The Sunday Conductor: Stories of New York
It is a rarity to see anyone on the subway more than once. From panhandlers, beggars or performers, they usually pass by you once, and never again. It’s an intricate and complex system, but if you’re lucky, perhaps you will stumble upon a friend or two from time to time. There is one exception to the rule, though, technically, not on the subway. The LIRR from Port Washington to Penn Station has the same conductor every Sunday. I don’t know if he’s there everyday, because I only take the LIRR on Sundays. I’ve grown accustomed to seeing his face, smiling politely or nodding my head when he passes by for my ticket. Sometimes, he says good afternoon or happy Sunday, but his voice is a rarity, almost as rare as chancing upon the same break dancing duo on the 5.
This Sunday, however, something was different. I usually arrive to the station in a huff and puff, with just enough time to take my seat at the train rolls out of the station. This time, I was early. Usually, the conductor is already on the train. This time, he was standing outside by the automated ticket booth, on the phone with who I assume was his wife, or significant other. I glimpsed over while purchasing my ticket to look for a ring, but he was wearing gloves. I had never paid attention to his features before, at least, not in detail. He had a conductor’s mustache, fiery red with a hint of grey, to match his blue cap and what I assumed was the conductor’s garb he as wearing under his deep, melancholy red jacket. He spectacles were falling down the bridge of his nose as his lips moved at a fast pace, carrying the conversation a thousands miles away from him.
“Let’s change the subject, please,” was all I heard him say before retrieving my ticket and running up the ramp, my usual tardiness on my mind, to the train platform.
I picked any empty car in the middle of the platform, took a seat all the way in the front, cast my belongings onto the empty, faux leather chairs around me, put my feet up on the chair before me, closed my eyes and exhaled. 45 minutes of solid peace of mind, complete with a view of Long Island and a giddy, musical soundtrack to match.
And then I heard the cooing.
It happened with in a flash, and before I even managed to crack my eyes open, I heard the flapping of a bird, followed by the odd sensation I can only describe as claws closing in on my hair.
That’s when I realized there was a bird on my head.
I screamed bloody murder and jumped out of my seat. The pigeon released my hair and flew up hitting it’s head onto the suitcase rack above. It slapped itself against the window, looking for an escape, and came back at me, revenge in its eyes. I sprinted for the door, slamming right into the Sunday conductor. He looked just as surprised as I did, first by the impact of my body, and then by the sight of a distraught pigeon flying around his train.
I let out a little chuckle, followed by a full-blown, hysteric laughter, trying to mask just how freaked out I was. The conductor smiled, and then walked off in the direction of my seat, avoiding the pigeon, and into his station. By the time I sat down, it had moved into the next car. I eagerly took my seat, still laughing and in shock.
I kept my eyes open this time.
The conductor came through twenty minutes later to collect my ticket.
“I’m sorry about the earlier disturbance, ma’am,” he said. He punched a hole through my ticket and handed it back to me. No ring.
“Thank you, but there’s no need to apologize.”
“I’ve never seen anyone run so fast!”
“Yeah, well, when a bird sits on your head, you run for your life.”
He laughed and continued on his way.
I’ve been taking the LIRR every Sunday for eight months. I’ve seen this man walk through the cars, hole puncher in hand, collecting tickets and offering friendly exchanges to the passengers around me. It took a pigeon landing on my head for me to say more than hello to him.
I wonder what will happen next Sunday.