Thursday, November 05, 2009

I'm back!

This is what cement's the MBTA/MBCR's reputation for attention to detail.

Sent from my G1...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Why posting has been light...

I'll be back when it gets too cold to ride...

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Friday, June 19, 2009


I haven't a clue. Maybe someone fought off a bloodthirsty horde with overwhelming firepower.

Anyway, this is on the Rail Trail in Ayer, MA.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

This is a test

I wonder how this will be parsed.

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Friday, May 01, 2009

The Worst One Yet

I went to the ticket agent window and asked, "How are we supposed to hear the announcements?"

I couldn't even hear her reply.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Not a problem

An engine came and cleared the way.

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Well, this is different

The commuter rail platform is on the other side of this freight train.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Our tax dollars at work

This morning's commute was a prime example of government waste and PR cluelessness.

The first indication of the MBTA's new blunder was the MBTA employee insistently shoving a flyer into every passerby at the underground ticket area in North Station.  Since he seemed so intent on getting the flyer into people's hands, I stopped and took one from him.  It was the orange one in the picture to the right.  I quickly digested the contents; a quick re-hash of the MBTA's slogan since 9/11, "If you see something, say something."  Since it was nothing new, I thoughtfully deposited my copy in the trash, noting that a great deal of my fellow commutants were far less considerate, as the turnstile area was littered with discarded flyers.

It wasn't until I reached Back Bay that I realized this was more than the usual MBTA make-the-commuter-feel-safe handouts.  This was apparently a full-fledged, alert-the-press and press-the-flesh media event for the MBTA, because as I topped the escalator and passed through the turnstile, I nearly tripped over a photographer who was taking pictures of Mayor Menino as he was handing out this flyer as well.  Politely declining the proffered flyer, I paused briefly to snap a pic, and headed off to work.

On the way into North Station during my commute home, I realized that I would probably want to write this post about why, in this time of financial uncertainty, the MBTA would spring for 4-color, tri-fold, heavy stock flyers to hand out to simply repeat the "If you see something, say something" slogan that Boston has been inundated with since 9/11, so I stopped by the ticket window to snag a flyer.

I pulled up short, however, when I reached the window.  What's this?  A red flyer?  Weren't the flyers orange this morning?  Maybe these red ones are old ones, and the orange ones contain new information, hence they are handing them out to commuters.  But a quick look inside both amazed me.

The content of both flyers was, for all practical purposes, identical.  The same layout, the same bullet points, the same saccharine sentiments from Dan Grabauskas on the back.  Could they really have done this?  Months of news articles about how the MBTA is swimming in debt, that they going to have to not only raise fares, but cut back on services to stay in business, and they went and printed up two different 4-color, double-sided, heavy stock, matte-coated flyers?  To tell us the same damn simple-minded slogan that they've been hammering into us since 9/11?  How many different committee meetings did it take to decide how many and of what ethnicity should be represented by the people in the photographs?  How much was spent on a design firm to decide on the right color scheme for the flyers?  How much was spent on the on-location photo shoots to get just the right lighting for the "suspicious packages" left in innocent locations at commuter locations?  How much was spent on the crafting of the bullet points and the words of care and concern from Grabauskas?

This was an opportunity for the MBTA to score a PR homerun.  They could have churned out this same PSA with black and white laser printer output, and put an explantory paragraph on it saying that in order to save money, this message was being done on the cheap instead of with slick, 4-color flyers.  What a collossal waste of my money.

I guess I should be glad of one thing.  Seeing as Mayor Menino was handing out flyers at Back Bay before business hours, at least they weren't paying an MBTA PR flack overtime to do it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Incompetence? Or arrogance?

It is 4:15 and there are 9 trains scheduled to leave in the next 45 minutes.  There are 5 trains sitting in the station and not one has been announced.

The next train leaves in 5 minutes and it clearly has to be one of the trains sitting in the station!

Is there some union rule about not having to be on duty until 10 minutes* before scheduled departure?

I have traveled by commuter rail in San Francisco, DC, and Chicago, and their trains were always on the same track each day, ready for boarding at least 30 minutes ahead of time.

Why do we Bostonians/New Englanders put up with it?!

* 10 minutes is both the posted expected time for announcing before departure and the average time beforehand that the conductors reluctantly take their last drag and pitch their cigarettes into the ashtrays that sit just below "No Smoking" signs before meandering off to their assigned trains

Sent from my G1...

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Yet another example of stellar service by the MBTA/MBCR

7:15 on the express just after leaving Ayer.

Is it a holiday?  Was the train early?  Where are all the people?

They're in the next car because there's no heat in this one.

And I'm paying $250/month for this quality of service and getting hassled by the conductors when I've forgotten my pass at the first of the month.

I wish I could see how this operation would be run if it were privately held.

Sent from my G1...

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

False Analogies

Today was my first day commuting in March. However, I had forgotten to put my monthly pass in my wallet. Not the first time I have done this, but this experience was a first.

I showed the conductor last month's pass and told him I had forgotten to put this month's pass in my wallet and that I would have the pass tomorrow. He informed me that there was a spotter on the train and that he (the spotter) would give him (the conductor) a hard time if he (the conductor) didn't charge me.

I replied that I spent $250 per month to ride the train with lousy service and I wasn't paying extra because I forgot my pass one day. I would have the pass tomorrow and would gladly show it to whomever.

He replied that my not having my pass was the same as me showing up at the grocery store without money and expecting them to give me my groceries and then walked away.

When I show him my pass tomorrow, I will attempt to explain to him that his analogy is flawed. My not having my *MONTHLY* pass is more like me forgetting to pay my cable bill on-time and the cable company's first response would be to cancel my service at midnight on
the first of the month.

Friday, February 27, 2009


JM gets on the train at Porter Square and sits with his Scrabble
peeps, but we both exit the train at Ayer and I frequently give him a
ride home as my girls have dance practice directly across the street
from his house. The last few times he has invited me in for
drinks/chat while I wait for the girls' class to end. The following
conversation took place yesterday as JM boarded the train:

JM: "Hey Jack."

JC: "Hey JM. Need a ride?"

JM: "Indeed I do."

JC: "Okay; no problem."

JM: "In fact, you can help me finish cooking 15 pounds of beans."

JC: "What, did you run out of wood to heat the house?"

There was much laughter from everyone.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Brian and Dave

Last Friday evening was one of my more interesting commutes.

We were about halfway between Porter and South Acton when the door behind me opened up. Slowly a man came through the door to sway next to me.


Actually, I didn't know he said this, as the train sounds coming through the door made it impossible for me to hear him clearly, but subsequent discussion among my fellow commuters revealed this to me.

A few people hesitantly offered the advice to continue on to the front of the next car, directly behind the engine. I say hesitantly, because as they looked up from their respective distrations, they quickly came to realize that the man was blasted.

Blotto. Three sheets to the wind. Bombed. Stoned to the bejesus. Wasted. Drunker than a skunk. Higher than a kite.

"Ah fuck", he muttered, and started to topple over on top of me. I started to recoil, almost crawling into Todd's lap (he was seated next to me), but the man caught the handrail and steadied himself.

He then proceeded to stagger up the aisle, frequently swaying and almost falling into the laps of many of the commuters. I kid you not, it took him almost 10 minutes to traverse the length of the car. Since I was facing him and the usual crowd wasn't, I gave them progress updates every few minutes.

Once at the other end, I saw him brace himself for the task of negotiating the vestibule between the cars. He took a deep breath and literally squared his shoulders before staggering through the door.

I continued to give updates, as it took him about the same amount of time to negotiate the next car. When I finally could see him no longer, I announced that he was either face down in front of the bathroom, or he had made it in.

I went back to the conversation with Todd, but it stayed in the back of my mind that the guy was going to add some interesting elements to the disembarking at South Acton if he were in the aisle when we got there, but that stop came and went with no sign of him emerging from the bathroom. We figured that he had passed out in there.

Halfway to Littleton, I looked up and noticed that he had re-entered the car and was about 1/4 of the way back to us. He was holding onto a bench seat and was blinking slowly at the person below him, clearly trying to engage the person in conversation, but being rebuffed. Somewhere along the way, he had produced a cigarette and had placed it behind his ear. He did make the stop in Littleton a little interesting for some, but eventually he sat in an empty bench and let
the people go past him to exit the train. He then stood up and proceed towards us again.

As he got closer, he started to bellow out an unintelligible song. Looks of horror crept over the faces of my fellow commuters. He came to a stop in front of me and struggled to focus on me.

"Whas your name?" he slurred as he extended his fist to me for a fist bump.

"John". I gave him the fist bump.

". . . BRIAN", he barked out after a long pause. "How long?"

What? The question must have been apparent on my face despite not speaking.

"HOW LONG?", he insisted.

"How long to Fitchburg? Where are you..."


"Oh, about," glancing around at Todd, "twenty minutes?" Todd nodded in the affirmative.

"Oh fuck; I'm going to missh my meeting."

About this time, I notice that the train has quietly come to a stop. So does Brian.

"Where are we?" he asks.

"Somewhere between Littleton and Ayer."

"How long is this going to take?"

"I don't know; I don't work for the MBTA."

He reached up and grabbed the cigarette. "Think I have time to...?" and he gestured at the door with the cigarette.

I just shrugged. He went past me and disappeared into the vestibule. Just then a conductor came into the car from the other end to tell us that the engine was having mechanical difficulties and that we would be stuck here for an indeterminate amount of time. He paused briefly to answer questions from the people immediately around him ("No, I don't know how long we'll be here.") and proceed to go to the next car to continue the announcements.

As the conductor entered the vestibule, it was clear to me that he knew about Brian's condition from his tone and volume.

"NO SMOKING ON THIS TRAIN. If you light that cigarette, I will have you put off this train. Go back into the car and sit down, and NO SMOKING!"

Brian re-appeared from the vestibule and staggered up the aisle, collapsing into a bench, eliciting a look of panic from the man sitting there. But Brian didn't look at him, just sat there cradling the cigarette, maybe even talking to it.

He was quiet until the conductor came back a few minutes later, heading back to the engine. Brian took the cigarette in hand and gestured at the conductor.

"NO SMOKING. You cannot smoke on this train. It is against the law. If you smoke on this train, I will have you put off the train."

Brian gave up, blowing out his lips and slowly blinking his eyes as he returned the cigarette to behind his ear. Just about then, the train started to move. A collective sigh of relief came from all around. I let out a "Yay!".

He was largely quiet for the rest of the way to Ayer. As I got up to exit, I wished Todd luck. "After all, you now have an empty seat next to you; he may decide to come over and chat."

"I'll sit next to Steve if that happens."

Brian didn't even look at me as I passed him.

As I exited the train, I heard Jim telling Harry the conductor (a different conductor) that he may want to call ahead to the North Leominster police and have them pick the guy up before he tries to drive.

I continued on to the rail trail parking lot. As I approached the near end, I saw a boy running toward me along the rail trail.

"DAVE?" he called out. "DAVE?"

As he came into the pool of light from the streetlight at the end, I could see he was about 12-13 years old, and was carrying a boomerang. He stopped as he reached the sidewalk to the parking lot, just as I did as well. He looked right at me.


I shook my head at him.

He leapt to his right, into the parking lot, and looked down the length of the parking lot, essentially back the way he came.

"DAD!" he called out and took off after a man from the train who was ahead of me. The boy reached him and tugged on his sleeve. From the man's reaction, he didn't know the boy. The boy shook his head, and continued running up the parking lot, calling out, "DAVE?" as he reached each space between the cars. He rapidly disappeared into the darkness.

I said to myself, "I'm going to have a very large, very dry martini when I get home."

Friday, January 09, 2009

Customer Service

When my ears were again assaulted by the irritating Pan pipes of a local ethnic group blasting away when I entered North Station, I stopped by the ticket booth to see if there was a managerial type around to whom I could complain.  There was and in my conversation with her I learned two interesting things.

The first was that enough people had complained about the PA being too loud that the master volume had just been turned down today.  Lovely.

The second was that while the MBCR runs the trains, anything having to do with the station itself is determined by the MBTA, and they don't have a representative on-site to field complaints.

I was given a business card, however.  I'll keep all correspondence copied here.

Sent from my G1...