Friday, July 10, 2009

Weird Commuting Stories!

Here are a few short weird commuting stories for your Blog-reading pleasure.
Once, while driving upstate to Albany, NY for a consulting assignment, I was on a completely clear highway… clear except for one potential obstacle up ahead – a RAIN CLOUD! Yes, a lone rain cloud – pouring rain, I might add – was directly up the road in my path, hanging low in the sky (just above the ground) and soaking the road ahead. I could see it from a distance, all by its lonesome. I drove through it, my car was drenched, and I came out the other side to see it in my rear view mirror. I’ve never seen the likes of that before or since. Nor, have I ever passed through a cloud (…not low-lying FOG, but an honest-to-high-pressure CLOUD, doing “cloud-ish things” like rain) and not been in an airplane.

How many of you have ever hit a DUCK IN FLIGHT while driving? On to another consulting assignment in Northern CT, I was traveling the Merritt Parkway on a fine fall afternoon when, up ahead, I saw a duck perched on the side of the road. As I drove nearer, I saw the duck rear up its wings. “AWWW, NOOO!”, I thought, knowing what was about to happen. Sure enough, the duck took off, from my right side – and out over the road… directly in my path. It was gaining altitude, but not enough to clear my windshield. BAM! It hit right in front of me, and left a slight bloody streak across the windshield. The windshield washer and wipers took care of the streak and, at highway speed on the narrow hilly Merritt, I was not about to look back to see what became of the duck. Hopefully, it suffered no more than a Hollywood Flesh Wound and continued on its way. If not, I will eternally attempt to “make it up” to ducks everywhere by trying to write Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comic books to the very best of my ability.

The “E Train”, between Queens and Manhattan, is truly an experience to be savored. If you commute between Eastern Queens and Long Island City or Manhattan, as I did during 2003-2005, it can be very crowded and uncomfortable – and often made worse by things that just shouldn’t happen to civilized human beings. Often, I would unnecessarily lengthen my commute home by taking the “V Local Train” over the faster "E Express", just to avoid the discomfort… but this day I braved the E – and actually managed to squeeze into a seat (!)… when the panic started! From the far side of the car, passengers began screaming and jumping out of their seats. I could only guess that a RAT was loose in the car – as they are such a common sight on the track bed, and sometimes even on the platforms. BUT, NO… it was worse than even a rat (…that you could always shoo out of the car the next time the doors opened). It was a rushing yellow river of pee emanating from a sleeping, zombie-like guy, seemingly unconscious at the end of the car. As the train curved and pitched, the feared torrent of urine poured down the car from one end to another (…tilt a not-quite-empty bottle of liquid back and forth to simulate the effect!), causing great horror among us non-zombies as it went!

Once you get past the expense and parking issues, The Long Island Rail Road might actually be the best way to commute… as long as your destination is Manhattan, and maybe downtown Brooklyn. A far-western destination like Long Island City is not at all convenient, but the trip can be reasonably negotiated with the proper amount of diligence.

I USED to enjoy the LIRR far more than I do now for commuting. Time was that, unless you were in a “Three-Seater” next to two persons who know each other, you could travel in relative quiet – could read or sleep to your heart’s content. Now, no matter where you sit, and no matter who sits around you, you are bombarded with incessant cell phone conversations and assaulted by electronic noisemakers of every size, shape and volume level. Reading becomes difficult and sleep – unless completely exhausted – impossible.

In those good old days, I would sleep every morning into Penn Station, and read through the trip home. There was a particular seating configuration that would occur ONCE in every linked pair of the older (‘70s ‘80s vintage) rail cars… the LAST SEAT NEXT TO THE RIGHT SIDE WALL AT ONE END OF THE CAR where there was NO WINDOW, just a smooth wall. (LIRR commuters probably know what I mean!) There was a similar situation for the LEFT SIDE WALL but, as I preferred to lean my head to the right to sleep, I would – whenever possible – make a beeline for that singular seat. I would blissfully sleep my way into Penn Station, with my Monthly Commutation Ticket pinned to my tie by a tie clip for the conductor to see on his rounds.

One early-nineties morn, I woke up from my usual sleep to a pleasant surprise. I had been sleeping, with my head against the back right side wall as usual, and I woke to find an attractive young lady curled up snugly next to me sleeping quite comfortably. Never one to question a good “gift snuggle” – and STILL not entirely certain I wasn’t dreaming – I remained motionless and enjoyed the ride… until she woke up rather embarrassed.

Nothing like closing on a “Happy Ending”!

4 comments:

Bruce said...

Ah, Joe...so much to reply to...so little time...well, I have a little...

The rain cloud reminds me of a couple of things. One is Florida, where the same thing occurs all the time: you can see a lonely band of rain ahead while the sun is shining on YOUR head, you finally drive through it like you're in a car wash, and then - voila - you're back in the sunshine.

The other thing concerns the comic strips BC, The Wizard of ID and Croc (all by the same author/artist?). More often than not they would have a lonely cloud with a lightning bolt that would zap one of the poor unsuspecting characters.

As for the poor duck...I feel bad about that but know what you mean. I remember driving in Utah years ago, stopping to get gas in some desert outpost, and discovering some huge bird on my front bumper.

And as for the 'E' train, I'm glad I wasn't having breakfast reading about your "friend" on the train. Ah, reminds me of one my first songs, "The E Train Doesn't Come Here Any More"...

I'd comment on your LIRR stuff, but it's the weekend, and I'd rather not think about commuting!!

Great posts!

-Bruce

Joe Torcivia said...

Bruce writes:

“…[ In Florida] you can see a lonely band of rain ahead while the sun is shining on YOUR head, you finally drive through it like you're in a car wash, and then - voila - you're back in the sunshine.”

That’s EXACTLY what it was like! Maybe it’s common elsewhere, but I’ve never seen the likes of it in New York!

And, by now, The Duck has probably Blogged about the experience from his own point of view!

“A metal monster, roaring like thunder and belching the fires of Hell came straight at me! Armed with only my ducky-wits, and against all odds, it was my finely-honed avian reflexes and winged agility that avoided disaster this day…”

Thought you’d enjoy it – and remember… Don’t fill your canteen from “yellow rivers”!

Joe.

Chris Barat said...

Joe,

Doesn't the LIRR have "quiet cars" during rush hour, where loud conversations and the like are prohibited? The local MARC train between Baltimore and DC has them. Of course, other people's interpretation of "quiet" may be slightly different from your own, but at least you have a fighting chance of getting some rest.

I've never struck a duck, but I have clipped a few squirrels in my time. The Rescue Rangers issued a warrant for my apprehension, I believe, but the statute of limitations has long since run out.

Chris

Joe Torcivia said...

Chris:

“Quiet Cars” are a great idea, that I don’t imagine the LIRR ever adopting.

Now, you CAN (and always could) avoid a conversation by not sitting in the proximity of a group that appears to know one another. It’s the proliferation of electronic noise makers and sound carriers that has changed the face of commuting for me. There is no escaping them, and I’ve been guilty of cell conversations as well (but never noise-producing games) – though I’ve always made an effort to be as unobtrusive as possible.

As for your driving dilemma, I wouldn’t worry about the Rescue Rangers -- but keep checking your rearview for C’HP the Chipmunk/Squirrel Green Lantern! Road kill cases make him go… (pardon) “nuts”!

Joe.