I have commuted to Manhattan on the Long Island Rail Road for 12 years. I used to dread it, but have learned to accept and even embrace it. I pass the time between Hicksville and Penn Station with work, books and sleep. I've also become a people watcher, and have seen, heard and smelled some interesting things.
I've witnessed people arguing about keeping voices down in the quiet car. I've inhaled nose-burning cologne. I've watched unruly children play video games, and unruly adults play poker games.
From her loud cellphone conversation, I overheard more about one woman's gall bladder than I know about my own organs. At 7:30 one morning, I sat across from an elderly man who was eating his breakfast, a bag of peanut M&Ms.
Lately, I've been recording my LIRR observations for a blog. A favorite story occurred recently on the 6:01 p.m. train from Penn Station to Hicksville. This train was short, eight to 10 cars, instead of 12, which meant many people had to stand. I was one of them. I stood in the vestibule, next to a lavatory, along with several other men. One of them was looking around. I wondered if he was up to something.
While still at Penn Station, he stepped into the lavatory and shut the door. I had a feeling he'd lock himself in to avoid the conductor and the train fare. Sure enough, 20 minutes later he was still in there.
One of the men in the vestibule also was wise to this man, and he was angry. Maybe he needed to use the lavatory. He knocked, and the fare evader replied, "Just a minute, I'm sick."
The man looked at me and said, "I hate when people try to skip the fare."
When the conductor came around to take tickets, my fellow passenger blew the whistle and said the man in the lavatory had been in there for 20 minutes. The conductor knocked on the door and said, "Are you OK? You've been in there a while."
The evader opened the door and said, "I'm OK, just constipated."
I wish I had video of this. It was the worst excuse I'd ever heard.
The conductor asked the evader for his ticket, and he didn't have one. The conductor said, "that will be $21."
The evader rifled through his jacket and gym bag. He opened a toiletry case and felt around.
After several minutes, he found his wallet but had no cash. The conductor took his identification card and started filling out a form.
This was all the whistleblower could take, and he pulled cash from his pocket. He told the conductor, "I don't want you to have to fill out a form. Let me pay his fare."
He was trying to embarrass the fare evader. The conductor wouldn't allow it, and the fare evader was handed his bill. I wonder if he will pay it.
The fare evader stood in the vestibule for the rest of the ride, oblivious to the angry looks of others. I personally hoped he would get booted from the train at the next stop. It didn't happen, but he certainly would have deserved it.