Sunday, March 30, 2014


Today's "TheTrainInVain" blog post comes from Marsh, our Metro-North correspondent. Given the number of edits I made to his last post about the rules of eating on the train, he called me the Anna Wintour of blogging. I take that title very seriously and feel I must live up to it. With that in mind, I present to you Marsh's thoughts on sleeping on the train, with only a few helpful edits from me. 

You Got Chocolate in My Peanut Butter !!!

On the train Friday evening, I observed two men standing in the vestibule. Man 1 was holding in his hand about 10 clean dress shirts on hangers, fresh from the cleaners, but without plastic covering. Man 2 was drinking a beer in a 16 oz cup, without a lid. 

In an old Reese's Peanut Butter cup commercial, a guy holding chocolate collides with a guy holding peanut butter.  That story had a happy ending, with Donny Most (Happy Days' Ralph Malph) and Robby Benson (who is famous for something) enjoying a special moment.  

I'd bet the story of Man 1 and Man 2 didn't end as happily.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Monday, March 24, 2014

Those Keen Honking Reflexes!

Up till now, I've been telling train stories.  I thought it might be interesting to explore the other leg of my commute, the drive to the station.

On my way to the train station this morning, I came to a red light.  Of course, this part of the story should surprise no one.  On Long Island, you come to a red light every 1000 feet, on average.  I believe Nassau and Suffolk counties use more electricity for traffic management than entire developing countries consume in an entire year. But I'm deviating from topic.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


It's been about a month since I started this blog, and those of you who signed up for the mailing list (thank you thank you thank you) have been inundated with my thoughts 2-3 times per week.  Not one of you so far has removed your name from the mailing list, and the fact that you're still with me is greatly appreciated.  Of course, for all I know you've set up an e-mail spam rule that drops my messages directly into your trash, but that's ok.  Don't tell me.  Ignorance is bliss.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Interesting Characters, Continued

In a recent blog post, I identified three interesting characters I've encountered on the train: Six Pack Guy, End It All Guy, and Footloose and Fancy Free Gal.  I suggested that if I could come up with nine more, I might be able to publish an "Interesting Characters" pin-up calendar.  

Those aforementioned three will make up the first calendar quarter, or the winter month characters.  Now, with spring upon us, the timing couldn't be better to identify the second quarter characters.  

Meet the "Train Characters of the Second Quarter!"

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Nutritious Commuting Breakfast

I'm sitting on the train, across from a man in his 70s. He is eating a bag of peanut M and Ms. It is 7:30 AM. 

I'd like to think that has something to do with a diabetes sugar regimen. I hope he's not alone with no one to help him eat right.

Or, maybe he's got an attitude of "I'm in my 70s, and I'll eat peanut M and Ms for breakfast if I damned well feel like it."

I like the last explanation best.  

Happy commuting, and may you encounter uncommon sense.  May you also live to an age where you eat candy for breakfast without an ounce of guilt.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Time For Some Q & A

It has come to my attention that despite presenting several installments of the RULES, there will inevitably be questions surrounding specific train behaviors.  In this blog post, we explore some frequently asked questions about train etiquette.  I think the Long Island Railroad should officially publish something this informative.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Zombie Apocalypse at Penn Station

Now that we've kicked this blog off, I think it's important to give the infrequent riders and non-commuting readers a visual understanding of the Penn Station terminal and the daily grind. Penn Station offers three services - Long Island Railroad, New Jersey Transit, and Amtrak.  To get a feel for what Penn Station is like on the LIRR side, picture an open space with some high but mostly low ceilings, shops selling mostly garbage, and a sitting area.  In total, it can comfortably fit maybe 2,000* people.  Now, imagine that space with 15,000 people*. You've just visualized the LIRR terminal at Penn.

* I made these numbers up.  But they feel right.

If you still can't visualize it, here's the main LIRR waiting area, when nobody is there.  This happens once a year on a Tuesday at 4:29 AM.

Here is the LIRR waiting area, on an unusually crowded day.  But the photo isn't far from daily reality.

Now, let's talk about the behavior of those 15,000 people who are there at any given time, mulling about and filling the space that can safely handle about 2,000.   Think of them as a room full of zombies.  They're fluttering aimlessly. Muttering to themselves, muttering to no one in particular, staring at mobile devices, staring up at the departure board with wild-eyed abandon.

Then, a track announcement comes over the PA.  "6:08 train to Huntington departing on Track 18."  BAM! 500 slack-jawed zombies at once make a break for Track 18, all moaning "TRAAAAAAINS!  TRAAAAAAAINS!" as they lose eyeballs, limbs, and other appendages from their undead corpses.  Ok, so maybe I'm exaggerating a little.  They're not really losing any other appendages.

As the undead run for the train, which mind you won't leave most likely for another 10 minutes, they do not care if they knock over suitcases, hot dog stands, flower vendor kiosks, small children in strollers, or other people.  They must get the BEST seat, presumably, because there will be a fresh brain there for them to eat.

As a veteran commuter, you get to know tricks to avoid the zombie apocalypse.

The savvy commuter gets to know the typical tracks his trains leave on, and descends to the platform BEFORE the announcement.  This allows him to avoid the flesh-eating monsters.  Sometimes, there will be a track change, but it's worth the hassle of changing tracks now and then to avoid the crush.

I'll share more tricks in later posts.  In the meantime, remember when commuting to use your BRAINS.

Happy commuting, and may you encounter uncommon sense.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

There Are Rules !!!! Some Thoughts From Our Metro-North Observer

As I mentioned in a recent blog post, THERE ARE RULES! Our Metro-North Observer (aka my good friend Marsh), was kind enough to share some helpful thinking and guidelines around eating on the train.  You may read the below points and think, "Common Sense."  But, as any seasoned train commuter knows, common sense is often left behind on the platform when boarding the train.  If we truly are what we eat, then it stands to reason that many of our fellow riders have been going for seconds and thirds at the "Clueless Commuter" buffet table. Commuter trains don't have dining cars.  They are commuter trains. They get you from A to B.  In this mathematical reference, A does not equal "Appetizer," and B does not equal "Bread Pudding."

The seats on commuter trains are REALLY close together. They don't have fold-up tray tables.  There aren't any napkin dispensers. There is no waiter service. There is most definitely a bill (gratuities optional).  These are pretty good clues that the train is not the ideal place for a meal.

Now with this in mind, sometimes you get hungry and you're in a hurry. You have to eat, right?  So fine.  Just remember the following RULES.

No Soup For You.  Let's see.  Hot liquid near my lap in a vehicle prone to sudden stops and jerks. What could possibly go wrong?

Cutlery is strictly prohibited.  Are you going to try to eat from that styrofoam container in your lap?  Using a plastic knife and fork?  Are you actually going to attempt to eat chicken cordon bleu with asparagus spears and baked potato on a moving train? Not only are you guaranteeing a trip to the cleaners, but you're going to make a mess in my space.  And possibly choke.  I'll have headphones on with my eyes closed, so I won't notice.  You'll have to perform the Heimlich maneuver on yourself.

A plain bagel is fine.  An onion bagel is not fine. Tuna and whitefish on an onion bagel should result in a $500 fine.

So, eat in your car, on a park bench, at the deli counter, or, here's something radical: at home!

With many thanks to Marsh, for helping to provide constructive guidance to the commuting public, and for accepting the fact that I've edited his thoughts to be a bit more, um, family friendly.

Happy commuting, and may you encounter people with uncommon sense.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Very Special Blog Post: A Cautionary Tale

We interrupt our regular programming today to offer a cautionary tale.  Earlier today, my wife and daughter were in the local supermarket shopping center, loading groceries into the car.  Suddenly, they heard a commotion.  They looked over to the store entrance, where a man in his mid-forties was literally screaming at an elderly man and his wife, presumably over a minor fender bender.

The argument continued for a few moments, and the younger man punched the older man in the head.  His glasses went flying.  The younger man then obliviously went into the store as though nothing had happened.  Needless to say, those who witnessed what happened were shocked.  My wife called the grocery store, and was told that Security had already been called.  The older man and his wife collected themselves, got in their car, and drove away.  I wish they had stayed for the arrival of the Police, so that the thug could be identified and arrested.

I can't see what could possibly precipitate such an ugly and violent reaction, but whatever transpired should never have resulted in such behavior.  I hope the younger man is arrested and spends a little time in the cooler with large tattooed men who don't like bullies.

So why am I telling this story on a blog where the goal is to note objectionable behavior on public transportation and other shared spaces?  It's because I want to caution you about who you choose to confront.  A person may be on the train having a loud mobile phone conversation, but if you decide to say something, you may find yourself in an unpleasant situation with a hothead.

As I've mentioned in earlier posts, headphones, headphones, headphones!  Keep your cool, and write to me instead.

Happy commuting, and may you encounter people with uncommon sense.