Friday, April 29, 2011

A little perspective, please : A guest post by DLD

A little perspective, please

While I don’t ride the Surfliner every day anymore, I am a member of the Rider Hall of Fame. So hopefully my words carry some weight.

First, a little background… I spent almost three years riding the Surfliner about an hour north in the morning and an hour south in the evening—when things were running smoothly. Some days, it was several hours one way or the other. That’s sort of the way things go on the train. The longest delays, in my experience, were caused by people committing suicide by jumping in front of a train.

Now I ride a few times a month, but I go a heck of a lot further. I take a train, a bus (an Amtrak bus, but it’s still a fricken bus), and another train back and forth to the Central Valley.

This evening I caught my first train in the Central Valley at 5:56 pm. By 9:30, a train and a bus ride later, I was in Union Station. Somebody was filming something in the station (a commercial, I think?), but that’s another story. Only in LA, eh?

More importantly, Traxx was closed. I had to wait ‘till 10:10 pm, when my Surfliner left, to get a Stone. I survived.

Shortly after leaving LA I was happily ensconced in the Café car, working on the computer I am typing this on right now, enjoying my first Stone of the night (I am now on my second, and a third may be necessary). Everything was going fine. Stations were passing by: Fullerton, Anaheim, Santa Ana, Irvine (almost brought a tear to my eye), and then, well, you regular riders probably know what’s coming.

First I felt the brakes. They were on hard. Then I heard something rattling around under the train. Then I smelled the brakes. They were on hard. We stopped. I’ve been through this before and I was pretty sure I knew what was coming. Less than a minute later, Javier, one of the really good conductors on the Surfliner, was on the horn talking about trespassers and coroners. Yup. I was right. Somebody died. My prediction is it will be ruled a suicide (I’m speculating, here, but I have at least a 90% chance of being right).

Before we get to the meat of my post, let me give my opinion on the selfishness of killing yourself by jumping in front of a train. I’m a pretty easy going guy, so I won’t talk about the interruption of my life. But let’s talk about the other ~79 people on this train (according to Javier). It’s 12:13 am, and every one of those ~79 people is currently an hour late for whatever plans they had when they were supposed to arrive where they are going. And it’ll be at least another hour, maybe two, before we start moving again, if my previous experience is any gauge. Meanwhile, there are other trains waiting for the “accident” scene to be cleared. I have no idea how many people (and freight? There’s probably a freighter or two out there sitting idle, as well) are on those other trains. So, somebody who decided to end it all has just ruined possibly several hundred people’s nights. And then there is the Conductors and Engineer to consider. See below for a discussion on the Conductors’ situation, but let me address the poor Engineer here. The story is that some Engineers can never work again after their train hits a suicide (can you blame them?). And those that can get over it are required to take several months off.

So, PLEASE, if you intend to kill yourself, PLEASE do not jump in front of a train. At the very least, consider the pain factor. Those last few seconds must be excruciating. I heard it, tonight. I know. Pills or booze has got to be a better way to go.

Anyway, back to the real point. I felt pretty unsettled as I realized what was happening. The sound of various body parts rolling underneath the Café Car may keep me awake at night. And when Javier got on the horn, he sounded pretty upset. He apologized for the delay (as if it’s Amtrak’s fault that someone wants to commit suicide) and suggested the Café Car for some solace. Many people took his advice, and my once productive night turned into writing this blog as the line formed, and chaos encroached.

There was one character in particular, “The Hippy” that caught my attention. Shortly after we stopped, he started storming up and down the stairs between the Café and the normal seating area, looking very agitated. There were three or four other “Clowns” dressed for a Night Out on the Town that were acting similarly, though to a lesser degree. The Hippy and the Clowns kept looking longingly out the exit doors of the Café Car, apparently hoping they would inexplicably open and free them from their perceived servitude.

Eventually I noticed flashlights going by outside the car and I could make out Javier and Scott—another conductor that is extremely high on my list of good ones—investigating the carnage, a job I do not envy them for. Next thing you know, they were coming back onto the train via the Café Car doors, and The Hippy and the Clowns immediately accosted them, asking if they can get off for a cigarette. A fricken cigarette? Are you kidding me? The Hippy continued to be quite agitated. Can you say “addiction”?

Someone just died (admittedly, I don’t have a lot of compassion for the selfish suicide), Javier and Scott are on the tracks looking at small pieces of meat that used to be said human being, and now they have to tell several idiots that, “No, you cannot get off the train and have a cigarette.” They handled it way better than I would have.

I believe Conductors have Police Powers on the train, which means they can have people arrested if they have probable cause. If it had been me, I would have arrested the MoFo’s. The Hippy looked like he was on something more potent that Marlboro, probable cause enough for me. Even as a civilian without any police powers I wanted to get up, grab The Hippy by the scruff of his neck, and shout in his ear:

“A little perspective, please! Somebody just died. Scott is taking a pair of gloves off that he had to wear to protect himself against blood born diseases because he was handling detritus of a type that hopefully you and I will never have to be close to. Don’t you think your fricken cigarette can wait?”

But I didn’t. And Scott and Javier were, as always, calm and pleasant. That’s grace under pressure, if you ask me.

It’s now 12:37 am. I have not seen hide nor hair of The Hippy in quite some time, and I will concede that the Clowns have now settled down and appear to be washing away their nicotine urges with alcohol. More power to them. In fact, I think I might join them (time for that third Stone… good thing the wife is picking me up tonight… errr… this morning).

But I won’t forgive the Clowns—and most certainly not The Hippy—for making Javier and Scott’s job a little bit harder on an already awful night. A little perspective, please.



  1. Thank you for your contribution DLD. Please post again. For reference here is a link to the news story in the OC Register


  2. There are lots of these lately. Luckily i've never been on the actual train that killed anything...