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There's nothing negative I can say about the transit system.
July 17, 2013 6:53 AM   Subscribe

Darius McCollum was recently arrested in New York for stealing a Trailways bus. Evidently he drove the bus to a Manhattan hotel where he picked up a flight crew and drove them to JFK Airport. On the way back to a New Jersey bus depot, he was pulled over by the cops. This wasn't the first time Mr. McCollum was arrested while (unlawfully) transporting the public. In fact, it was the 29th time.

From the article, evocatively titled "Jailed Many Times for Love of New York City's Transit System":
He first drew notice in 1981, when as a 15-year-old he operated an E train six stops from 34th Street to the World Trade Center without the conductor or passengers reporting anything amiss.

His lawyer, Sally Butler, said Mr. McCollum's well-chronicled acts were a result of uncontrollable impulses attributable to what is commonly referred to as Asperger's syndrome, which mental-health authorities now call autism-spectrum disorder.
posted by mark7570 (58 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think there was a long New Yorker article about this guy ~ 15 years ago. It's a shame that he's pretty much screwed his chances of ever becoming an actual NY transit worker; his knowledge of the system is profound.
posted by thelonius at 6:57 AM on July 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


There, but for the grace of something, go I.
posted by dry white toast at 7:01 AM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I need to keep this article handy when the eyes start rolling at my suggestion we look at public transportation as an option for getting to and from a family routine, activity, or vacation. As in, hey, I'm talking about riding them, I promise to keep my hands off the control board (mostly).
posted by tilde at 7:08 AM on July 17, 2013


This is so sad -- if only the story could be rewound to a point where he might have gotten a job in Transit. It might have turned out to be a feel-good profile of one of the system's best employees.
posted by cubby at 7:12 AM on July 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


Here's the NY Times index of 15 pieces on Darius McCollum. The first article was from 1990.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:12 AM on July 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


This whole story is so sad. And sending the dude to prison is such a waste. I can see how if someone has troubles controlling his impulses you don't want him actually in charge of the public, but I can't help but wish there were a transit job for him that would help end the cycle of stealing & imprisonment.
posted by dame at 7:13 AM on July 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


Hey--sometimes the side missions are the most fun.
posted by sourwookie at 7:16 AM on July 17, 2013 [33 favorites]


Could we just sentence him to bus driving under supervision? Maybe once a week he could do community service operating a vehicle with a "co-pilot?" It's not like it would take up extra personnel, and it would keep this guy out of prison for what seems like a pretty benign problem. Sigh. I suppose there would be liability issues.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:18 AM on July 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


It would be great if he could get a job at the transit museum but I don't suppose that would fulfill his need to actually participate in the transit activities he is so clearly delighted by and obsessed with.
posted by elizardbits at 7:18 AM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nevertheless, his lawyers are putting together a parole plan proposing that Mr. McCollum be placed in a residential facility where he can receive medications and attend regular group counseling.

Seashore Trolley Museum? (I kid, but if I were a judge, I'd probably sentence him to volunteer there)
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:19 AM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can see how if someone has troubles controlling his impulses you don't want him actually in charge of the public, but I can't help but wish there were a transit job for him that would help end the cycle of stealing & imprisonment.

You'd hire him to evaluate potential new equipment. Send him to all of the trade shows, and on to every manufacturer's junket. You would have a very complete database of operational characteristics and experienced value judgements on potential purchases, allowing you to request a bid on systems that meet top standards. Vendors would be in fear and awe of him - he'd know if the gear was worth the investment or not, and could compare cross-modes. (These new busses are less efficient and carry fewer people, and is a pig to drive in traffic, but those new subway cars are 20% lighter while offering a better ride, familiar controls, and easy to wash seatcovers.)

Of course, that requires vocational rehabilitation and investment in personnel and their professional development, and the US, in both public and private sectors, isn't interested in that stuff anymore.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:32 AM on July 17, 2013 [44 favorites]


Yeah, what a waste. And it's hard to even think of him as a danger to the public...it seems his lawbreaking is confined to getting to a situation where he can work in the system, at which point his performance is flawless.

On preview, Slap*Happy FTW.
posted by nevercalm at 7:40 AM on July 17, 2013


"You kept making all the stops?"

"Well, people kept ringing the bell."

posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:45 AM on July 17, 2013 [14 favorites]


Does any one do tours of the NYC transit system in some way? Seems like that would be a good job for him as well.
posted by maryr at 7:52 AM on July 17, 2013


I remember hearing about him on one of his past follies. Call me a crank, but I am not saddened by his imprisonment, irrespective of his love for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The man steals public conveyances and picks up unsuspecting people. Regardless of his performance, of whether he makes all the stops, of whether he's personable--that's a seriously fucked up situation. Shame on the MTA and the other operators for allowing circumstances to arise for him to exploit. I no more want him driving my bus or train than I would want an unaccredited, but capable, amateur to remove my appendix.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:53 AM on July 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think there was a long New Yorker Harper's article about this guy ~ 15 years ago in 2002
posted by Zerowensboring at 7:59 AM on July 17, 2013


Admiral Haddock: "I no more want him driving my bus or train than I would want an unaccredited, but capable, amateur to remove my appendix."

So I put these scrubs on for nothing is what I'm hearing.

I wonder if he'd be interested in all of the transportation simulator games that are available on PC now. I'm sure there's some Untergefahrenzug program available that would ring his bell in a big way.
posted by boo_radley at 7:59 AM on July 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Though on further reflection, I'd also add that the MTA system is a thing of beauty. A wonder of the world, even. I think I miss the MTA and FreshDirect most of all now that I live in Boston.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:04 AM on July 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I dunno, boo_radley. Just reading this has my transportation vibe humming. I think I need to spend my lunch break planning transit routes. I can't see a simulator helping with that; but reading the tables gives me a bit of a whiff of what's coming - a weekly round trip train ride to deliver kids to and from Grandma's house.
posted by tilde at 8:06 AM on July 17, 2013


I wonder if he'd be interested in all of the transportation simulator games that are available on PC now.
Like Desert Bus?
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:07 AM on July 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


Zerowensboring - thanks

Everything seems to me like it happened about 5 years ago, since I got old. So I over-correct sometimes. If you ask me when "Remain In Light" came out, I'd guess, about 5 years ago.
posted by thelonius at 8:10 AM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


MrMoonPie: "Like Desert Bus?"

Wilkommen nach Eurobus Simulator.
posted by boo_radley at 8:12 AM on July 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


He should count himself lucky (well not really), there is a guy near me who keeps getting arrested as he has an uncontrollable impulse to break into a farm (the same farm) and have sex with 'some slurry'.
posted by biffa at 8:16 AM on July 17, 2013


I think I need to spend my lunch break planning transit routes.

There is actually a game entirely about planning transit routes. Cities in Motion.
posted by absalom at 8:19 AM on July 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


I came into this game for the action, the excitement. Go anywhere, travel light, get in, get out, wherever there's trouble, a man alone. Now they got the whole country sectioned off, you can't make a move without a form.
-Harry Tuttle
posted by Cookiebastard at 8:28 AM on July 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Wow, Cities in Motion is rated Pegi-3. That's an advanced 3 year old.
posted by boo_radley at 8:28 AM on July 17, 2013


absalom, I'm now trying very hard not to sweat through my eyes at work. If there were a mobile version I'd have to go buy a dumb phone, I think. Bad enough I can play Ticket To Ride pocket edition online on that thing.

Bubble gum (CIM and real-time transit time table trawling) until I can get to a smoking stop (transit station Sunday) ...
posted by tilde at 8:39 AM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Can they at least let him drive the prison bus?
posted by orme at 8:58 AM on July 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Has he been diagnosed with Asperger's or Autism Spectrum Disorder by anybody more medically competent than his lawyer?
posted by rocket88 at 9:10 AM on July 17, 2013


At This Chicago Employer, Asperger’s Syndrome Is a Job Requirement

Tech Start-Up Exclusively Hires People with Asperger's Syndrome for Their Technological Prowess

German Tech Company Hires Asperger’s Syndrome Workers

Asperger is a feature, not a bug.
posted by stbalbach at 9:11 AM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


This case is ripe for a Restorative Justice process. Mixing mental health disability complications with pro forma criminal process warps both the individual and carrying out any sentence in terrible ways.

On a lighter note, I'm wondering if this was an inspiration for Mo Willems' Don't Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus
posted by childofTethys at 9:11 AM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Shame on the MTA and the other operators for allowing circumstances to arise for him to exploit.

That's an excellent point. While this guy seems to be harmless, think of the woman in India who got on a bus with her boyfriend that turned out to be out for a joyride and was brutally raped and murdered. Public transportation is supposed to be safe and reliable, not only in traffic, but simply to ride. If there is anyone on the bus you should be able to trust, it's the driver. If this guy can steal a bus, why can't someone with more violent intentions.
posted by maryr at 9:11 AM on July 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Unions, right?
posted by blue_beetle at 9:40 AM on July 17, 2013


> Asperger is a feature, not a bug.

Only if it's Asperger all the way through. God help the next maintainer of that code if he's a non-aspie — no comments, no unit tests, and variables named according to some inscrutable system.
posted by savetheclocktower at 9:46 AM on July 17, 2013


Didn't the most recent DSM get rid of Aspergers? (In favor of the autism spectrum, reportedly.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:46 AM on July 17, 2013


Which is just to say that it might be a problematic diagnosis in terms of its use in court, I don't really have a position on the DSM-V scheme.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:54 AM on July 17, 2013


Shame on the MTA and the other operators for allowing circumstances to arise for him to exploit.

The thing is, there are a TON of "exploitable systems" if you but the bar this low. Most people don't think "hey, I could totally steal this bus, the driver just stepped out!" They realize that there is no way they won't be caught, so they go back to reading their book, listening to music, talking to their friends, or looking out the windows. Making these systems secure is not an interest, because there (generally) isn't the concern.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:01 AM on July 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


savetheclocktower: "> Asperger is a feature, not a bug.

Only if it's Asperger all the way through. God help the next maintainer of that code if he's a non-aspie — no comments, no unit tests, and variables named according to some inscrutable system.
"

The people they're hiring aren't even primarily writing code, according to those links. They're all stuck doing testing because of their pigeonholing employer. Hell of a "feature."
posted by invitapriore at 10:02 AM on July 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


On further reading it looks like that Chicago company at least is specifically designed to hire people on the autism spectrum who have had trouble getting employed elsewhere, so I take that criticism back. Still, that doesn't make being on the autism spectrum unequivocally a feature. It makes a lot of people's lives harder. Anyway, sorry for the derail.
posted by invitapriore at 10:10 AM on July 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is just sad and scary.

There's one part of me who thinks that this guy is harmless and by all available (though technically, marginal) evidence is capable of performing the duties of whatever position he has chosen to co-opt.

Then there's the part of me who cringes at the thought of an uncertified, amateur operator of a subway or bus in a bustling metropolis.

I guess this is just one of those unfortunate situations where the relatively harmless enjoyment of one man's "calling" does not trump the safety of hundreds.

Perhaps in another life....
posted by Debaser626 at 10:15 AM on July 17, 2013


He's mentioned in this NY Times article about children with autism and the NY Transit Museum* which is focused on positive aspects of the autism/train connection.


*The transit museum is super cool even if you are neurotypical.
posted by vespabelle at 10:19 AM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Then there's the part of me who cringes at the thought of an uncertified, amateur operator of a subway or bus in a bustling metropolis.


So they should have him tested, and certify him if he passes. Not incarcerate him.
posted by dmd at 10:24 AM on July 17, 2013


There is more "feature" and less "bug" when the environment and people can allow for it. It takes a lot of education, patience and awareness, while balancing accountability for ending behavior that creates harm. Randomly removing a bus from available service might mean that the high school band that chartered a bus for a trip to the airport misses their flight.

I agree about enhanced abilities, however, diagnoses oversimplify the array of presentations and or limitations among the people who carry it with all of their other characteristics and points of identity. Impulse control creates a pause for me, while being fully impressed by his other abilities.
posted by childofTethys at 10:49 AM on July 17, 2013


dmd: So they should have him tested, and certify him if he passes. Not incarcerate him.

I think he's sufficiently demonstrated that he's not sane by this point. As compassionate as it would be to try to use his obsession instead of fighting it, the illness that caused him to steal those trains might manifest in other ways that could endanger public safety.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:58 AM on July 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


childofTethys:On a lighter note, I'm wondering if this was an inspiration for Mo Willems' Don't Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus

I've read that book a million times and still have no compelling reason to prevent the pigeon from taking the bus for a spin while the driver drops a deuce.
posted by dr_dank at 11:01 AM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think he's sufficiently demonstrated that he's not sane by this point. As compassionate as it would be to try to use his obsession instead of fighting it, the illness that caused him to steal those trains might manifest in other ways that could endanger public safety.

Autistic people aren't mentally ill or 'not sane'.
posted by hoyland at 11:03 AM on July 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


In a better world the already profoundly corrupt MTA would throw out their rule book and just give him a job. They'd probably gain a valuable worker and end the problem right there. But no, there are black/white rules and stuffed shirts and a paranoid new world order and so there's really no room for just being humane anymore.
posted by nowhere man at 11:23 AM on July 17, 2013


hoyland: Autistic people aren't mentally ill or 'not sane'.

It may be that his autism, if he is truly autistic, is co-morbid with a mental illness (this isn't exactly a routine symptom of autism). But in any case, the behavioral problems he has exhibited to this point clearly rule out any job where public safety is a major concern, unless they can be treated.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:31 AM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


hoyland: "Autistic people aren't mentally ill or 'not sane'."

Agreed, undoubtedly. Repeated transit theft is perhaps not healthy.
posted by boo_radley at 11:35 AM on July 17, 2013


There is actually a game entirely about planning transit routes. Cities in Motion.

Be right back...Actually, no I won't...
posted by dry white toast at 12:03 PM on July 17, 2013


Imagine if there was a decision that someone in the MTA made in 1981 that changed everything for this guy. Like some administrator somewhere saw the story and had to decide between:

a) man this 15 year old could be just the thing that changes the public's perception of public transit, plus no one else we have on staff would even give nearly as much of a fuck about their job as he would

b) he didn't come up like everyone else, so fuck him


I'm sure the reality was probably less dramatic, and it wasn't just one guy, but it makes me wonder...
posted by danny the boy at 12:49 PM on July 17, 2013


I think there was a long New Yorker Harper's article about this guy ~ 15 years ago in 2002

It was The Boy Who Loved Transit [PDF!], originally in Harper's, as noted by dhartung in a 2002 Metafilter thread.
posted by ceribus peribus at 1:39 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


For what it's worth, danny the boy...
MTA New York City Transit established the Internship Program in 1981 and currently has a partnership with more than 150 colleges and universities throughout The United States and Puerto Rico. Internships include paid (college aide) and unpaid (intern) projects. The program has been a success for New York City Transit, colleges, universities and students. An average of 200 students participate in the program every semester. We have hired a considerable number of participants after graduation.
posted by maryr at 1:57 PM on July 17, 2013


It may be that his autism, if he is truly autistic, is co-morbid with a mental illness (this isn't exactly a routine symptom of autism).

Of course. We don't, however, have any evidence that he is mentally ill.

It's entirely possible he'd not be able to maintain employment, transit-related or otherwise (now or when he was younger). It's also entirely possible that if he'd not been criminalised as a teenager he'd have had a successful career.
posted by hoyland at 2:31 PM on July 17, 2013


hoyland: Of course. We don't, however, have any evidence that he is mentally ill.

I would argue that unlawfully taking control of the transit system often enough to get arrested 29 times for it is fantastic evidence of some sort of condition, whether neurological, psychological, or developmental.
posted by Mitrovarr at 3:28 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


autism/train connection

I guess that is a thing, isn't it? I have an online friend whose autistic son is obsessed with trains.
posted by thelonius at 6:23 PM on July 17, 2013


It's funny—I've had a recent career running a giant clock tower built to advertise a tranquilizer-laden hangover cure, and I recently parted ways with that employer, and you'd think that the part I'd be most wistful over would be letting go of the control I had over an iconic part of the Baltimore skyline that my grandmother had adored and which was about as close to having your own castle as a guy can get, but what got me in the end was my last ride on the commuter train.

I'd taken the job in part because I would be in charge of what is essentially Baltimore's Eiffel Tower, and partly, and this is a big part, because I'd realized that the train station at the end of the street where I live and the station at the end of the line connected me directly to that job. Every morning, barring the occasional days when I needed to drive/ride in, I'd step off my porch at 7:13, walk nine minutes to the station, spend a half hour looking out the window at the scenery along the tracks, make sure I saw sunlight shining through the arches of the Thomas Viaduct, on 'count of that being lucky, then arrive at 8:18, walk six minutes to the tower and my office and have my tea.

I don't mention trains in my online personal, but I did find it amusing that someone recently responded to mine with "I see you're an Aspie, too." I don't believe I am, but I do love the strange assortment of obsessions on which I expend my occasional bouts of hyperfocus. The train is just sort of this mechanical romance I have, in the same way that I drove Citroëns and have a fixation on omafiets and Raleigh three-speeds and go to work in crazy museums and giant towers, because they all belong to the world that could be, or that ought to be.

Besides, the train is civil and relaxed in a way a car will never, ever be.

So I spent my last week packing and sorting and documenting and bringing things home (How do I always end up with so much stuff at work?), all so I would be ready to go on the day before my last day, with just a knapsack. Switched off the light in my stripped-bare office, tucked my mug in my knapsack, left my last key on my desk, and stepped out into the glaring sun.

So long, tower.

Walked six minutes to the station, waited around a bit, watched the train roll up and was disappointed that there were no bi-level cars (Hell, I'd have even enjoyed one of the bi-levels with beige seats and no knee room, but they reserve the bi-levels for the Penn and Brunswick lines most of the time.). Picked my usual seat on the usual side, queued up my so-long-train playlist, and watched the scenery go by.

So long stadium, so long other stadium, so long grimy industrial parks, so long abandoned factory. So long Dorsey stop, so long Race Road, which I ride on my motorcycle, so long huge old prison. So long, Thomas Viaduct and the glittering Patapsco below. So long landfill transfer station, so long huge railyard, so long water treatment facility, and so long Middle Patuxent. So long, race track, and here we are, Laurel Station.

So long, Capital Subdivision, oldest stretch of operating line in US rail.

This, of course, is what choked me up. I will still ride the train, now and then, for a day in DC, but for now, it won't be every day, and won't be part of my daily rituals and happy observances. I am railroad riding stock in the fifth generation in a family that produced a couple generations of stationmasters running the depot in Thomson, Georgia, and the trains run in the blood.

So yeah, I get it, but this guy really needs to be brought in as an evangelist for Transit. He's lacking the self-control required for being on the front lines, and the essential grasp of how the safety complex works. Give him a museum to tend, and an archive to oversee.

Impulse control is important.

Walking home from work twenty years ago, when I worked on the night shift at my family's microfilm business, I took a side trip to walk down the lonesome road by the train tracks. A huge, dark freight was slowly rumbling through, barely at a walking pace, and I walked alongside, listening to the thump-thump of wheels with flat spots on the rails, then thought of my father's stories about going hobo in the early fifties and, on a lark, hopped into a boxcar with the intention of hopping back out again at the station platform down the road.

Unfortunately, the train accelerated, I didn't have the nerve to jump, and that goddamn thing didn't slow down again until it pulled into a huge railyard in New Jersey. In the age before cheap cellphones or extra currency in my wallet, just in case, I was lucky that I had a friend in Trenton, though I had hours to kill before sunrise.

Fortunately, I haven't done anything like that since.

Well, once, but that's a whole other thing.
posted by sonascope at 5:38 AM on July 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


This ^. Something kinda calming about the train thrum of a regular commute. I don't miss the 40 mile commute some days but I do miss the ability to do it on a train.
posted by tilde at 6:22 AM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


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