kind of atavistic, but still, not entirely without reason.

And by the way, I am really good at this. Even in the total darkness, I can, within moments of looking up from my book, figure out exactly where I am anywhere from Grand Central to Greenwich. Beyond Greenwich, well, no. I can't do it. And it makes me uncomfortable.

Hence this post. As I try to figure out why I need to do this and why it makes me uncomfortable. I think, by this point, I have managed to convince myself it is not an outward manifestation of some deep seeded OCD, but a totally rational albeit strange way to tell how time has passed, by relating my changing position vis a vis landmarks.

I suspect that I will feel more at home in Connecticut when I can extend my little geography from Greenwich to home.

Well, this feels like it could be the end of this post. I'm not sure. But, might as well be. How do I know? I think I've run out of things to say.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:53 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 18, 2005

Those early trains attract an odd mix

As regular readers may have gleaned, I am early train type of guy. I take either the 5:26 or the 5:56 a.m. train into work every morning.

As an aside, I usually take the 5:56 train home. That led me to the starkly depressing realization that I exist in 12 hour periods defined by my trains. I don't know why I find that so depressing, but I do and I certainly cannot identify anything uplifting about this division. But, as I said, this was an aside and not the main point of this post.

No, the main point is to reflect on the weirdness that is the early train.

The early train is a different crowd from the rush hour / express train crowd. These early types are quieter, with one or two exceptions, and include a similar mix of people. There are the finance types, the people who trade for a living or work on foreign securities markets. In fact, one acquaintance asked me which bank I worked for. Then there are the critical function types and I include police officers and the like in this group. You often see them on this train along with NYC Police Academy cadets in their uniforms. Finally, there are the gym rats and I'm in this group. We're all either in our workout gear or clearly unshaven and on the way to the gym to spiff up for the day. These are just general observations and I'm sure that there are lots of different people taking the train who don't fall into these groups.

Then, there are the weirdos. I commute with at least three of them. I suppose, since I have no reason to think otherwise, that they are perfectly nice people but they have mannerisms that cause them to stand out from the herd. Of course, I have named them.

First, there's the Twitcher. Twitcher has something going on with her that causes her facial muscles to twitch and contract into a rictus of a teeth baring grin, except without the friendliness that the word grin connotes. She is in her mid to late 30's is my guess, slim, with short hair and favors blue jeans. Seems nice enough, but who knows. It requires a real effort to look away from the twitch on the platform.

Second, we have the Talker. The Talker is a tall woman, maybe in her 40's, a little thick in the body, looks like she may have played power forward for her college basketball team and still favors that kind of haircut. I call her the Talker not because she talks to me, no, that would be just fine. I have dubbed her the Talker because she appears to be talking to herself, sotto voce, in an impassioned way complete with anguished and sometimes exaggerated facial expressions and head shaking. She conducts arguments with herself and seems, from my vantage point, to be on the losing end of those arguments. I try not to stand too near to her out of a fear that I will be able to overhear the argument and might, against my will, be drawn into it.

Third, and finally, we come to my favorite. I call him Yoga Boy, or sometimes just Yoga. Yoga is probably in his late 50's. He is short, maybe about 5'3'', very thin, with graying hair, balding, and some sort of skin condition that causes his skin to dry out and flake. He is usually dressed in some sort of jeans / sweatshirt combination, carries a back pack with a "No Blood for Oil" and an anti-Bush pin on the shoulder strap. He does not sit on the train. He instead stands in the vestibule and appears to engage in some form of meditation. His eyes closed, standing away from the wall, his knees flexed, he contemplates some inner, more peaceful place, or so I imagine. Hence, Yoga Boy. He stalks up Park Avenue with me or near me almost every morning and appears to move with a barely contained rage. So much for the inner peace thing. His elbows jut out to the sides as he swings his arms and his back pack rides down low over his hips as if it was slightly too big for him. And he hates red lights. When he sees the light is about to go against him, he breaks into an odd floppy bird kind of run, with arms akimbo but keeping his center of gravity very low. I find myself cheering him on in his quest to make the light. “Go, Yoga, go!” Although we stand on the platform together in the morning and although we walk up Park more or less together, he has never acknowledged my existence. I have looked at him when he arrives on the platform so as to at least give him a friendly nod, but his gaze is resolutely fixed simultaneously both inward and outward across the platform. Either way, although we have stood next to each other for months, I clearly do not fall within the scope of his gaze. That’s actually kind of fine with me.

I do wonder if it annoys him when I chat with my friend, though, as we wait for the train together.

Welcome to my world on the 5:56. I am but a spectator on this one, most of the time.

I do wonder, only fleetingly, what my fellow passengers would write about me, given the opportunity.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:03 AM | Comments (14)

December 16, 2004

Overheard on the Train Platform: Old Man Humor

While standing on the train platform this morning, awaiting the arrival of the 6:40, I was treated to the following exchange between two older men behind me.

Man 1: How old are you anyway?

Man 2: Just turned 59, actually.

Man 1: Really! Good for you. I just had a milestone birthday myself.

Man 2: Milestones?!? They pay to get rid of them?

It was all I could do not to laugh out loud at that one.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:52 AM | Comments (0)

September 22, 2004

The Bronx, by Moonlight

There is something oddly beautiful about Bruckner Blvd. at 10:00 on a Tuesday night in the Fall. The cars go whizzing by as they pass by the scrap metal yards, building supplies establishments, gas stations, strip clubs, and mysterious boarded up lots with huge amounts of razor tipped barb wire. True, your quiet contemplation of this urban landscape may be disturbed by the shouts of the driver telling the gas station attendant that he gave him a ten dollar bill and not a five and that he better program the pump for ten dollars, all expletives deleted here. But you let that all roll past you since you left your house some 16 1/2 hours earlier that morning and you sit in the car sort of half dazed by lack of rest.

At this point, you may be wondering, with apologies to the Talking Heads, this is not my beautiful train. How did I get to this place? Metro North. Police activity. Shut down the New Haven line for who knows how long. Stranded in Grand Central Station.

So I called a car service. The car service assured me that they would have a car for me in 8 minutes. I must have misheard them. It took more like 40 minutes. I stood outside the Grand Hyatt on 42nd Street for 40 minutes and watched the Secret Service and Police cars fly by with the dignitaries and their hangers on. The UN General Assembly is in session and all kinds of world leaders are here to address the Assembly and do a little shopping. It was fun to watch the President of Kenya, surrounded by body guards and guys trying to sell knock off Rolex watches (I kid) and other guys in flowing white robes saunter into the hotel. I was still out there when one of the bodyguards came out and, in accented but idiomatic English, have a long, pleading cell phone conversation with a woman (I presume) who he was trying to convince to come out and give him some special international intervention. Highly entertaining. The doorman I was standing next to thought so, too. This was easily the high point of the journey home last night.

When we managed to tear ourselves away from the conversation with the gas station attendant and leave the Bronx behind, we journeyed on to Westchester and home. Where the son of a bitch driver tried to cheat me. First, I paid the toll at I 95 -- $1. Then, he asked me if I could pay the tip in cash and I said, sure and gave him a $10. The denomination may not have registered with him because when I gave him the $10, he told me that there was a mandatory 20% tip. Also, his math? Not so good. A 20% tip would have been $10.40. So I, at that point with no patience, lost my temper. I took the ten back. I told him that this was the first time in the many years I had been using this car service that I had ever heard that and I was going to call the dispatcher right now and ask if that was true. He told me to forget it. I then got the charge slip to find that he added $5 on for "tolls". At that point I crossed that out, told him that I wasn't tipping him at all, accused him of trying to cheat me and left. Not a great ending to a not great trip. I'm going to be calling American Express shortly to see how much the car service has tried to actually put through on my card. Then I'm calling the car service customer service people. Let the games begin.

What idiot said it was the journey, not the destination, that mattered? I have a number for a great car service for him.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:38 AM | Comments (6)

September 15, 2004

I narked on someone today

I pass through Grand Central Station at least twice a day every work day, sometimes more often. I pass through it during prime commuter hours, at least in the evening when I usually try to make the 6:00 train so I can get home early enough to play with my kids. That's why I'm at my desk by 7:30 every morning. The terminal is usually guarded by police and national guardsmen. I think that the guards are supposed to make us feel safe. Generally, I don't feel safe. My thoughts usually tend to the dark and the morose while walking through and I fixate a bit on some bad things. Today, coming off the train, there was some woman with a small camcorder taping the passengers as they exited the train and streamed up the platform. She wasn't in an MTA uniform. It made me nervous. I've never seen anyone do that.

So I found a policeman immediately, told him what I saw, and he went from relaxed and watchful to tense and in motion in a nanosecond as he went to investigate. He didn’t even take the time to say a single word to me after I reported to him. He was just on his way without hesitation.

The taping made me nervous, more nervous, I should say. I'm glad I narked on this woman, even if it was a perfectly innocent exercise on her part.

Because, what if it wasn't?

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:28 AM | Comments (15)

September 09, 2004

Clove Cigarettes

While waiting on the train platform this morning for the 6:43 local train to Grand Central Station, I was in that kind of half bemused totally automatic pilot state that comes from getting up too early and walking through the gusting winds and very hard rain, when suddenly I smelled a clove cigarette. I haven't smelled one of those for years. It smelled quite pleasant, a little sweet maybe, but certainly nicer than the cigarette the other guy was smoking.

I was mildly bemused when I realized someone was still smoking these things. Anyone else recall smoking these during college when you wanted to appear to be so sophisticated or because all of your dead head friends smoked them? Can you still taste the nasty, harsh taste of the burning clove oil on the tobacco? Growing up, and leaving that behind, is not all bad, I suppose.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:45 AM | Comments (6)

August 20, 2004

T-Shirt Seen on Train

Coming home on the train tonight after a lovely dinner with my wife, I saw the following t-shirt on a young man on the train and I wanted to share it before the buzz from the wine faded and I no longer thought it was a good idea to post this:

My Other Ride is Your Mother

Now I hit "save" real quick before I can reconsider. Hey, I'm really not that mature.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:42 PM | Comments (7)

July 14, 2004

A little Sartre goes a long way

I defaced a poster last night on the way home from work. Well, not a poster exactly. More like a sign. The conductor posted a handwritten sign with the words "No Exit" over the door to the train carriage closest to where I and many others were sitting. Of course it was an exit. In point of fact, it was the chosen exit for those of us in that part of the carriage and we all did actually end up exiting through it. I think the sign may have been left over from a different route. No matter. I was the first to line up at the door to await my station stop. I stood in front of this sign and couldn't help myself. I took up my pen and glanced quickly over my shoulder (thus establishing to the complete satisfaction of even the most casual observer that I was about to do something either suspicious or improper or both). I then wrote huis clos on the sign. Often enough, when you commute sitting near some idiot who has his cell phone fixed to his ear and his voice set to stun, you agree with Sartre that hell really is other people.

Inject a little existentialism in everybody's day.

Posted by Random Penseur at 06:49 AM | Comments (5)

July 13, 2004

No newspaper this morning

There was no paper outside my door this morning. Usually, there is. So, I occupied myself this morning with reading all of various manual and "how-to" items I printed out concerning MT. The commute just flew by. At one point, however, I looked around the train and I noticed that the seven people sitting closest to me were all reading seven different newspapers:

* the Financial Times
* Investor's Daily
* Wall Street Journal
* NY Times
* USA Today (I guess it's a newspaper, too)
* NY Post, and,
* the local Gannet newspaper (I forget the name)

Now, you may say to yourself, "self, that seems like a lot of newspapers". And then you might agree with yourself. But that would be wrong, because thanks to Andrew Cusack, we know that NY has 18 daily papers. I think that's quite cool, but then, I am a newspaper and periodical junky. I probably look at three or more of those 18 on a daily basis and more on line.

The NY Times and I have a special relationship. I think of it as a love/hate/couldn't care less kind of a thing. Sometimes I love certain sections, sometimes a hate most of the politically correct and biased tone and reporting, and it couldn't care less about what I think about it. By the way, I am no longer allowed to read the Times around my children. I have language issues.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:02 AM | Comments (1)

June 24, 2004

Look. See.

What's the difference? The difference is being open and willing to become engaged by what you are looking at it. Most of the time, we look but don't see. Last night, coming home on the train, I saw. It just lasted a moment, but I saw. I'll try to describe what I saw.

I was on the train. We had passed over the bridge going from Manhattan to the Bronx and were entering this little canyon where the tracks are depressed and the walls on either side are high. I happened to look up out of the window for a moment and I saw a building, all alone, with nothing else around it. It was silhouetted against the sky. It was brick painted a tan or beige color, probably about 8 stories high, maybe 10. It was at an angle to me so that I was looking at its corner. And it was set against the sky, all alone. The sky was like thirty different shades of blue, streaked by some small clouds floating here and there. All of those shades of blue melded together into a blue that was achingly perfect and made more perfect by the small imperfections of the clouds. And this building thrust itself up against this perfect sky and looked, maybe because of the position of the angle or because of the juxtaposition of the three basic colors, two dimensional. It was like a painting.

The train moved on and it was evanescent. I think I gasped quietly at the perfection of that moment. I hope I conveyed it here.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:55 AM | Comments (0)

April 27, 2004

Train Buddies

I mentioned before, in passing, the concept of commuting time as not being real time, as existing only in the interstices of your day. It is time defined more by what it isn't than what it is. What I mean is that it is time where you aren't: at work; at home; running errands; seeing friends; or playing with your children. See what I mean? It is time that doesn't fit nicely into the niche that is your daily life. It is time that is defined by the fact that it isn't any of those activities which constitute your daily existence. So what is it? I think of it as bubble time or time that is caught between your daily activities, which is why I consider it to be existing in the interstices -- its in between time. I think its a fascinating concept.

If, like me, you commute to work by commuter rail then you are probably in a seat, in a quiet train with relatively considerate fellow commuters who also value quiet (assuming you commute at rush hour or before). Maybe you read, maybe you sleep, maybe you listen to music. Maybe you just exist. If you are a to-do list, goal oriented person, maybe this is the only time of the day you can't be that, so you sort of shut down and exist. I can't explain it any better than that but if you look around the train in the morning you see people who are doing nothing and have such blank, sometimes almost slack, faces. Personally, I read the news paper or a book or a magazine on the way in. On the way home, much the same for me. Many people bring cocktails or beer or wine on the train home. That can make it a very civilized ride and I speak there from occasional but personal experience.

So, perhaps you agree with me that commuting starts out that way, at least. But what happens in the time you are waiting to commute. You know, you get to the station a couple of minutes early to get a good spot on the platform because the doors open more or less at the same spot every day. So you get there early to make sure you get your choice of seats on the train. But you are not alone. People are creatures of habit and more often than not will pick their group or spot on the platform. What happens when you see the same people every morning? Well, no matter how early it is, you eventually start to talk to them. Then you get your train buddies.

Train buddies are people who also only exist for you in this in-between world. You may never know their names. Sure, you may have exchanged names but you don't really remember them and the fact is that the names are not important. You know them by details and that is how you think of them. There is Bond Trader who sometimes commutes with Pretty Blond Fiancee. There is Euro Trader. There is Bow Tie guy. There is Real Estate Lawyer. There is Fire Lieutenant Jacket guy, who is always first at the platform. There is English guy. That's about it. By the way, almost all of them are men at 6:15 in the morning.

So, these guys exist in the margins only. What's odd, though, is the intimacy of the relationships. Fire guy knew I had applied for a new job that would have taken me to Florida to live. Something my parents certainly did not know. I know where Euro Trader's daughter is going to college and what she plans to study. I know about Bond Trader's former dating habits in the local bars (lots of foreign nannies) and his new wedding plans (his fiancee is a doll). I know about English guy's medical issues. I know that Bow Tie's wife just lost her job and he talked about how that will effect their house renovation plans. This is intimate stuff. And you know what else? All this takes place in no more than a 5-10 minute period shortly after 6:00 each morning. It stops when you get on the train because then you are in your bubble and no one wants to talk any more.

But, these guys are your train buddies. Keepers of intimate details of your life. You only see them for a couple of minutes a day and you may not even know their names. Maybe that's why the relationship works. Maybe we can only be intimate with others outside of our social/family circle if the main characteristic of the relationship is its anonymity.

Either way, I remain fascinated by the concept of time that you inhabit that exists only in the intersections of your life and filled with people who exist there with you.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:15 AM | Comments (0)