The Cynics Workshop

Where I can try to influence the world, one word at a time.

Month: June, 2012

The Long Island Railroad (part 2)

So I did get a resolution to my most recent issue with the LIRR.  A few hours after I left a message with Public Affairs, I did get a call back from a manager.  She obviously took the side of the conductor who gave me a ticket, which as I said, I ultimately did not have a problem with.  I was most concerned that I was going to have to essentially double pay for that ride.  She told me that the LIRR has a policy where they will “take care” of this once in your life.  The obvious good news is that I will not have to pay for my ticket, but the clear head scratcher here is the once in my life scenario.  So I asked her that if this situation happens again to me in 12 years, am I going to have to pay…and she said yes.  Clearly that would not make me a frequent offender, but she said the railroad is firm on that policy.  She tried to rationalize it by saying that they are still the only organization that allows you board without paying first, citing that you cannot even enter the subway without first paying.  While she is right with her example, it really doesn’t justify their policy.  I suggested they keep notes in people’s accounts so they can identify frequent offenders, but she said with 250,000 daily riders, that is “too onerous a task for the feeble (I added feeble) railroad”…hey, you said it honey.

The Long Island Railroad is so far behind the times, it is almost comical (that is unless you actually ride the train and have to deal with it).  Lets first start with the gap between the train and the platform.  While it is virtually impossible to completely eliminate the gap (unless you have a motorized extension from the platform to the train, but who has the cash to do that), it is possible to minimize it.  Does the railroad do this?  No.  They choose instead to simply make announcements that there is a gap, so essentially all they do is make you aware that there is a problem, they don’t actually fix the problem.

Now lets talk operational efficiency.  Weather is a clear issue when you are driving on the highway, it snows, the roads become harder to navigate…but not the railroad tracks right?  Clearly they are immune to weather, right?  Nope…not the LIRR.  I want you to understand that I am not going to exaggerate here, when it rains (and I’m not talking torrential downpours), there are delays.  When it snows, or even when it is just cold, there are delays.  The newest one too add here is when it is hot, we now get delays.  So to summarize, the railroad always has delays…right?  The answer is yes.

We haven’t even begun to get into the switch problems.  I don’t know for sure, but my guess would have to be that the current LIRR switches were installed somewhere around the completion of the War of 1812.  I am signed up to get emails whenever there are delays on the LIRR, and I can tell you that without exception, there are delays relating to switch problems at least every other day.  Now the LIRR has no problem with raising the cost per ticket, I guess they would rather pay their employees instead of actually fixing their antiquated systems.  I cite a recent article that appeared on MSNBC’s website about a LIRR train repair man who while his base salary was approximately $66K/year, took home a little over $200,000 thanks to overtime bonuses.  Clearly we are dealing with an organization that has their priorities in the right place.  Let’s pay our employees obscene amounts of money in overtime so we can screw our customer base!  That is a model for business success.  But again, the LIRR has no incentive to change, they know the alternative to not riding the train is to sit on the LIE for 6 hours a day…there’s nothing we can do.

So being left with no other choice, I am just going to have to deal with the delays, deal with the problems, remember my ticket, and hope it doesn’t get worse.

The Long Island Rail Road

I have the misfortune of living on Long Island, and since I work in the city, that means that in order to get to work, I either have to sit in traffic on the Long Island Expressway for 3 hours every morning, or ride the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR).  I have chosen the lesser of two evils, I ride the train.  I cannot even begin to sum up my loathing and hatred for this entire organization.  To put it into perspective, think of the most poorly run corporation in the world, multiply it by 10, and you have the LIRR.  It’s almost as if someone took all the high school dropouts and misfits and said, come, we have a home for you.

The most recent incident of proving to the world they have no clue in life occured last night/this morning.  I forgot my monthly pass yesterday and in the morning, the conductor did the right thing, he let me go.  In the evening however, it was a different story.  The exchange went like this:

Conductor: All tickets please
Me: I forgot my monthly pass
Conductor: (Giving a look that says, “Oh great, why can’t these moron’s just remember their tickets) Um…
Me: Look, I have a monthly ticket, I just forgot it
Conductor: I know, but I still have to charge you
Me: Well if you know, then why are you charging me?  I’ve already paid
Conductor: But you don’t have your ticket
Me: I don’t have it on me, but I did pay for this ride
Me: I ride this train every day, ask these people, they recognize me (to which the gentleman in front of me responses – “dude, he rides the train every day.”)
Conductor: *Gives bewildered look*
Me: See!?
Conductor: I am just filling in for the day, if your normal conductor was here he might recognize you
Me: I know the normal conductor, tall man, reddish blond hair, beard…
Conductor: I don’t know him, I am only filling in for the day.  If you know the woman in the front of the train, she can vouch for you
Me: I don’t know her, I literally sit in this exact seat every day
Me: *Beginning to lose patience* Fine, how much is it?
Conductor: $18
Me: What?! F*#k that, I’m not paying that
Conductor: Then I have to give you a ticket
Me: Whatever

I give him my id, and as he is writing the ticket, another gentleman sitting near me tells me that this has happened to him before, and all they will do is see that I am a normal monthly customer and they will cancel the ticket.  So the conductor hands me the ticket and tells me to go to the customer service office in Penn Station.

This morning, after wandering around like an idiot for 10 minutes, I finally stumble upon the customer service office, the exchange is as follows:

Me: I forgot my monthly ticket yesterday, and instead of doing the right thing, the conductor gave me a ticket.  I do the monthly mail & ride and since paying this would essentially be double charging me, are you able to cancel the ticket?
Customer Service Man: There’s nothing I can do
Me: Wow, what a surprise
Customer Service Man: You can call the mail & ride office and talk to them
Me: And the run-around begins

When I get to the office, I immediately call the mail & ride, enter my account number and pin, and deal with all seven of their prompts in an effort to talk to someone with a pulse.  When the highly educated man answers, I recount my epic tale for him:

Phone Man: If you want to argue it, I can give you the number for public affairs, they are all managers
Me: What does that even mean?
Phone Man: I am only allowed to accept payments here, if you want to argue it, I can give you the number for public affairs, they are all managers
Me: So you said.  So does that mean I am going to call up, leave a message, then wait three days for someone to call me back?
Phone Man: Begins giving me the phone number for public affairs (Which, mind you, is the same number that I called to get to wonder boy here)

I re-dial to get to public affairs, which to no one’s surprise is a voicemail greeting asking you to leave your life story on a tape, and then someone will give you a call back.

I know exactly what is going to happen here, when they do get around to calling me back, they are going to say there is nothing they can do, and I am going to have to pay the ticket.  For the record, I have no problem with the concept of getting the ticket.  I understand that I didn’t have my ticket, and from the conductors point of view, he doesn’t know that I have a monthly, so he gives me a ticket, which is what he is supposed to do.  What should happen though is that the LIRR should see that every month I do actually pay for my monthly ticket, and they should then cancel the ticket…I am highly skeptical that will actually happen.  I know that if I want to continue to fight this inept organization, I am going to have to appear at the municipal building in Jamaica, appeal, take a day off work, waste more time…then have to pay the ticket along with a “handling” fee…so it will end up costing me more time, money, and aggravation.  Welcome to the fun that is the Long Island Rail Road.  Will they ever change, of course not!  They don’t have to, they have you by the balls and they know it.  They know that the other option is to sit on the LIE for 3 hours each morning and 3 hours each night…and who wants to do that?

To be continued…

Frosted Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tarts

I have to admit that I have a pretty good diet, and by pretty good I mean really good.  On a typical weekday, my food intake consists of this:

9.30am – Bowl of Special K cereal (the strawberry version, only because it is a great buy at Costco)
12.30pm – Ham & Cheese sandwich, chips, 3 cookies for desert (yes I eat this same lunch every day)
3.30pm – Apple (Organic Fuji apples thank you very much)
4.30pm – Banana (fuel for the train ride)
6.30pm – Yoplait light after I walk in the door
8.00pm – Dinner (I do mix it up here, but at least twice a week I have whole wheat pasta, flavored with lemon and other spices, and mixed with EVOO)
Not to mention at least 8-10 glasses of water each day.

I don’t know what the calorie count is for that, but I know that if I ran into that semi arrogant version of myself that graduated from high school, I’d certainly be able to kick his ass now…that’s how good of shape I’m in.  I write this only so I can highlight my one weakness, and it comes when I have a busy morning and can’t take the time to enjoy that bowl of Special K.  My one weakness comes in the form of Frosted Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tarts (*wiping drool away now*).  They’re quick, they’re easy, but most importantly, they’re delicious!  They are by far the best of the many pop tart flavors.  The feeling of total satisfaction is only briefly interrupted by the slightly guilty feeling that I am virtually doubling my calorie intake thanks to two little heavenly pastries.  After I eat them I always find myself trying to walk more during that day to work them off, or drinking more glasses of water to try to ‘wash’ away the extra sugar.  If I were ever on death row, I would seriously contemplate having them as my last meal.  As I write this, I already can’t wait until my next busy morning when I will again get to indulge in the frosty goodness known as frosted brown sugar cinnamon pop tarts…aaagggghhhhh.

This blog post was brought to you by The Human Fund.
The Human Fund – Money for People.

Your vision will become c…

Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart … He who looks outside, dreams. He who looks inside, awakens.

Carl Jung


June 6, 2012, the 68th anniversary of D-Day.  To the many who not only gave their lives that day, but to those who made it off the beach and helped make it possible for us to have what we have today, allow me to simply say:

Thank You.

Book Review – Lone Survivor

I just got through reading Lone Survivor, by Marcus Luttrell…and it blew my mind. Marcus is a Navy Seal and the story is about him and 3 three troop mates going into the mountains of Afghanistan, and ending up in a brutal firefight with around 150 Afghan fighters (that’s 150-4 if you’re keeping count). The other three members of Marcus’ team are killed at various points during the attack and ultimately Marcus is able to elude the fighters.

The first four chapters of the book not only set the theme for the book; they also describe, in great detail, the training that one must go through in order to become a SEAL. I must say, these guys are the closest thing we have in this world to a walking erection. I can’t tell you the number of times I actually had to stop reading just to process the living hell that these boys go through. I am not a fan of war, I doubt many are, but I seriously favor our chances anytime SEALs are involved in the fight (see Bin Laden’s last day on Earth as a reference).

The next few chapters give us a gruesome account of the Battle of Murphy’s Ridge. The mere fact that he lived to tell the story after being involved in a fire fight that had a ratio of 150-4 should tell you something. As I got towards the end of the book, I actually had to bring it home because I couldn’t stand to have a weekend go by without knowing the end of the story.

After Marcus eludes the fighters, he is taken in by a local tribe, “nursed” (read the book and you’ll know what I mean by “nursed”) back to walking condition, and ultimately reunited with American troops. He leaves you with a feeling that he left something up on that ridge, both literally and figuratively.

The fact that he survived is nothing short of miraculous. He basically falls off a mountain, several times, goes upwards of 9 hours without water, gets shot, beat up, and contracts some mystery virus from that Pepsi bottle…and still manages to survive.

I took away two things from this book, the first is that during SEAL training, there are a lot of excellent soldiers that are forced to ring the bell for one reason or another, and without exception they are always given a second chance to go out and rejoin their classmates to finish their training. What is great is that if they actually take that second chance to go back out and finish their training, no matter what they are never allowed to make it through the training to become SEALs. Once the thought of quitting enters their mind, they aren’t SEALs. And the second is what’s known in SEAL terms as an ‘evolution.’ Everything SEALs do is known as an evolution. It is never known what will happen from one minute to the next, so they don’t get caught up in looking too far into the future, they focus 100% on the task in front of them, then once that is complete, they move on to the next task, or evolution. In life, we could all learn a little from that. We are all guilty of looking into the future, some of us more than others. If we would focus a little more on the current evolution, we would undoubtedly make things better down the road.



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