Blood, puke, brazen sex: This Metro-North conductor has seen it all
Fisticuffs, drunks throwing up, not-so-sneaky sex and the ritual scalping of rule-breakers on the quiet car — Metro-North conductor Michael Shaw saw it all during his 36 years working the New Haven line into Grand Central Terminal.
Nonetheless, the wise-cracking 55-year-old, who retired in September, was devoted to the passengers he got to know so well during the typical two-hour journey between the two cities.
“There’s a special bond among commuters and conductors on Metro-North,” he told The Post. “It’s not like the subway, where you’re traveling with a million different people every day.
“Instead, you can ride the same train for five years, sit next to the same person every day and banter with the regular employees. After a while, you become friends.”
Now Shaw is celebrating his affection for his former job with the publication of a hilarious, frequently touching memoir called: “My Rail Life: Stories of a Railroad Conductor.”
In it, the North Haven, Connecticut resident explains how he followed in the footsteps of his late conductor father, Robert, by starting first as a porter at the age of 18 in 1984 and then being promoted to the ticket-collecting position eight months later. In total, six of Robert’s eight children wound up working for Metro-North at various times.
“The railroad is in our blood,” said Shaw. “I couldn’t imagine having any other career.”
He was fairly green in the beginning: getting stations mixed up and mispronouncing stops such as Mamaroneck. But his confidence grew at a similar rate to his trademark mischief-making.
Three weeks into the job, he took revenge on a drunken male model who boarded the train without a ticket or cash, then mocked Shaw for earning “pennies” while he pocketed “millions.”
After the scofflaw kicked off his pricey brogues and passed out, an angry Shaw quietly picked up one of the shoes, walked back to his train cab and hurled it out of the window. “I’d never done anything like this before or after that day,” he assured readers of his self-published book.
Most altercations involved passengers. One Monday morning, Shaw broke up a fight between a diminutive attorney and a burly businessman, both in their 40s. The pair — who habitually sat in the same seats — had gotten into a steaming row after the lawyer rested her injured, cast-encased foot on his chosen seat.
“There were plenty of other places to sit and the man was rude, but he wasn’t wrong to tell her to remove her foot,” recalled the conductor. “The tiny attorney jumped up and punched the big guy in the face. There was blood pouring down his nose and his glasses were broke.” Transit cops arrived and each party pressed charges.
‘I couldn’t imagine having any other career.’
Meanwhile, to keep up morale and entertain, Shaw used the public address system to make witty announcements. On the day Pope Francis visited New York in 2015, he rewrote the lyrics to “Hallelujah” with a Metro-North theme.
Other times, he launched a contest asking commuters to wear clothes in the same color as the new monthly pass, punched tickets with a baby kangaroo under his arm — “A young man got on at Bridgeport with a joey,” he explained — and insisted that a railway-obsessed boy with autism take over the microphone to list the stations. “The delight on his face spoke volumes,” said Shaw.
But his well-meaning nature got him into trouble in 2014. On a freezing cold Friday afternoon, he mistakenly told folks waiting on packed platforms not to worry because there was another train right behind. And so on the following Monday, the then-48-year-old placed 500 unauthorized apology letters on passengers’ seats.
The very personal mea culpa made headlines, but incensed his bosses. He escaped disciplinary action on that occasion but wasn’t as fortunate two years later when, as president of the Association of Commuter Rail Employees Local 1, he was suspended for 60 days. According to Shaw, his offense was sending an off-color text to a trainer administering a test for prospective conductors, jokingly asking for the answers.
“It was a huge mistake that I was very embarrassed by,” he admitted.
The irrepressible Shaw soon bounced back. He returned to his gig advising over-amorous lovers to “put your clothes back on,” policing the quiet car and placing bets with other staff over which plastered passenger staggering toward the train would puke first.
Although he retired to spend more time with his wife, Tina, 52, and daughters, Chelsea, 28, and 26-year-old Caitlyn, he misses the daily routine, much like the hordes of commuters who no longer travel into Manhattan because of COVID-19.
“Nothing beats the camaraderie and friendship I found on the New Haven line,” concluded Shaw. “As soon as things settle down, New Yorkers need to get back on their trains.”
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