No Orders, No Messages

by John Delach

I commuted between Port Washington, Long Island and New York’s Pennsylvania Station from 1977 until 2000 and, since my retirement, I continue to make this run mostly on non-rush hour trains two to three times a month.


Port Washington is a terminal and my title is taken from the banter between crew members that I could hear over the open intercom on those coaches as the crew prepared for the morning run:


Engineer to conductor: “Mickey says it’s time to go.”


Conductor: “No orders, no messages.”


Engineer: “I have the railroad.”


…and off we’d go each morning.


Other happenings were not so regimented or contrived. One morning a conductor named, Barney, entered my coach just after the train left the Plandome Station. A well-dressed and coiffed dowager looked up at him as he prepared to punch her ticket and asked, “Conductor, please tell me what time this train will arrive at Grand Central Terminal?”


Barney punched her ticket, looked at her and replied, “Lady, you’re on the wrong f***ing railroad.”


One evening on a return journey, the train was just emerging from one of the East River Tunnels as a different conductor entered the car. He commanded: “All tickets, please, all tickets, please. This is the 6:11 Flyer to Port Washington stopping only at Great Neck, Manhasset, Plandome and Port Washington. We expect to arrive in Port Washington at 6:48, all tickets, please.”


When he reached my row, a chap sitting across from me asked, “Why did you say ‘expect?”


“Because nothing in life is guaranteed.”


Beginning in 1989, I started a morning routine of having a daily workout before beginning my workday. I used Cardio Fitness, an upscale facility located in Rockefeller Center as my company was willing to pay for the annual membership. This required me to make the 5:36 train as insane as that sounds. Needless to report, my regular coach was only sparsely populated with other riders when it left Port Washington and often I was its only occupant.


One morning, I sat next to the window on a two seater on an otherwise empty coach. I was already engrossed in the morning’s New York Times when a young woman entered and sat down next to me. I slowly folded my paper, put it down, turned toward my unwanted companion and looked directly at her.


I obtained the desired effect. Clearly flustered, she spoke rapidly trying to explain: “I didn’t know what else to do, my mother always tells me to never sit anyplace but on the aisle and to look for a well-dressed gentleman to sit next to in order to be safe.”


“Look around, the coach is empty. I assure you that it will not get crowded and you can pick any other aisle seat except this one and nobody will try to sit next to you.”


She did as I asked and I returned to my paper but I did keep a protective eye on her for the rest of the journey just in case.