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User:Sturmovik/LIRR to Penn Station

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LIRR to Penn Station

Author: Sturmovik
Author's Comments

Another early story written in March, 2001. This story was inspired by various news reports of pigeons that learned to ride the NYC Subway either to reach food in deep center city stations or just to get around The Rockaways.


Fred Jensen had achieved the perfect life. When he was a kid he had studied hard in school, was accepted to and worked his way through a top liberal arts college and then went to work for a large Fortune 500 company as something little better than an intern. The work was hard and the pay was low, but he made the right moves and kissed the right asses so by the time he was 29 he was well on his way up the corporate ladder. By the time he was 33 had moved out of his two room, forth floor walkup apartment in Brooklyn, married the girl of dreams and taken up residence in the picturesque Long Island suburb of Selden. Now he was 39, he had 2 wonderful kids, a dog, a Lincoln sedan and big Ford SUV, a grass covered back yard complete with a pool and everyday Fred would take the Long Island Rail Road to commute to his job in downtown Manhattan.


Fred loved to take the train. Every morning he would catch the 7:05 train to Penn Station and it would whisk him on a one-seat journey all the way to Midtown. He preferred to catch the train at Ronkonkoma where it originated so that he could find a comfortable and enjoy a one seat ride as the electric cars glided through the green Long Island landscape towards the towering city, Fred would use the down time to review the day’s work, read the “Times” or just catch up on some much needed sleep.


The day downed much like any typical Tuesday would. Fred got up and hurried about his early morning activities. Everything in Fred’s life was scheduled down to the minute and there would be hell to pay if he was ever forced to deviate from his self-assigned list of tasks. Fred didn’t feel like he had become a robot or that he had a rod up his ass. Careful planning and timing was just being smart. If he arrived at the train station too late all the good parking spaces would be filled by all the other commuters who couldn’t go without a one-seat ride. If he missed his parking spot he’d have to walk farther, then he might miss the train, then he might have to push back meetings, then he might miss lunch, then he might miss his train home and finally he’d miss out on some much loved quality time with the kids and wife.


Today Fred was on time and he got his usual parking spot. He caught the train as it stood at the platform C and took his “assigned” window seat in the last car. Fred wasn’t the only person on Long Island with a routine. Every day the same people would catch the same train and take the same seats. They never talked or spoke to each other, they never made eye contact and they always made sure never to notice what any other passenger was doing. Even if a passenger were crammed in the middle of a three seater, he would wrap his newspaper around his head like a protective shell and achieve utter indifference.


As the train rocketed through Mineola, Fred saw a strange movement in the reflection on the window. Fighting his urge just to ignore it, Fred put down his newspaper and looked across the car. There, perched on the little rack for carry on luggage and small parcels was a pigeon. Fred stared at it for a moment wondering how on Earth it had managed to get on the train and for that matter, why? This would definitely require him to write a letter of complaint to the MTA. Pigeons were unsanitary vermin and had no place on a commuter train. Sure he would expect this kind of filth on the Subway, and he seen many pigeons on subway trains when he had resided in the city, but now he lived in Long Island, things were supposed to be better. Forgetting about the bird Fred began to wonder why he had paid so much money for his new house, why the Rangers were tanking and why the PA had to raise bridge tolls.


Fred was only brought back to reality when he noticed that his train was pulling into track 18 at Penn Station on time at 8:19. Making sure to avoid eye contact he gathered his things and waited as the mob of people pushed slowly towards the exit. Being one of the last people out as he happened to turn back for a second he saw that same pigeon fly out of the train and off somewhere into the cavernous depth of Penn Station. This struck Fred as mildly amusing and he filed the incident under “Anecdotes to Tell Co-Workers at Lunch”.


Fifteen minutes later Fred was flabbergasted again when a saw a mouse boarding his (2) train just after he had gotten on at 34th St. He wondered if this was like “Try Transit” day or something. He tried to decide if animals using public transportation was a good thing, but reached the conclusion that it probably wasn’t because they didn’t have to pay a fare, thus forcing the cost burden to human riders like himself. Oh, and then of course there was the whole public health issue.


Fred was not very surprised when he saw the mouse get off at Chambers St. He secretly hoped the mouse was transferring to a (1) or (9) to South Ferry so it could then jump into the Hudson or at least take the ferry to Staten Island. A few minutes later Fred was walking out of the Wall St. station, now armed with two funny anecdotes to tell his co-workers.


The workday passed quickly, his co-workers laughed at both of his stories, his subway ride back to Penn Station was rodent free and he caught his 5:22 train to Ronkonkoma and best of all it arrived on time. He arrived home to a nice hot meal, retold his stories to his family, played Quake with the kids over his household LAN, but was surprised when he found he barely had the energy to watch NYPD Blue with his wife. His average day must have taken more out of him than he thought. He kissed his lovely wife goodnight and turned in early.


Fred awoke the next morning still groggy and tired, but he was startled wide-awake when he discovered he had lost another 10 pounds over the course of the week. Fred was very impressed with how well his new diet was working. At this rate he figured he’d be able to start eating all his favourite foods again by the next Friday. The next discovery didn’t go over quite as well. As Fred began to shave he noticed that his hair was beginning to take on a shade gray. It wasn’t just the hair on his head, but all over his body. Even more strange were the bits of fuzz he pulled off the back of his neck. They looked a bit like something that would come out of a pillow. Fred made a note in his Palm Pilot to see a dermatologist and then realized that his bodily inspection had made him 3 minutes late. He rushed out of the house and drove to the train station only to find his usual spot taken and the next available option some quarter mile away. Fred would have missed his train had it not been for the fact that he was a pretty quick runner and he was able to jam his hand in the door before the closed all the way. Once aboard he sunk into his window seat and fell asleep, completely exausted.


He awoke to find the conductor poking him with a short yellow stick. Grabbing his things he rushed out of the coach, not wanting to be late for work. Once on the Subway he felt increasingly uncomfortable, he itched all over and he felt rather hot. After he got up to his office Frank dumped his stiff in his office and, passing up an urge to stop it at the water cooler, ran into the bathroom. His face looked rather gray despite the fact he was overheating and upon opening his shirt he found that the odd fuzz was covering his whole chest and though he felt like he was burning up, but there was no sweat anywhere on his body. Suddenly Fred was gripped by an acute pain in his gut and he lurched to the toilet to forcibly expel what had been his breakfast.


As he washed his mouth out in the sink Fred realized that this was obviously something much more serious than a simple skin condition and he was definitely going to have to see his doctor as soon as possible. When Fred got back to his office he put off an important conference call in order to set up a late appointment. Now that his crisis had been sufficiently dealt with Fred dove right back into his work. After all, they had just gotten 5 new accounts and this wasn’t the time to be a lazybones.


Two conference calls, five e-mails, three meetings and four reports later Fred pulled himself away from his work. His stomach was angry that it had been so suddenly evacuated and it was demanding that Fred consume the lunch his wonderful wife had packed. As Fred reached for his briefcase to retrieve the lunch, he was shocked to see that his shirtsleeves now flopped down over his hand. He stood up and saw that none of his clothes fit right, they just hung off him like he had just come in from fasting. He found it hard to believe that any diet could be this effective.


Fred needed a drink and as he walked to the water cooler several co-workers noticed his rumpled appearance and gray complexion and suggested that he take the rest of the day off sick. Fred had never taken a sick day and he didn’t feel like starting now. He filled his mug with cool, refreshing water and steadfastly walked back to his office. It was only after he his rolled up his sleeve for the umpteenth time that he noticed what was not growing on his forearm. He clenched his teeth and pulled, that had been just gray fuzz, out of his arm and held it up to the light. There was no mistaking it; in his hand was most definitely a small gray feather. He bent over the pulled up his pant leg and there he found not gray fuzz, but hard black and pink scales.


Model employee, hard worker, 5 new accounts or not this sent Fred into a panic. He grabbed his stuff, held his calls and canceled his remaining appointments. Three minutes later he was out the door and heading toward the subway station. It was just past three o’clock and things weren’t very crowded yet, but as he ran down the stairway one of his shoes came off. As Fred fumbled to get it back on he saw three little claws poking out of his socks. Fred, his shoes not much better than slippers now, swiped his MetroCard and ran to catch the big red train that had just pulled into the station. He got on and plopped down on one of the hard bench seats hoping that nobody would notice him. Since New Yorkers generally couldn’t care less about their fellow man, the only people who did see him were two children who had just gotten off from school. One look was all it took to persuade them to move to another car.


Fred staggered into Penn Station and almost fell down the stairs to the LIRR level. He was in luck, the 3:55 train to Ronkonkoma left in just a few minutes. Holding onto the handrail for dear life he fumbled down to the platform and into the train, falling headlong into his seat. Fred looked so bad that nobody would even sit near him and so he sat alone, face to the window, as wave after wave of pain coursed through his body.


It was right after the station stop at Hicksville that, one again Fred looked up at to the baggage rack in the coach. Once again he beheld a pigeon riding the rails to god knows where. It was in that instant that Fred realized what was happening to him and this realization only accelerated the changes that were already taking place.


Fred began to shrink rapidly. His legs began to suck into his torso and his shoes fell off. He tried to yell, to call for help, but he found himself unable to make any sounds. His arms retreated inside his shirt, his fingers melding into large feathers. His lips receded and his teeth pushed out and fused into a small beak and as he shrank, his body was fully engulfed in gray feathers. As his head shrank it pushed the human thoughts out if his mind, his memories, his personality. Wife, kids, house, car, commute, work all disappeared into nothingness. Finally, a small pigeon poked its head out of what had been Fred’s sport jacket. It struggled free itself of the man made confines and winged its way up to the baggage rack. Nobody else in the car gave the slightest hint of noticing. As the pigeon perched on the rack one last bit of awareness passed through it as it saw the 15 or 20 other pigeons huddling in the rack, waiting for their stops. What had been Frank might have wondered where those other birds had come from, but he had lost the ability to wonder.


The announcement came over the PA for Ronkonkoma and the pigeon that had been Fred had a burning desire to get out of the train. Once the path was clear it flapped down and out of the doorway and into the early evening. For all intents and purposes, what came out of that train on that fateful winter evening was a pigeon. It felt it had to do what most other birds do, find something to eat, find a place to roost, find a mate, but it had one burning need that overrode all other concerns. That pigeon just HAD to be on the 7:05 train to Penn Station.


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A homeless, minority, immigrant awoke from his slumber in the last car and began making his way forward, looking for items that might have been left behind. He tried to ride the LIRR, it always provided him with a good haul and he enjoyed bringing down the property values in all the surrounding communities(*). Suddenly he looked down, unable to believe his eyes. For the second time that week someone had left all their things and a complete set of cloths behind on one of the seats. Carefully looking around to make sure the conductor wasn’t lurking nearby, the man dumped all the items in his bag, smiling as he pulled the wallet from the still buttoned pants. He quickly left the train and headed towards the nearest bar as he perused the contents of the wallet. Tonite it looked as if a Mister Fred Jensen would be buying the drinks.


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WWW.NYTIMES.COM


METRO SECTION HEADLINES FOR MARCH 1, 2000 10:30PM


Mayor Calls for New Initiative to Deal with Growing Rat and Pigeon Problem.


Police Department Still Without Comment Regarding Rash of Disappearances.


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