Monday, March 15, 2010

Surfliner Stories: The Conductors

Conductors are characters. They just are. There are at least two conductors on a train, as well as service staff in the café car. (More about that on another post). The senior conductor is the boss of the train: he's the captain. All of them wear radios where you can hear verification of signals, comments from dispatch, or a mechanical voice noting the passage of crossing points. If there is a traffic signal out, or another problem, the conductor will drop off the train and stop the cars to let the train through. It's not just collecting tickets.

Conductors have quirks that you get to know, as individual as the different hole punch each one carries. For example, there's one guy who loves aliteration. "Next stop, Solana Beach, scintillating superlative Solana Beach." Or the matter of fact woman who allows herself a little sneer at the OC: "Next stop, Irvine, jewel of suburbia". On one early train, there is an African American woman who reads a quote for the day as the train passes Laguna Niguel, a short, inspirational saying. Many of them are older guys with richly modulated voices. It must be boring saying the same thing over and over, but they manage to keep their voices inflected. One of my trains routinely has a woman in charge with a no-nonsense voice. One's instinctive reaction to her is "Yes, Ma'am!"

If you ride the same train regularly, you get to know your conductor, and have conversations in short sentences, one per day. After a few months you might exchange names. "Yeah," one guy told me. "I've been railroading for 30 years." That's the term: railroading.

The younger conductors often seem callow by comparison. For some of them, it's just a job. For others, you can tell they are already railroaders. They have a certain walk, call it the sway of steel rails, under their feet.

Next stop....

Update Image from here


chuljin said...

Hey, that's my stub! :)
(Though you're welcome to the image.)

See also here. I'd love to hear from you!

IT said...

Oops sorry about that. Link provided.

Anonymous said...

I hate that woman. She always quacks at Anaheim.

Anonymous said...

I promise there is no sneer for the "Jewel of Suburbia". The commuting professionals who come home to Irvine just deserved a motto of their own. As for the quack...Live a little. Go down to your local park and feed the ducks, it's relaxing and they aren't so bad! ;)