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That first day ...
Old 04-06-2017, 05:05 PM   #1
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That first day ...

I was all of 19, poor, living day to day, fearful, always waiting for the next shoe to drop. Yet somehow we lived our frank and beans existence managing and never knowing any better. The coveted summer job as a parlor car attendant with the Long Island Road was an immense blessing and came at the perfect time. The State University tuition, room, board and textbook bills awaited at the end of summer and I didn't know how I'd do it. We were not a 'college' family and there was no one to seek advice from. Even so I still would be expected to chip in at home. Looking back a few dollars made a big difference.

Not surprisingly, I knew nothing about money - I never really had any. No one I knew had any money, certainly not the how and why to accumulate it. There were the giant newspaper routes, the lawn mowing and the awful restaurant jobs but there was also jeans, gas and tires for the jalopy. If only the old me could talk to young me so many missteps could have been avoided and some assurance given. It will be all right Ray. Of course lessons learned with a little pain are well remembered -each step served its purpose.

What I did know this LIRR job paid well and I was ready. I was determined to get myself to Jamaica station -the LIRR headquarters on time with clean finger nails neatly dressed as directed. As I remember I didn't buy a ticket; I found another summer job guy with an engineers hat on and pretending to read a thick employee rail road schedule. He hoped the conductor upon seeing all this would think 'ah employee' and pass him by, which he did for both of us. I guess not everyone my age was so clueless.

Thinking back, the training we received was all but non existent. The only advise I received: if you want to make a buck - hustle. And do not get into any card games. I had no idea exactly what card games he was referring to. I was assigned a parlor car heading from the hunters point ave station to Montauk. My key opened an ancient liquor cabinet should one of the patrons order a drink. It held vodka, rye and gin miniatures and mysteries like a bottle of pearl onions and premixed manhattan. Have you ever in your life seen anyone drink a Gibson martini with pearl onions?

Rule #1 (There only two) always mix the drink in front of the customer. A bag of ice, as well as some fresh lemons and limes were provided. Rule #2 Never sell liquor to the train crew. The rules, like the trains were very old - I would learn the trains and rules often broke down.

The patrons knew the drill and found their seats in their private rooms without a fuss; I hoped it would be uneventful. I saw an elderly lady struggling with a couple of bags coming through the car next door. I scooted over to her and grabbed the bags and helped her to her seat. Her tip was an astounding fiver.. that doesn't sound like much today but, at the time it was huge. Sometimes I would hand the bags directly to the chauffeur at one of the Hampton stations and the fine leather would never touch the ground. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise the wealthy can be generous.

That first trip ended when we rolled into Montauk and I had inventoried my cabinet. There was a couple hours 'swing time' to kill before the train back. I befriended another summer college guy and we headed to the end of the train. I open that last parlor car to find it was kind of an open stateroom affair. Smoke filled, with perhaps 3 card games going on. Was there liquor? - absolutely. (It was by the way an all male workforce - my sister would be one of the LIRR first female electricians.) maybe it is the failing memory of an old man but I'd swear some players had green glare shades and rolled sleeves - lest they be accused of cheating. This is where I heard that a misdelt card could spell disaster for the dealer- real money was at stake. It occurs to me now the nearest boss might have been 100 miles away. We moved on - that warning still ringing in my ears.

We got some food at the blue marlin restaurant where we learned the blue collar blokes ordered and ate on one side that resembled a pizza parlor with simple booths and the well-to-do dined in the fancy dinning room. I also learned why the wealthy summered at Montauk. The 90 degree day gave way to cool evenings, the local kids sported flannel shirts and jeans.

The trip home was an education , you see the train didn't stop until it reached the Hillside yards - which meant I was was going well past where I lived all the way back to Jamaica and then I faced a long return trip home. The conductor said the train would slow down when he reached central Islip - those nervy enough could jump off.

Leaving a moving train is a bit of an art form; it cant be traveling too fast and you have to continue running when you hit the ground. To do otherwise is to spell disaster. Well that first day the train didn't sufficiently slow down at central Islip. When we reached Jamaica station an anxious novice jumped too soon and ran directly into a metal roof support beam. The train immediately stopped and I stepped off - my first 'jump' at central Islip would wait for another night... there was much to learn and so many adventures good and bad to be had...


Footnote: The LIRR acquired those used trains in 1970 and stopped the service around 2000. When I walked through that smoked filled car many years after it was built, the glory of its ornate mahogany woodwork, that spoke to a bygone era of opulence and wealth, still impressed a young guy with so much to learn.

I'm guessing there are 30 years of summer guys out there somewhere - I'll bet they too have some stories to tell.
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Old 04-06-2017, 07:20 PM   #2
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Ray with Pen. Excellent story.
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