Can’t have enough of ‘em.
On the subway ride to Penn. Sta. after my downtown NYC visit, (see previous post) I came upon a uniformed female police officer who was boarding the train ahead of me. I initially thought she was with the Transit Bureau so as I approached her, I identified myself as a former Transit cop. But as I drew near I saw from her collar brass that she was with the Counter Terrorism Bureau. She was assigned to the area around the World Trade Center and was riding back to her command nearby. Every time I speak to a young cop or even one not-so-young, I get a clearer picture of how deep my neolithic history is.
We spoke for a while as we rode and she told me a bit about the Bureau. I told her I had retired 22 years ago, this month actually. She seemed very young but everyone does these days. I said, “I came on the job in 1966.” From the look on her face, she probably recalled that that was approximately the year her dad was born.
I told her that when I first came on the job we didn’t have radios but had to depend on pounding our wooden nightsticks on the platform for help. The piercing sound would ricochet off the tiled walls and we’d hope another officer nearby would hear it and respond, or that a clerk in a subway token booth would call for help on their phone. Sometimes the motorman would sound his horn in a long then short blast repeatedly to announce a need for emergency assistance. A very tenuous policy to rely on indeed.
The young officer looked astonished at this. I said, “Even when we did get radios they couldn’t be depended on, so many dead spots in the subway.” She said it was still like that today in some spots. Now it was my turn to look astonished. But I didn’t. A prolonged effort by PBAs long gone have demanded that this intolerable situation be addressed once and for all. They did their best but that seeming fixable task was never totally fixed. We always thought it extraordinary that we had the technology to hear transmissions from the deepest regions of space but not from Junction Blvd on the #7 line. Transit cops basically work alone and not being in reliable communication was and is a perilous deficit. Cops get hurt because of bad communication, cops die because of it.
Later, on the ride from Penn Station to Long Beach on the LIRR I had my eyes closed trying to recover from hours of the concrete-pounding-photo-shoot. Cheryl, in her seat across from me, read. As I dozed I detected a distinctive aroma that was strange yet familiar. It was a food scent that I certainly knew but couldn’t quite place. It became stronger as we rolled along and when I finally opened my eyes I heard a voice from a window seat across the car, “You’re a working man too?” The smiling young man across the aisle was pointing to my faded, frayed-at-the-cuffs jeans, as he spoke. I thought to myself, “Guess I should use greater discrimination in my photo shoot clothing choices before I leave home.” He was attired in construction-type work denims and boots.
It’s been a long time since I was taken…or MISTAKEN for a hard working, back bending man. When I was in Anti Crime my partner and I would of course try to blend in with the riding public as best we could as “working men” or otherwise, whatever suited the day and the plan. Today, I see the big problem in the subway is grand larceny of electronic devices and that decoy teams have been very effective in arresting perpetrators. But there does seem to be a lack of awareness by the riding public. Using an iPhone or similar device near a train door would invite a quick snatch and escape.
But after an Anti Crime tour we’d usually go home dressed in the clothes we had on. However, the clothes on the man across from me were more realistic than anything I ever wore…because he was the real thing. He said he worked in the construction of the MTA megaproject, a 13 mile dig of new subway tunnels beneath Manhattan. It is said the completion will cut 40 minutes of commute time for LIRR riders. This gent was a “Mole Man” one of those fearless workers who dig all over America, under bedrock, burrowing with huge equipment to make subway tunnels, mountain tunnels, trans-river tunnels.
When I did ride the LIRR home after work I’d join other commuters who hadn’t been trying to blend in on their work day, they were the work force of NYC: office workers, medical staff, professionals, executives, or just men and women dressed in casual attire, going home, to their families.
I did notice a trend back then and still do. The suited business men often seemed paper-plagued with take-home work: pie charts, or paragraphs with stats and graphs. They seemed to hover over them with a frown. Some even had that same frown reading their newspapers. Today it’s the same but electronic. The more casually attired rider seemed more likely to smile, be at ease, cracking a can of suds…and they usually did their hovering over a bag of pretzels.
But this day, the gent across the aisle gestured to a box on the seat next to him and said, “You want one?” He was pointing to a cardboard attache with “White Castle” emblazoned on it. Now the olfactory mystery was solved. He had a cardboard attache, handle and all, full of White Castle Hamburgers! I knew I recalled that bouquet of belly bombs.
I declined his offer but said, “I remember them, they sure were good when I ate them.” He chewed as he spoke, “I love these things, taking them home for dinner. I paid $28 for a box of 30!” He was proud of his bargain-box of guaranteed flatulence. I recalled my partner and I each eating at least a half dozen at a clip. and I remember the repercussions to follow, emphasis on “percussion.” I told him, “Good thing you got a big box of them, can’t have enough of ‘em.”
The gent said he had a home in Bellmore but it suffered fire damage and he was now living temporarily in Long Beach. I said, “I’m sorry to hear that but at least you have a great job.” I knew it paid very well, but it was very dangerous too. I said, “I know that’s tough, well paid work that you do but you really have to be careful down there, right?” He said, “Yes it is and yes you do.” I said, “I used to be a “Mole Man” of sorts too but of the Transit cop variety. I remember going to a fatality in the digging of the subway tunnel that now links Roosevelt Island.” He knew the tunnel well. I said, “An electrician working on a wall in the tunnel fell off and into the path of that boring machine.” He said, “Yeah, that does happen.”
Whenever we had to respond to someone under a subway train it was referred to as a “man under”. I always felt I had the first “man under” on that job in the Roosevelt Island tunnel…before an actual subway train ever ran there.
I said, “I saw on TV recently that they now have a borer that cuts through the bedrock, then lays concrete tubing right behind it as it moves along.” He said he actually worked on that monster. His eyes lit up as he spoke. He said, “My dad and granddad did this work too.” It was a family tradition, I loved family traditions. My dad was a Transit cop too. He came on the job in 1931, retired after 34 years, I retired after 26. I came upon an application of his from 1931, it had his financial info on it, he made $6.05 a day, 10 hour day. Patrolling the subway in 1931, now that’s paleolithic! If his dad had come on the job before him, he’d probably be paid in hides or arrowheads.
My dad, 1943. He went to sign up for the draft. When they found out he had six kids he was told to go home.
So, both me and this gent had our “Mole Men” traditions. He said he really liked the work. It was obvious and it was nice to hear. I liked my job too. Too many people are in occupations that they’d really rather not be in today. I told him so and he agreed.
The American employment scene is a long way beyond tough today…as you well know. Too many people did the right thing, studied, trained, persevered, developed significant skills and resumes. They worked their careers diligently, established themselves in their communities. Then they got downsized or mergers left them laid off, while the corporate elite flourished. These American dreamers found themselves middle aged and adrift, pensions down the drain.
So many young people don’t have full time jobs or any job these days. So many parents have adult “children” living at home again. Most of our armed forces joined for love of country. But how many joined because they couldn’t find a civilian job? How many died for this reason? Did some find their unemployed situations, their burden to their families, intolerable? A country that welcomes the protection they sign up for but can’t provide a job for them…that’s intolerable! The corporate titans who buy out companies then reduce work forces for big payoffs take advantage of legal avenues to wealth, they receive great tax rates, platinum pensions and golden parachutes. Many say they honor the service of these brave men and women to America. Can they honor American workers with fair, responsible, employment policies?
So, anyone like this young man who has a job that pays well, that he actually likes…well, there’s still an American Dream for some…and God bless ’em.
When he stood to get off at the Long Beach terminal I guessed he was about six foot three inches of cheerful energy. He allowed us to step off the train first so Cheryl and I found ourselves walking forward of him on the platform, but he soon caught up to us.
As he passed he carried his “attache” in his outstretched hand like it was full of important Dashing-Dan documents. He said, “I look like an executive with his brief case, right?” We said, “Yes you do, yes you do.” But it was actually full of much more important stuff than memos, charts and graphs…he had happiness in a box. He was a happy, hard working American.
Can’t have enough of ‘em.