Pleasant Trip to Sleepy Rings Hollow

The Hawthorne and Valhalla train stations were knocked out of commission following the horrific crash from Feb. 3, and I figured they’d remain out for weeks.

Waiting on a bus at Hawthorne station, which would take me to North White Plains, sounded like a nightmare scenario. So I poked around for some other options.

Since we now have two cars, I decided to drive to Philipse Manor in Sleepy Hollow, park in the village, and walk to the train station. I’d been to that station before. The old tudor building is owned by the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center. Years back, when I had a novel coming out, I figured it would serve me well to take part in their open mike and get my public reading chops back in order.

I arrived in Philipse Manor Wednesday morning, and saw a sign informing me that there is no street parking anywhere in Philipse Manor, which is the village/neighborhood surrounding the station.

It’s a really cool looking neighborhood, tucked up against the Hudson, big, wide streets, large but not ostentatious homes. Sidewalks everywhere. Lots of character.

But I could not park there.

So I ventured on, just out of Philipse into Sleepy Hollow proper. I found a spot. I looked at the sign and saw I was legit. My walk from there, about .8 of a mile, took me past the site of the Horseman’s Hollow.

When I was trying to describe to myself the difference between my own Harlem Line and the Hudson Line that runs parallel to the river, the phrase “quality of life” kept popping into mind. There were plenty of seats. We stopped moments later in Tarrytown and then went express to 125th. The train stayed at a steady pace throughout. The view was not just different from the one I’ve seen for eight years, but beautiful: the river. The Palisades. The Tappan Zee.

I got back to Philipse Manor that evening. The ride was 42 minutes, a good 10 less than my usual commute to Hawthorne. The lights of the Tappan Zee twinkled in the distance. The blue recycling bins had the Headless Horseman on them. The streets are impossibly wide; people walked in the streets because the sidewalks are snowy. Cars go by in either direction, and there’s still room for pedestrians, unlike the mean, narrow, unforgiving, no-damn-sidewalks of Mount Pleasant.

I thought that I could actually live in Philipse Manor, my kids walking to friends’ houses along those sidewalks, or riding their bikes safely on those big, broad roads.

I walked past the Old Dutch Church from “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” fame. I passed a sign for Kykuit.

I got back to my car dwelling on how, amidst a truly awful tragedy on the railroad, my excursion to Sleepy Hollow had been kind of a treat–a break from the monotony of my usual commute.

I saw the paper tucked under my wipers. Fifty bucks for an “alternate” violation.

See you in court, Sleepy.

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Murdered Pleasantville Woman Had Sued Metro-North

We got an email from a reporter recently, related to the murder of 76-year-old Linda Misek-Falkoff of Pleasantville.

Turns out we’d mentioned Linda on Trainjotting way back in 2008, and she’d responded with a detailed comment. The reporter was curious if we’d spoken to her, which we had not.

The post referred to a story about Misek-Falkoff suing Metro-North when she said she was trapped between the arm that descends when the train is coming (to her rear) and the tracks at Green Lane in Bedford Hills.

The incident occurred in 2004. We were a wee bit snarky in the post, which doesn’t feel very good after someone’s been murdered.

Misek-Falkoff explained her side of the story in a seven-paragraph comment on Trainjotting. She thanked us for “caring about public and individual safety at railroad grade crossings such as (!) Metro North Green Lane in Bedford NY.”

She filed over a dozen lawsuits in her lifetime, reports the Journal-News, her targets including IBM, her one-time employer, as well as Westchester Medical Center.

Her suit against Metro-North was unsuccessful.

Misek-Falkoff’s murder remains unsolved.

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Commuting, Tough Mudder Style

I noticed this for the first time ever in over eight years of commuting out of Hawthorne station. OK, the picture sucks–old iPhone–but you can make out the essentials: a driveway or mini parking lot, a long ladder heading down the face of a steep dropoff, taking one down to the ass-end of the late, not so great Bel Paese, and right across the street from Hawthorne station.


Like many Metro-North stations, parking is mighty scarce at Hawthorne (and Valhalla, I hear) station. In recent months, people began parking in the Bel Paese lot, seeing as the restaurant had closed nearly six years ago, and nothing appears scheduled to take its place. Six years!

But just a few weeks ago, a sign appeared, telling commuters their cars would be towed if they continued parking there. People stopped parking there.

So, it appears, a few brave commuters are using the ladder to get to the station.

I would love to see someone actually scaling this thing en route to the morning train.

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Happy Ending for Poor ‘Scorched Earth’ Fellow on New Haven Line

Saugatucker writes in with a happy update on an “old red-faced Wall Street guy with bloodshot eyes” who’d had a particularly harsh–perhaps even “scorching”–day at work back in those dark days of 2008.

That day, Saugatucker heard the man light up an otherwise quiet New Haven Line train to the Nutmeg State with fiery gems such as this: “I just got shot in the DICK!!!  Oh, my God!  My reputation!  How stupid do I look!!  I’m in, short!, and he decides to blow this up.  I am really scorched.  Really scorched.”

The man sounds a different tune this time around. Relates our Connecti-spondent Saugatucker:

Six years and eight days later, I am sitting across this same man on the post-8:30 a.m. “Gentlemen’s Train” to Grand Central. I’m on my way to the office, but there’s no look of urgency whatsoever over there. He’s in loafers and a crisp white polo shirt and looks like he got a good night’s sleep last night. He loops through perusing his fishing magazine (fun article here – “Tuna Fishing in Cabo”), checking his Blackberry, and adding items to a fresh-looking to-do list on a yellow legal pad. I note – with relief for the guy – that he’s got a wedding ring on, and have to wonder what it was like for him to finally arrive home on that night when the world blew up on him. I hope today is easy on him and for all of us.

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No Replacements Replacement Needed

I took a car, two trains and a CitiBike to Forest Hills Friday night to see the Replacements. You step off the LIRR in Forest Hills and feel like you’re in London.

You walk five minutes toward the decrepit old stadium and feel like you’re in the ass end of Moscow.

I won’t get into the differences between Grand Central and Penn Station; that wouldn’t be far. But I will say–I’m always struck by how jammed the sidewalks are getting into Penn at rush hour, and how damn low the ceilings are. I also had a beer-seller hassle me when I decided to change my order from a Bud Light to a Blue Point Hoptical Illusion. He kept telling me he’d already placed the order. When he shoved a credit card and receipt back at me, we both realized he thought I was some other white guy.

Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson–who’s also the bassist in Guns N’ Roses–told a story from the stage about running to catch a 7:20 a.m. Amtrak to get to NYC in time for the show. He said the sidewalks where he lives are a little bumpy. He tripped and landed on his nose, and the good, caring folks of Amtrak were iffy about letting him on board, telling him repeatedly that he needed an ambulance.

Stinson shrugged them off–he’s in the Replacements, he’s been through much, much worse–and went to the Amtrak bathroom to clean up. When the blood was gone, he knew he was fine.

“I’m always pale and my nose is always bent,” he said.

I wondered where the dude lived so that he’s hopping an Amtrak to New York. Boston? Old Lyme? The band is from, of course, the Twin Cities.

Then, last night, I popped open my new Rolling Stone–yes, there’s still a magazine called Rolling Stone–and saw a feature about the band, in which Stinson mentions living in Hudson, New York.

The ride is about two hours. Leave a bit early so you’re not running on those perilous Hudson sidewalks.

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Gilligan Called, He Wants His Railroad Back

And you thought your commute sucked.

(Well, if you’re riding the Beleagured New Haven Line these days, it certainly does.)

Out there–and we do mean out there–in Thailand, Gilligan’s Island-esque bamboo trains ride the rails where actual trains used to run in better times.

The trains are known as “norrys”, reports the Wall Street Journal. They are motorized with pull-start engines, like your lawn mower, and run on wheels from abandoned tanks–relics from the Khmer Rouge reign. They run awfully close to cows and goats.

The WSJ has some fun video.

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At Least *Someone* at Metro-North Is Sorry

A Metro-North conductor is the darling of the beleaugured railroad these days, though likely catching some heat from corporate, after issuing a written apology to riders and leaving his missive on the seats.

Thirty year MNR vet Michael Shaw left a note on every seat on the 6:52 am out of New Haven yesterday, apologizing for giving erroneous information about there being an express train just behind the train he was on.

“I made a huge mistake in telling you, MY/OUR passengers to ‘trust me and wait for the express train behind us,’ not knowing Metro-North had canceled it,” Shaw wrote. “I will never make this mistake again.”

Shaw told the NY Times:

“I knew Monday morning they were going to ask me a million questions. I thought, ‘How can I apologize?’ And Metro-North does that. They put out letters on the seats when they have an incident that affects a lot of people. I just took their idea and made it my own.”

Metro-North applaued Shaw’s compassion, but not his method. The railroad said in a statement: “While we share his concerns, we do not condone his methods of communicating them.”

Shaw, tweeting from @shawdogs65, said the reaction to his notes has been a bit overwhelming: “Never thought apologizing 4 something I did wrong would be press worthy.”

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Sun Shines After Snow Day. Metro-North Does Not.

It was Friday.

Thursday had been the snowstorm. I’d worked from home–no way I was banking on Metro-North getting me to Gotham in a timely fashion when I could simply spark up the home computer and work from what we jokingly call the Westchester bureau.

The kids were home from school. Their friends came over. Everyone was basically trapped inside. It was noisy and a little claustrophobic.

I was pretty pumped to get to the city the next day, to my quiet office.

So I set out on foot Friday. The roads were icy when I left a little after 8, but the sun was making its first appearance in what felt like weeks.

Metro-North announced it was running a Saturday schedule on Friday, the railroad assuming most people would take the day off, work from home yet again, etc.

But working from home two days in a row can be tricky. Maybe you thought ahead on Wednesday and brought home a day’s worth of stuff to do on Thursday, but no so much for Friday. Maybe you had to get to the office because the following week is the school holiday week and you’re off to Disney.

Actually, saying Metro-North “announced” a Saturday schedule is not quite accurate. I learned of the reduced service from my local Daily Voice e-newsletter. Metro-North has my email, my address, likely my phone number somewhere. The railroad does not make such service announcements for its customers–at least for this one.

Trains out of Hawthorne were hourly on the :54, instead of what would be more like three trains per hour on a weekday. There was an 8:54. It arrived a little before 9.

As I went to step on, the vestibule was jammed. I stayed on the platform to let the riders get off, wondering what had suddenly made dinky lil Hawthorne such a popular destination (were the Globetrotters playing at the Holy Rosary gym or something?). Not a soul got off. About a hundred Hawthorners squeezed onto the jammed–I mean, cheek by jowl humanity in the vestibule, the aisles–train.

I thought quickly. It would be jammed further at Valhalla, at North White Plains. And who the f*** knows what happens at White Plains.

Factor in the train’s typical 20% extra travel time these past few months and, ya know, the foot of snow that landed in the last 24 hours, and, well, it was going to be one of those famous Tokyo subway rides, without the locals’ famed politesse. An hour-plus, squeezed in like clowns in a clown car.

I tried a second set of doors, and a third. Same story. The doors shut.

Working from home. Again.

Metro-North later admitted it grossly underestimated the number of riders, the first gaffe in new president Joseph Giulietti’s new tenure.

“Based on forecasts of up to a foot of snow falling overnight, we were conservative in planning schedules to help reduce the chances that trains could become stranded or would have to be canceled,” Giulietti said in a statement. “When the sun shone through this morning, we had more customers than anticipated, particularly on the New Haven Line. We apologize for this morning’s crowding and expect to do better this afternoon.”

It has not been a good year, year and a half, for the former gold standard of commuter railroads.

I popped into the Hawthorne Station Cafe That’s Really a Deli for a consolation bacon egg and cheese. Queen Latifah was on, japing with Hugh Jackman. I saw a young man from my usual 8:16 train. I asked if he’d missed the announcement about the Saturday schedule.

He said he’d known of it, left his home in plenty of time, and proceeded to skid down the street until his car struck another one.

I passed along my regrets as I ate my egg sandwich.

Then I headed the mile back for home. The sidewalks were a foot deep in snow. I walked in the street. The sun was shining and the ice started to melt.

Eighteen minutes later, I surprised my kids at the door.

It seemed like they were happy to see me. Again.  

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Breaking! Metro-North Bronx Track Work Done…Some Time Ago!

So, you’ve been muddling along these past several months on Metro-North, your 35 minute ride to the city suddenly, and routinely, 45 minutes, your hour commute more like an hour and 15.

Every day. Each way.

The commute you agreed to when you bought your house–about 20% longer each day. Twice a day. Precious family time, shaved substantially as you get more quality time on a packed Metro-North car.

Hey, it’s just that track work in the Bronx, you say as a means to cope. It’ll be over soon.

Here’s what’s kind of a bummer. The track work in the Bronx is over. Yet the delays continue.

The new edition of Metro-North mouthpiece Mileposts offers “A Word About Your Service”: An attempt to explain how and why Metro-North–not all that long ago, the gold standard of New York…nay, U.S… train commuting–has fallen so far, so fast. It acknowledges the six miles of track being worked on in the Bronx for several months, cutting track capacity by as much as 50%.

“While that project is now finished…,” says Mileposts.

Yes, the track work is done. And your 45 minute train ride continues to tickle the hour mark.

Why? Mileposts says the railroad is rebuilding right-of-ways in other locations, and concedes what many of us have suspected–that everyone is watching their backs since the December 1 derailment, which brought in federal government watchdogs poking around at the Metro-North systems. Mileposts mentions “certain speed restrictions and specific changes to our operating practices” on all three lines in the wake of the fatal derailment.

Plus, the weather has been kind of shitty this winter.

Yet, through it all, the railroad was “on time”, by Metro-North’s count, 94.8% of the time in ’13, with my own Harlem line clocking in at an impressive 96.4%.

Let me be the first to exclaim, “Bullshit.” My morning ride, 48 minutes when I moved to the ‘burbs seven years ago–the longest I decided I could ride on a daily basis–averages around 57 minutes now. My evening jaunt, formerly 42 minutes, is 50 minutes on a typical day.

“On time,” my white Irish arse.

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Everyone’s a Critic!

The New Haven Line has no shortage of critics.

Including this aspiring film pundit, whose handiwork our Connecti-spondent “Saugatucker” found in a stack on his ride home to Westport recently.

Adds Saugatucker:

“Then the  guy seated across from me just pulled a silver flask out of his pocket
and poured its contents into a 24 oz Zaro’s cup of ice and topped it
with a dash of Snapple fruit punch.  Things could get all Beyond Rangoon
in here.”


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