Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The First Week of Commuter Service

So my husband has been working his first week of commuter service. He's been staying at a hotel, even though his run isn't too far from home. We had thought it would be a motel, but it turned out to be a real hotel. It's better than taking chances with the weather. It's been icy and snowy and roads have frequently been closed this month. His peer trainer told him that he could bring his family to the hotel, so we are here with him. While he's been at work we've been swimming and watching cable. It has been a wonderful week for me and the kids, but a pretty rough week for my husband.

His first day of work was trial by fire. The weather really warmed up, the snow melted, and the City was hosting a bunch of festivals and free promotional events. The trains were full well beyond capacity. With 200 people per car, there was standing room only. It was a struggle for him just to work his way through the aisles to punch tickets. Add to that the fact that people were not thrilled to be standing the whole way, and the fact that my husband doesn't yet have the zones or special fares and discounts memorized, and you have a recipe for stress. He was supposed to work half a car under the supervision of another conductor, but that went out the window when they were swamped with riders. Usually that run is a sleepy run and not overly crowded. His trainer had to abandon him because they had to open the last car on the train that is usually vacant. Because the spike in riders was uncharacteristic for that run, they didn't have enough conductors to have a conductor in each car, unless they gave my husband his own car. My husband is the kind of guy with who has an amazing work ethic. He does not cheat or cut corners. He goes out of his way to be productive, usually not taking any breaks or lunches. He doesn't like to miss anything or make any mistakes. So it was very stressful for him trying to collect fares, because he just couldn't get to everyone, causing some people to ride for free. He felt terrible about that. As a new conductor it takes him much longer to calculate fares and punch tickets than the other guys who have works this line for years and years. In addition to collecting fares and punching tickets, he also has to open the door and assist passengers in safe boarding. Since he didn't know the run he didn't always know when a stop was coming up, so he would have to stop working on a fare to open doors and help with boarding. Some of the people deliberately try to avoid paying fares by ignoring the conductors when they come by. They pretend to be asleep or they bury themselves in their newspapers. Other people put their tickets away as soon as they are punched-- not problem for experienced conductors who know the regulars, but my husband couldn't remember who had paid and who hadn't. His trainer told him not to worry about it, that the RR didn't expect perfection. It's hard for my husband to take that advice. He wants to do a perfect job.

In the middle of the day he has a several hour layover in the City. The station has a crew area with a large break room, workout room, and sleeping area. He described the sleeping area as a darkened, quiet room having reclining chairs. I was hoping he would get some rest during the layovers, but no such luck. He was too nervous to sleep in the sleeping area. The lunchroom was extremely overheated and he was really uncomfortable there. Part of the problem was that conductors are not allowed to wear their uniform coats inside the trains. But it can be cold on the loading platforms. Since they have to get out at every stop to ensure passenger safety, it's too much of a hassle to put the coat on and off every few minutes-- especially when the car is overloaded. SO he wore long underwear to deal with the cold. Inside the crew rest area he was just too overheated to relax. Regular employees have lockers and change into street clothes to lounge in. Some of them tootle around the City, running errands, shopping, socializing. Trainees don't get lockers. Since 911 there are no lockers for rent to the public in the station, and he has to carry his grip (bag with railroad manuals and tools) everywhere he goes (per RR regulations). So he felt stuck, unable to rest, for 7 hours. That was really hard for him because he has not been sleeping well at night, because he's been nervous about this week of commuter service. He was much more at ease with freight work.

When he got back to the hotel he mentioned that his uniform shirt was too tight. I believed him when I saw the bruises covering the circumference of his collar line. That's tight! So while he was at work yesterday I drove around with the kids for 30 minutes looking for a store that sold sewing kits. We're not in the City, so it was a harder search than you'd expect. My son was feeling quesy and thought he was getting the stomach flu, so I felt guilty about making him drive around with me in search of needle and thread, but it proved to be worth it. His stomach ailment cleared up and I managed to fix one of my husband's shirts. It seemed to fit much better today.

Today might go better for him. He had known that they have easy chairs for crew to rest in. He didn't know that they actually have a dormitory room with rows and rows of BEDS-- complete with linens and blankets. Apparently that room is a better temperature. Maybe he'll be able to sleep a while since he'll be in a more restful position.

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