The Cog

The hours spent at the office layered each upon the last like a grey snowfall that simply would not end.  Each daily journey to and from his current outpost was a rushed coordination of logistics that leaned heavily on chance, sprinkled with a dose of luck. The latter of which he believed a distant fable.   The inconsistency of the railroads reliability often delivered him late to frustrated management, thus forever suppressing his already paltry wage.  This coupled with struggles to put food on his family’s table and pay bills built over time that no honest man could ever re-pay, had him strung tight behind his fatigued demeanor.   


He drifted off to the familiar rhythm of the train lurching forward and accelerating beneath him, in a fitful doze slowly consumed by whole silence.  The motion of the great locomotive was a hypnotic elixir that relaxed his weary and worn soul.  He felt the acceleration of its decent, the quiet transverse over plains, felt suspended and weightless crossing long narrow bridges high above deep dark canyons forged by the rivers of time.  He heard the deceleration, felt the slow ascent push his head softly to the chair, he felt the cog.  


‘Karten aus, lass mich deine Papiere sehen!’
‘tickets out, let me see your papers!’


The train slowly climbs the steep mountainside attached to the cog, much like a rising roller coaster.   His seat appears reclined as he looks about.  Outside, the last shafts of sunlight illuminate snow covered peaks far above a tree line, that has quietly fallen away.


‘Papiere sehen!’
demands the young conductor staring down at him.



He fumbles through his satchel for his ticket, his papers and passport. The figure of the conductor before him grows larger and more intimidating with the increasing incline.  He has broad shoulders, a square jaw and piercing blue-grey eyes.  His eyes are arrogant and hold a disdain that have already concluded and confirmed guilt.


The man can sense the stares of others turning around and although it is quite cool in the rail car, he is perspiring.   With a noticeable tremble, he hands his papers up to the conductor dressed in all black.   


The train moves higher to the sound of the cog but it cannot keep pace with the vanishing light.


‘..ihre papiere sind nicht in ordnung..’  
‘..your papers are not in order..’       

‘Nein, du wirst bei der nachsten haltestelle ablegen un an die station melden!’
‘No, you will de-board at the next stop and report to station!’


There are many eyes upon him now and the shirt beneath his coat is damp with sweat.   He tries to comprehend in a language he is not fluent, just what he is hearing.  His stomach has knotted and his head shakes in an attempt to defend and explain.  His arms, he cannot move his arms and his entire body seems strapped to the seat by a powerful weight of gravity.   He strains to protest, but no sound travels further than his throat and none reach his lips.   


To his left out the window, the sunlight has somehow escaped over the mountains leaving only the chasing darkness. 

Paralyzed now in abject fear, his head drops back to the right and those across the aisle grin at him in wickedness and laugh aloud in a toothless curdled siren.  

The train has leveled, left the cog and silently pulls into a deserted dark station. . .

“hey fella, wake up, this is your stop: Kingston – you almost missed it.”

The man bounds from his seat, ashen, squeezes the arm of his everyday conductor and says: ‘thank you’ three times, in quick succession.  

 On the platform, he pauses to breathe the warm Spring air deep into his lungs, looks to the stars and thanks his Blessing to be home.





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The previous day had been so hot that I surmised that when the trains were that afternoon, two hours late . . . all the engineer crews had quite likely and simply just climbed out of their steaming hot drivers seats, said: ‘the heck with this’ . . .and went towards cooler shores.


Later only, did I confirm such might have indeed been the case:
‘No crews to move the trains from the yard . . .never seen anything like that in all my forty years. . .’’ remarked a tired and frustrated conductor at 19:22 EDT.


This afternoon however, the thirty six hour cycle of stagnant air that had risen the humidity to such a suffocating level, sweltering a city that appeared suspended in smog, was beginning to waver. The upper hand of pressure permeating unstable thermal activity, was beginning to exert its rightful control.


While there was no wind as yet, enormous cumulonimbus shapes formed unreachable mountains in the skies to the South and West, insidiously sucking warm liquid vapors off the oppressed canals, estuaries and waters surrounding this once vibrant metropolis.


Roughly a half hour from our boarding time, these magnificent clouds that seemed to reach dizzying azure zeniths, had far dwarfed the tallest buildings and had by a compass, surrounded us all.

Then, having apparently fulfilled their vast propensity to harvest and store such humidity, a certain capacity was satiated. The resultant bold, broad uplifts at once hesitated, dissipated and left powerful cool downdrafts to descend rapidly beneath.
On the platform, such was most welcome. The wind swirled with speed and swiftly removed hats and blew open the quite loose fabric worn by most. It brought smiles, embarrassed ‘whoops’ and laughter to those caught off guard . . . and there was a long pleasant moment . . . before the first raindrop.


When it came it was sudden, just after a brilliant five-way fractal flash of lightening illuminating the entire Western sky. The thunder was deafening and defeated our senses, for we were soaked before we knew it was raining.

The wind came now from the South, warmer, but the rain pelted our faces cold from the North and West. Confusion rose in the rapidly reduced visibility of the platform. In the new darkness faces were captured in worried frame: a repeating staccato of lightening, wind, thunder and unrelenting rain.


The all familiar announcements, to our drenched ears of: ‘Boarding, the 6:48 to Wickford Junction, track five..’ and ‘Be vigilant..if you See . .’ was slow, slurred and mechanically distorted. . .as if lightening had just struck and mangled the wires . .


By me now, our conductor has moved first and directly into the driving wind and rain. His weighted bag full of wet papers, ticket stubs and solid keys are kept to his aft, as he leans into the wind:

“Get these people on the train, let’s go now.”

Most hesitate, but I quickly follow and encourage others my way. A wet pilgrimage then crosses the fifty or so feet to the cover of the platform where our steel albatross sits in wait, to carve us home.

Out of the wind and rain, we sit in our seats in a shivering exhale, as the train slowly slides in solitude out of her berth and towards the tunnel connecting this station to a higher ground beyond.


It is very slow going at first and only when we see dim green foliage on the other side, does our conductor reach for the PA microphone and speak in an assured calm tone.

He informs that the rapidly building water at the station was quite likely to have filled the tunnel past the eight inches allowed and delayed us . . . .most indefinitely.


There is warmth in the cabin now and more than a few claps and cheers. Folks also hear that there is a cafe car just three cars back and the spry, spring for such. Others await the conductor to check our tickets and give him a heartfelt thanks.


Only later, home and eating a hot meal, do I read that the Sox game was long rained out and much of the city was this cool evening, flooded.




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Quiet Car

I got out of work early and caught the 5:35pm train … grabbed a seat in the ‘quiet car’.  

  A Young 30-something year old gal walks her carry on down aisle and asks an older gentleman seated a few rows ahead by the window if the empty seat besides him is taken.  

The elder clears his throat and with the unexpected turn of his imminent good fortune, engages in an elaborate, cordial and slightly high pitched accommodation to her query. . . .
During their exchange of pleasantries, a man seated behind me, with thick wire glasses, barks: ‘ QUIET CAR !!”  as he intently stares at his laptop.
Before any muffled apology could come from the embarrassed young girl, I have turned around, half stood and loudly lipped to him :  “SHHHH!!”

. . . much to the chuckles, enjoyment and applause of those in the….QUIET CAR.   



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Witnessed on a trip not too long ago: 


Conductor walks by and somewhat cheerfully says:  ‘found another cell phone on an empty seat – if it’s not soon claimed, well then, it’s going all the way down Washington, DC to forever lie in a bin full of other lost phones – ha ha.’

Guy sitting across from me (a professor I think) speaks without looking up: “ask SIRI whose it is”

The conductor, perhaps not accustomed to being addressed, holds it up and smugly says: ‘its locked…’ (dummy).

Professor, now slowly looking up: “doesn’t matter, try: ‘whose iPhone does this belong to?’”

Then, as if suddenly holding a live bird, the conductor nervously hands the phone over to the professor: ‘you do it’ . . . and steps quickly back.
Sure enough, SIRI: ‘Michael Kansan’


Another conductor now appears out of nowhere and checks his list to confirm . . .
(the level of drama has risen noticeably in the recent seconds) . . .
and exclaims, that Mr. Kansan is getting off at the next stop and is right now standing by the door, two cars back!
With urgency and the a nod of:  ’I knew that’, the 1st conductor moves past him with a good deed in hand. 

The professor just rolls his eyes towards me and returns to his reading.  



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Just got on the train, folks jockeying for seats in measured and purposeful ways.  Up ahead, a mid-western couple (grandparents I imagine), have completely clogged the aisle with two enormous black carry on bags (she in front & he stuck behind) .

With a nervous glance at the sudden building line of anxious faces behind him, he takes hold of the first trunk in an attempt to heave it high above his head to the racks. 

‘No Ned, no – please your back – the trip …oh please!
Impulse urges me to intervene, to push ahead of a the quietly waiting family in front of me and assist but this is a man of great pride, as he never hesitates to look around for help.   He is once again young on a train, with his bride before him.
A characteristic and determination that is instantly admirable.

I hold back.
Like a fake prop on stage, he impresses us all by deftly delivering the rear bag topside.   All are now patient as he looks to the next.
‘No! please, for Heavens sakes Ned, no you cannot (she pleads) – let me help’

I nudge past the children.
Ned quickly bear hugs the second trunk which appears to be bolted to the floor.   I move the three remaining feet to assist.   Seconds later, he somehow already has it to his waist and together we place it on top.
He is embarrassed. His eyes have shifted downward to the right in the waiting stillness.    It is then that I hear my voice, and it does not surprise me:

“Well. . . it’s certainly clear whose bag is whose.”

The woman appears slightly offended as I pass by and says:  ‘and what exactly does . . .that mean?’

“I too, am married myself ma’am”.


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