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Opinion

Bar carts took the edge off a hard day

During the 30 years or so that I rode trains into Penn Station, there were two things I looked forward to on the trip home to Rockville Centre: doing the crossword puzzle in my newspaper and having a drink.

Bar carts at Penn Station in 2006.

Bar carts at Penn Station in 2006. Photo Credit: Nick Brooks

Every few weeks I come across another reminder of why it’s so good to be retired. The latest example is news that the Long Island Rail Road eliminated its bar carts this past week.

During the 30 years or so that I rode trains into Penn Station, there were two things I looked forward to on the trip home to Rockville Centre: doing the crossword puzzle in my newspaper and having a drink.

I got to know several of the men who worked the carts on the platforms at Penn, especially Tim and Vinny. They knew what I wanted — Jack Daniel’s with lots of ice — and even if there were only seconds before my train left, I got a drink and didn’t miss my ride. The drink might cost $2.25; I’d put down at least $3 and let them keep the change.

I frequently arrived at Penn Station after 8 p.m., and, if the bar cart was at one track and the 8:06 on another, not a problem. Tim or another bartender knew what I wanted, made a quick pour and then took his key and opened a side door of my train just for me, while fellow riders boarded on the other side. That way I didn’t have to race back up and downstairs to get over to the right platform. (Maybe they weren’t supposed to do that. I sure hope any statute of limitations has expired.)

At the office, I talked about the bar carts and the guys who manned them (they were mostly men). If a workday started off badly, I had a habit of playfully yelling “Vinny!” to people around me, signaling that I wished I could have a drink five or more hours before my shift was over.

Although I’ve been retired more than 10 years, when I went into the city for dinner or a ballgame and saw one of the bartenders at their carts, there would usually be a pause, a look of recognition and then a self-administered memory test.

“Jack on the rocks, right?”

“Right,” I’d say.

“How’s retirement?”

“Fine.”

It was too early for a drink, so I’d scurry off to my destination, impressed that they remembered at least my face and my order. I wonder how many former customers they could quickly identify by drink.

There were times when I worked overnight and, long before the bar carts were in position, would buy a beer upstairs at Penn for the ride back to Long Island. There I was at 8:30 in the morning, tired and in need of a shave, having a beer on the train as I headed home for my “dinner.” Between sips, I would try to gauge what fellow riders were thinking about the scruffy, beer-swilling guy in their midst.

Any time of day, a drink on the train after work was relaxing and helped take my mind off things I couldn’t control — say, a lazy office colleague who wasn’t pulling his or her load. I usually arrived home in a good mood. Sometimes, my mood suffered a bit when I set my drink on the floor of the train and then knocked it over. Oh, well. My waistline could do with a day off. I had only myself to blame.

I salute Tim and Vinny and their fellow bartenders for all the good they did for me and many others over the years. Some of their jokes weren’t too bad, either.

Reader Larry McCoy lives in Rockville Centre.

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