Posts tagged ‘trains’


Warum ich ein Schicksal bin

(That is, “Why I am a Destiny”; it’s the title of one of the sections of Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo; other sections have names like “Why I am so smart”, “Why I write such good books”, and so on. Interesting guy, ol’ Neitzsche.)

The Invisible Masters have been using me a little more blatantly than usual lately. I wrote about the cute older couple with cellphones the other day, and now I have another story this morning.

The doors between cars on Metro North are a test of both brain and brawn. They have four handles, one of which actually unlatches the door so it can be opened, and the other three of which are deadbolts that lock the door closed (which is kinda puzzling to me, because they have handles on both sides of the door, and so can’t be used to actually lock anyone out, but whatevs). And they have very strong hinge-springs.

So a typical person wanting to open a door may turn one of the wrong handles, locking the door, and then maybe try the right handle, but the door is locked so it doesn’t work. And even if they do figure out the right positions of the four handles, they still have to be strong enough to get the door open.

This morning I was on the usual train to work, sitting in my usual seat in my private office at the conductor’s end of the car. It’s a nice seat, with a little extra privacy and space, and inter alia allows one to become well-versed in how the door works, and help people with it now and then.

This young and rather grumpy-looking woman came up to the door this morning, somewhere south of Ossining, and fiddled with the handles and vainly tugged at the door. I reached over and opened the door for her, and she stepped through and struggled vainly with the door to the next car.

“How many stops does this train make?” she asked, stepping back into my office.

“Nothing between Ossining and Grand Central.”

“No, I mean, how many other stops.”

“None; it’s an express.”

Sighing, “I think I’m on the wrong train.”

“You should talk to the conductor, he can… be helpful.” I said, although I figured that meant he could tell her what train to get at Grand Central to get back up to whatever station she was headed for.

“Yeah, but he’s,” she nodded toward the next car, “and that door’s locked.”

So I disentangled from the Internet and extracted myself from my phone, and opened both doors for her, and felt virtuous.

But here is the Schicksal part: not too long later, a bell rang, and the train rolled to a stop at Yonkers. Out the window I saw the woman looking around, and then going through an open door into the train across the platform. And the Express rolled on.

I had no idea they would do that. :)



Train Sign nicely vandalizedDid you know that the various advertising signs in (for instance) Metro-North commuter train cars are just thin cardboard things, at least some of which are blank on the back, which are sort of slid insecurely into little tabs in insecure metal frames?

So that for instance it’s entirely possible to:

  • Slip a particularly repulsive one out of its frame and lay it down to one side where the occupants will no longer be subjected to it (at which some of said occupants might potentially express amused gratitude), and even to
  • Slip one that is say urging people to gamble out of its frame, turn it around to the blank side, and slip it back in, and then draw say an abstract smiley face on it.

Of course one probably shouldn’t do these things, because the train line probably has regulations about interfering with the advertising of our Corporate Masters, and one wouldn’t want to get in trouble with the CorpCops…


The shooting-down of flight MH17 was horrible; people should stop doing this kind of thing. I blame it on sociopathic assholes who are willing to cause innumerable deaths for the sake of power; but probably I do this at least partly to find an easy target to blame, so I don’t have to think too hard about what it says about humanity in general, including me. So we won’t think about that now.

But we will think about why, when talking about the people living near where the plane went down, NPR this morning referred to them as “villagers” from a nearby “village”.

(See our earlier essay, Who’s the Chief of the BBC?)

It seemed odd to me. In my youth I lived near the Village of Spring Valley, but I would not have thought of the people who lived there as “villagers”.

The Wikipedia page on “Village (United States)” does not contain the string “villager”.

The page on “Village” in general contains “villager” twice: the contexts are:

Malay and Indonesian villagers practice the culture of helping one another as a community

Most Russian rural residents are involved in agricultural work, and it is very common for villagers to produce their own food.

So villagers can be Malay, Indonesian, or Russian (if rural).

The obvious Google search suggests that “villager” is usually the name of a local newspaper.

A quick search on the BBC suggests that villagers can be:

  • In early 20th Century England,
  • In India (and mostly illiterate),
  • In China (and being hit by a flood),
  • In a hamlet in Devon, England (coping with storms),
  • On Komodo Island (killed by a local dragon),
  • Somewhere in England (I guess), saving a shop.

The two English ones:

Hallsands villager Jonathan Hale said: “Until the storms we had no idea of the policy of no intervention.”

Reg Moule is in the studio taking your gardening questions plus we find out about a shop in the county that was saved by a villager and is now thriving

If we try CNN, we find that villagers are:

  • In Africa (shunning a relief worker who survived Ebola),
  • In “a tiny district” in Nepal (falling prey to organ traffickers),
  • In Iraq (saving a contractor from ISIS),
  • In Nigeria (fighting off Boko Haram).

which are all a bit Other, but maybe CNN just talks about foreigners alot.

Hm, maybe USA Today? There we have just a few villagers:

  • In Indonesia in an earthquake,
  • In Belgium in the 1990s, building a small memorial to some Tuskegee Airmen,
  • In France in WWII, speaking broken English to some American soldiers,
  • Nelson Mandela, in South African in his youth,
  • In Africa, saving a Navy Seal,
  • In Central China, buying a baby,
  • In New Mexica, being a Latino using evil magic,
  • and so on in foreign countries.

It may be telling here that even the USA Today site has mostly foreign villagers, and the one that is in the US is Latino, and so Other.

Not enough to draw any definite conclusions from, but I get the general impression that “villager” is, for the mainstream West, another word used when Othering people, like those living near where airplanes are shot down in foreign countries…


Who Else

Who else
On this train,
I wonder,
Is also awake?

Who else is looking
Beyond the obvious
With inner eyes,
Searching for souls.

There should be a token,
A badge or a pin,
That we could wear,
We awake ones.

Do not fear me,
It would say,
And I will not
Fear you.

We can let our eyes
Meet, and smile
We can talk
Like old friends

In this sea of unknowing
We can be together
For a moment
In safety.

Maybe, if we had these pins,
For our lapels
We would find
Everyone wearing one

And finally
We would meet

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The silence of the everyones

One odd thing, a very very odd thing really, thinking about it, is how silent the commute into The Big City is.

Not silent-silent, of course; the train makes lots (and lots) of noise, the big commuter train and the subway trains. The loudspeakers also speak loudly about standing clear of the closing doors and all.

But the people…

There is an official Quiet Car on the big commuter train; the first car or the last one, generally, depending on phase of the moon or something. (On the even bigger Amtrak trains, the Quiet Car has signboards suspended from the ceiling, saying “this is the Quiet Car” and all; on the commuter train you’re just supposed to hear the announcement and know which car you are in.)

But really, they needn’t bother.

On every car, everyone is silent. There may be two or four people traveling together, who speak in low whispers. There may be someone talking quietly into a cellphone, but even if they aren’t talking about their recent surgery or divorce or whatever (which I can sort of understand being disturbed by), but just saying “yes” and “aha” and “that’s nice”, they can still be tapped on the shoulder and asked to “keep it down” (I have seen this happen, with my eyes!).

I suppose maybe everyone is either trying to sleep, or being considerate of people who are trying to sleep.

Or they are just being boring. :)

Who does dare to make sounds? It’s kind of an interesting list:

  • People will talk, a little, if there is a reason; they will ask each other to make sure this is the right train when the loudspeaker says something confusing; a nice lady will ask me if I am all right when I make the mistake of sitting down on the subway and therefore crack my head sharply on the overhead handrail when I stand up again, and therefore sit down again quite abruptly; someone will ask me if this train stops at Penn Station, and I will proudly know the answer and tell them it does. But that is all very brief.
  • The subway musicians make sounds of course. Good sounds! Both the licensed ones with their assigned spots and their nice-looking cases put out for tips, and maybe their CDs for sale, and the I-suspect-less-licensed ones who just set up at a random place in the long hallway between Times Square and Port Authority. (I always carry spare dollar bills in a cargo pocket for these.)
  • Some people asking for things are mostly silent also, just sitting with a cup and maybe a sign, hoping for coins (or dollars). They are pretty rare; I suspect they are silent because if they are too noticed they get moved along by Authorities. But sometimes they will talk softly, or slightly jiggle their cups.
  • More mobile people asking for things can break the quiet of the subway to give their stories and rattle their cups; those tend to get dollars, too, even if (like the quite able-bodied guy on the 8th Avenue Local yesterday evening) their stories don’t really sound all that convincing. But I am in the “better a dozen grifters scam a bit than a hungry person get nothing” camp, so there we are. (The other morning on the train platform there was a guy offering resumés and asking if anyone needed a Graphic Designer; unusual!)
  • In between are the occasional musicians on the subway itself; playing the guitar or the sax (both or which I’ve seen recently) or whatever else. Do they also need licenses, I wonder, or are they technically just subway riders who happen to be playing an instrument, or something else?
  • The people giving away (trying to give away) the dueling Free Newspapers (AM New York and something Metro something) are to variable degrees talkative and cheerful or forceful or loud.
  • There are always people shouting about their God; pretty much invariably that Jesus fellow. Sometimes they are reading aloud from their Bible, holding up signs with chapter and verse, and sometimes just expressing themselves, apparently ad lib, about sin and salvation and all.
  • And then there was this rather down-at-the-heel looking fellow with a full beard who was singing (in quite a respectable voice) John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” while walking down that same long underground tunnel yesterday. If I wouldn’t have been completely and insultingly off-key I would have joined in out loud (I did in my head, of course).

I’m told that in more Southern climes public transportation is much talkier, more raucous, full of conversation and argument and shouting. I don’t know if that’s true even on Monday mornings. :)

There was that one time, some holiday night or something maybe?, when I was on a train for some reason and there were some tipsy young women talking and laughing and singing, and there was a not quite as young (but also I suspect slightly inebriated) man who kept yelling at them to shut up, and that was exciting. I think they all eventually got more or less thrown off the train by the conductor(s), for being unwilling to calm down.

More interesting than the stifled stifling silence, anyway…

how the hell can a person
go on to work in the morning
to come home in the evening
and have nothing to say?

Make me an angel
that flies from Montgomery
Make me a poster
of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing
that I can hold on to
To believe in this livin’
is just a hard way to go.


Passing in the night

So when you are riding in a train and looking out the window (or not), one of the notable things that goes by outside is other trains.

Train blur

Other trains are notable, in particular, because unlike most of the other things that go by outside, other trains are, a non-negligible fraction of the time, not standing still (relative to, say, the train tracks), but are moving. And also are often real close-by.

Even if the other train is standing still, since there’s a reasonable chance that it might not be, you can’t reliably tell that it is, just from what you see out the window when it’s filled up by the other train. It might be standing still and your train is moving, or your train might be moving while the other one is standing still (the actual case in the current hypothetical), or both trains might actually be moving (relative, again, to something like the tracks).

If the other train is moving, in the same direction and at about the same speed as your train, you can see out of your window and into the window of the other train, as it slides slowly forward and back due to small changes in relative speed, and sometimes there are other people over there that you could, say, wave at. Unless you are too shy at the time. (Which is fine.)

If the other train is moving in the other direction, then there is great rush and zooming and blurriness, because the other train looks like it is moving very fast indeed, at twice the average speed of the trains, or at the magnitude of the difference of their velocities (equal under the assumption that they really are moving in exactly opposite directions, basically). Which is very fast if both trains are moving somewhat fast. If both trains are moving slowly, then the other train might appear to be moving just somewhat fast, but still faster than it really is.

(All of these cases really come down to “the difference of their velocities”, of course, or the magnitude or absolute value thereof, which is in some sense the “relative speed”.)

Also, especially in the “moving quite fast in the opposite direction” case, when the other train’s beginning or end (front or back) moves by the window that you are sitting by (or the car that you are sitting in, generally), a thing happens with the air between the trains, where a high or a low pressure bulge goes rapidly by your train on that side, and there’s this sort of whooomp sound, which is fun. (It occurs to me that the high-pressure and low-pressure sounds are probably different; I will have to gather more data.) Or not just a sound, really, but a sound and a feeling, or maybe a sound with very significant very-low-frequency components (which is about the same thing).

So there is that!

Addendum to our observations on the S and the 7 the other day: another feature of taking the 7 from Times Square to Grand Central is that if you like miss a luck roll, you end up somewhere underground in a maze of twisty little passages, all but one of which just lead to other subway platforms rather than up into the rest of Grand Central where you actually want to be,

On the other hand the maze also contains a smiling redheaded woman playing the Irish Fiddle in the corner of one passage, which is compensation. :)


some additional words

So I woke up with some Upper Respiratory invasion on Saturday morning, and didn’t feel pretty much normal until yesterday sometime. That was no particular fun!

It did allow me to determine firsthand that, while the New Employer do as a general rule like team members to interact in person, if you need to work from home for three days because of an invasion of replicators, it is No Problem.

Also, they do Working From Home, like everything else remotely technical, very very well. Really very well. Remarkably. Quite.

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