Archive for the ‘Notes from George’ Category

Quiet cars are coming Monday!

October 11, 2011

In case you missed this announcement last month:

Metro-North is launching a Quiet Car pilot program on select peak hour trains on the Hudson and Harlem lines beginning Monday, October 17.

The LAST car on certain AM peak trains and the FIRST car on certain PM peak trains will be set aside for customers who would like an environment free of cell phones, loud conversations and all manner of beeps and buzzes. These trains will be designated by a capital Q in the timetable.

The program will be voluntary in nature with customers self-monitoring. However conductors will issue “shh” cards to customers who are non-compliant.

In addition, announcements will be made informing and reminding customers of the location of the Quiet Car and its restrictions. The use of electronic devices in the Quiet Car will be prohibited including cell phones, iPods, DVD players, laptops, etc. unless the device can be used in a manner that does not create any noise. If headphones are used, they must be at a volume that cannot be heard by others.

Customers can converse in the Quiet Car but they must use subdued voices.

Metro-North will evaluate customer reaction to the pilot program and decide whether to expand it. A similar pilot last summer on the West-of-Hudson’s Port Jervis and Pascack Valley lines conducted in conjunction with NJTRANSIT was well received and was recently expanded to all peak trains.

Indian Point Emergency? If You Hear a Siren…

March 30, 2011

Worried about a nuclear accident at the Indian Point reactor (or “energy center,” as this map calls it), which sits some 35 miles from Times Square? Here’s the Westchester County government’s advice, posted at Cortlandt Metro-North Station, just 2 miles or so east of the plant. Of course, it raises more questions than it provides answers…

If You Hear a Siren…

…that sounds continuously for 4 minutes, you are being notified of an emergency at the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant (sirens are tested periodically).

  • These sirens are NOT a signal to evacuate. If in a public park, you may be asked to leave.
  • Tune into an Emergency Alert System (EAS) radio or TV station (100.7 FM).


Shelter-in-place: Go inside a nearby building and limit the ways that outside air can enter the building

Evacuate the Area: Leave as soon as possible by car or by emergency bus and monitor the radio

Go to a Reception Center: Reception Centers provide radiological monitoring and social services

Swallow Potassium Iodide (KI), a thyroid blocking age: KI is available at Reception Centers, and KI Distribution Points

In an emergency, radio and television stations will provide a phone number you may call for additional information. Visit

Transformation at Cortlandt station

June 18, 2010

If you believe the MTA, by November 2011 this:

will look like this:

for a price tag of $34.7 million! I think I’d rather have more trains with cars that aren’t hot or overcrowded, dim or dirty.

Check back here for progress reports on the project!

Right in my own backyard, revisited

June 10, 2010

On May 17, I wrote, in part:

“I am riding the 7:42 train out of Cortlandt. A woman takes the seat in front of me. She gathers her long dark hair and flicks it over the seatback. My dad’s pruning shears come to mind, and with them, the question of physical boundaries. I take extra care to ensure that the edge of my Times does not graze her tresses, but not without resentment (petty, I’m sure).”

Here’s a pic from this morning’s ride…

How to find the perfect seat on Metro-North

May 24, 2010

You have approximately 8 seconds from the moment you enter a train car to find a good seat. Take more time than that, and every decent spot will be occupied. So what to scan for when assessing which open seat is best? Here’s a checklist of folks to avoid:

  • People talking on cell phones or even holding cell phones (if he didn’t intend to use it, he’d put it away)
  • Riders with food that spills easily (popcorn, beer), comes in an overly crackly bag (potato chips, pretzels), smells (hard-boiled eggs, egg sandwiches, cheap pizza) or is too messy (BBQ wings)
  • Small children with no books or toys to occupy them
  • Small children with toys that screech or squawk (I already know my ABCs and what Mr. Cow says)
  • High school kids who are drinking or have been drinking (no good can come of this!)
  • High school kids who are not reading a textbook or otherwise doing their homework (“Idle hands…”)
  • High school kids not traveling alone (you don’t even know you have an indoor voice til age 18)
  • Teenage boys who don’t look like they’ve showered this week
  • Everyone on St. Patrick’s Day (enough said)
  • Women who look like they probably wear makeup but just haven’t applied it yet (you can’t effectively use a mascara wand without lots of elbow room)
  • People who hold their NYT too close to the seat in front of them (no appreciation for how sensitive the back of your head might be)
  • Groups of more than 8 riders over age 25 (they still think they are in high school)
  • Riders obviously not on their way to work or school (they’ll want to talk to you about sights to see and which neighborhoods are safe)
  • Anyone handing out beer to his buddies
  • People who take off their shoes (this is not a long airplane ride)
  • Riders with cheap, leaky earphones (iPods are only as cool as the earbuds to which their connected)
  • People with dogs that can fit in a pocketbook (we moved out of Brooklyn to avoid rodents. And Paris Hilton? So not-now.)
  • Couples who plop down in a 3-person seat, but leave the middle seat open and talk across it (if he doesn’t want to sit next to her, he really isn’t that into her)
  • Men who adopt the Larry Craig “wide stance” (knees should remain within the width of the seat; this is true everywhere)
  • Bloggers a little too interested in noting your bad behavior

Not an exhaustive list, but a start….

Right in my own backyard

May 17, 2010

My parents put up a fence between us and the troubled family next door. Even so, branches from the shady tree in their yard hung over into ours. So my dad pruned them. They were on our property, he reasoned, and that gave him the right to trim a tree that wasn’t his. Similarly, I guess, if your neighbor’s fruit tree dangles apples above your lawn, you’re entitled to pick them, eat them, bake them in a pie.

Did I mention that my dad went to Jesuit schools?

In any event, this struck me as dubious logic. Don’t the apples belong to the neighbor regardless of where they hang? Is the tree really ours to trim, or is that just a convenient rationale for keeping our yard sunny?

I am riding the 7:42 train out of Cortlandt. A woman takes the seat in front of me. She gathers her long dark hair and flicks it over the seatback. My dad’s pruning shears come to mind, and with them, the question of physical boundaries. I take extra care to ensure that the edge of my Times does not graze her tresses, but not without resentment (petty, I’m sure).

We all live in Arizona now

April 29, 2010

We don’t like strangers, do we? Strange bodies, strange accents, strange attitudes? Not really. At least it seems so these days in many parts of the country—those you read about, those you may live in.

Theories about why fill reams of paper—enough, I am sure, to encircle this “global village” of ours (that mythic space we yearn for but don’t do much to create). Fear of the foreigner, the psychological need for “otherness,” the isolating force of capitalism—all may have a role in why this is.

But it is. We tuck into ourselves with increasing rapture. We long to personalize, customize, individualize every experience, from our weddings to our ring tones, from our news feeds to our homes. We collect data on ourselves: numbers of Facebook friends, steps walked, calories consumed, pennies spent—we are our own favorite subjects of study. Sure, we still live with others, but we gravitate toward “echo communities,” says one researcher, where everyone thinks, shops and decorates as we do. A community of mirrors, where you all look like me. A circle of friends and followers whose engagement with us we can limit and control, like or ignore. Comforting and insular.

Are we all that insecure, or have we bought into a marketing notion that we “fulfill our potential” through individual entrenchment. What makes me more me is having experiences more like the ones I already have. And when we need a thrill, we tour the world via ChatRoulette, taking and dumping partners as fast as we can hit the “next” button. So easy, so tidy.

Less so our encounters in real space, where difference is often perceived as threat, or where the threatened perceive difference as danger, all the while leaving unanalyzed why they feel so vulnerable.

And so, last fall, 32 percent of New Jersey conservatives still believed that Barack Obama was born in a foreign country. And in Arizona, carefully nurtured anti-immigrant sentiment has, with an alchemist’s skill, transformed into populism. In Mississippi, a high school drops a senior from the yearbook because she is a lesbian. In Alabama, gubernatorial candidate Tim James’ declares in a new campaign spot, “This is Alabama. We speak English. If you want to live here, learn it.”

And in Cortlandt, my town: A flashy red Honda sporting a Puerto Rico flag sticker and chrome wheels rolls down the street at the train station. The driver stops to let two women and me cross the road. Latin music blares from the car. We reach the far curb; the car eases on its way. “This is America?” one woman says to her friend. “Right?” she replies.

Right, I think. It is America. But was it always so intolerant? In my nostalgic sense of history, I think, no, not like this. In my optimism for the future, I think it won’t always be so. I wish I felt more certain of that.

Sometimes you’re paranoid for a reason

April 20, 2010

Croton Harmon train yard

I like window seats best on Metro-North. That should be obvious. But they come at a premium. You see, directly overhead is the luggage rack, where riders are encouraged to place their coats and briefcases and Duane Reade bags so they don’t take up precious space meant for tired commuters.

This is, of course, a smart feature and one more of us should use. We don’t really need to clutch our backpacks to our chests or give our Ginza Tanaka ( purses—fancy as they may be—their own seat.

But I always cringe when a fellow commuter removes his outerwear and hoists it over my head onto the rack. I think inevitably about dust mites, bedbugs, strands of hair and bits of sloughed-off skin wafting down on me. You think this is nutty, the sign of a Howard Hughes–like obsession. I did too.

Then, one morning, I am seated so happily at the window. The train pulls into Croton. A somewhat plain but neatly attired gentleman tucks into my row. He removes his trench, folds it in thirds, and with a quick toss, launches it onto the rack above my head. And quite softly, like a Forrest Gump feather, a large, gray nail clipping (big toe? thumb?) drifts into my lap. There the crescent lies for a brief moment, until with an internal yelp, I dash the offensive debris to the floor. Without a glance toward my seatmate, I return to the crossword, a little nauseated, a little vindicated.

I still take a window seat whenever I can. But I’m glad for the warm weather and the ever-increasing number of commuters in shirtsleeves.

Time traveling

April 7, 2010

The long-running joke in my house growing up was that a lifetime of commuting had warped my dad’s sense of time. What for most folks in my Long Island town was a tidy 10-minute drive to Waldbaum’s was for my father a precise 9-minute sojourn. Fifteen minutes to St. Agnes Cathedral on Sunday? Make that 13 minutes for Dad—and you could set your watch by it. The way he saw it—and who would argue—you don’t leave the house before you have to and you don’t arrive until it’s necessary. Knowing the exact length of a trip meant more time to do what you wanted. After all, my dad was already a commuter at age 13, and after some 60 years of catching, say, the 7:42 in and the 5:17 home, he knew that each minute mattered.

Me? I’ve been commuting just shy of four years, but already I sense the beauty of “Dad time.” I know I need to leave the house by 6:54 to catch the 7:13—a scheduled 56-minute ride into GCT. I reach the bottom of the staircase up to Madison and 47th at 8:13 (8:09 on good days, 8:19 on too many), and walk into my building 10 (yes, exactly, I’ve timed it) minutes later. My reverse trip is just as structured.

This is how it goes for most train commuters, I suppose. We keep to a schedule that’s not of our own making; it’s one we work with—or around.

The impact, I’ve learned from my dad, isn’t as constraining as it sounds. Am I locked into a life of clock-watching rigidity or am I somehow put more at ease, knowing how much time I have to do everything else—both the important and the insignificant? My best guess is that the one opens the door for the other. Clearer though, as I write this at 5:28 pm, is that I have exactly 51 minutes to ponder this further before I’m back home for dinner and precious time with my partner.

Silent partner

March 29, 2010

This morning it dawns on me: If I imagine the man next to me on the train as an old friend, a best friend—and not a suit with sharp elbows competing for what’s left of the already too small space between us—our ride into town together becomes almost subtle and sweet.

Here, at 8:04 a.m., I hurtle into the tunnel paired with a man, mid-30s, dressed for work like me. He reads the Sunday NY Times (yes, it is now Monday). His demeanor is studious as he moves quietly from front page to business to sports. Is the tone of this moment so different from the serenity I felt yesterday, sitting at home in comfortable silence and shared solitude with my partner, reading those same pages?

Our train begins lugging into the station. The man next to me rises, as does the woman in front of him. She turns to my seatmate and, holding out her sections of the Sunday Times, asks, “Did you want to see any of these.” He indicates no, and the couple head off onto the platform. I’m left to wonder how they spent yesterday.