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March 7, 2014 8:19 AM   Subscribe

Victor Vasquez knows NYC commuting can be depressing. As he says, “Standing under someone’s armpit, you just want to get home.” The MTA conductor livens things up with his unscripted announcements on the 1 train.
posted by mlle valentine (39 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
We have several drivers on the DC metro system who do this regularly as well. At least I like to think we do. Unfortunately, no one can understand them because the PA system on the metro trains was designed by Charlie Brown's teachers.
posted by Naberius at 8:23 AM on March 7 [4 favorites]


Humanity is not doomed, hooray!
posted by Melismata at 8:28 AM on March 7


Whether he’s urging good behavior—“Be nice to each other as you go down the steps”—sharing his thoughts about the weather—“Nice breeze we have tonight. Autumn finally decided to arrive”—or just pointing out your location—“Change of scenery; Harlem, everyone”—Vasquez's casual remarks do seem to lighten the mood, as if he were joining you for the ride.

Maybe I am too jaded, or I've been living in New York too long, but this would drive me absolutely nuts. Do not talk to me on the train.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:32 AM on March 7 [2 favorites]


I've been living in NY my whole life and riding the subway for most of it and I enjoy when conductors engage. Granted, these days I mostly travel on the automated Q, so it may be more of a novelty for me. I think the automated rejoinders to keep your eye on your bags at all times or thank you for your patience; we are being held momentarily by the train's dispatcher are much more annoying.
posted by mlle valentine at 8:35 AM on March 7 [5 favorites]


So glad the article mentioned Harry Nugent - it's hard not to think of him (and I was only lucky enough to catch his shifts for the last 4 years before he retired) so I'm glad someone's picked up the torch. I've only caught Vasquez from time to time - he does seem to mention the Apple store a lot - but I'm glad he's out there. If every conductor did it, it would get really tiresome, but as a treat once in a while - I'm all for it.
posted by Mchelly at 8:35 AM on March 7


Maybe I am too jaded, or I've been living in New York too long, but this would drive me absolutely nuts. Do not talk to me on the train.

It's not just a NYC thing. I live in the Midwest and commute by bus for work; one morning, our Metro bus driver decided to regale us with some similar unscripted patter (which was oddly fixated on his opinions of restaurants along our route), and it just weirded everyone out.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:42 AM on March 7


I love this! For a while there was a guy on the morning A train that would greet everyone with "Welcome to the A experience." That was just the beginning. It definitely made a positive difference in everyone's commute.

(I also appreciate it when conductor's go off-script and GET MAD at people holding the doors in Car XX. Everytime, I'm thinking, yeah, get'm!)
posted by whimsicalnymph at 8:44 AM on March 7 [12 favorites]


There's a guy on the A train who does this as well. He only does it at a station when he'd be talking anyways. I love this - a needed reminder that we don't need to be drones in a cheerless commute.

And after refreshing before posting - jinx, whimsicalnymph.
posted by kokaku at 8:46 AM on March 7 [3 favorites]


We have several drivers on the DC metro system who do this regularly as well. At least I like to think we do. Unfortunately, no one can understand them because the PA system on the metro trains was designed by Charlie Brown's teachers.

The combination of WMATA's PA system and train drivers who seem to not know where they are on the lines makes we wish we had automated announcements of station stops. All the ducking and bobbing of people's heads as they crane to see what stop we've arrived at can be amusing, but it's 2014 and this problem has been solved by now.
posted by longdaysjourney at 8:46 AM on March 7 [1 favorite]


I think this guy is alright. I take the automated N and/or Q, so the announcements are in that chirpy, really white read recorded voice. I think the voice should change based on what neighborhood it's in.
posted by jonmc at 8:51 AM on March 7


On the N/Q it should be an angry greek woman.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:52 AM on March 7 [6 favorites]


In Philly we got the twitter account @SurrealSEPTA, which is a bot that takes SEPTA delay announcements and turns them into, e.g., "BSL delayed ten minutes due to a pile of sexiness"
posted by angrycat at 8:58 AM on March 7 [8 favorites]


Sorry that's @SEPTA_SURREAL
posted by angrycat at 9:00 AM on March 7


There are a couple conductors on the MBTA on Boston that do things like this too. The one that sticks out to me most is the one who does the station announcements all sing-song: KEN-dall SQUARE, MASS-a-CHU-setts INSTITUTE of TECHNOLOGYYYYY!~
posted by Kosh at 9:11 AM on March 7 [1 favorite]


oh HEY I've encountered this guy a few times. He's fun. I like him better then the guys who are totally incomprehensible due to static.
posted by The Whelk at 9:11 AM on March 7 [2 favorites]


The first time I heard a Harry Nuget greeting is made me burst out laughing. It was early morning rush hour and as I got on to the train I was greeted with, "Do you know what you've just gotten yourself into?".

His awesome timing pause and the answer, "An uptown number one train."
posted by Walleye at 9:18 AM on March 7 [8 favorites]


We had a conductor on the B train that used to cheer people up on miserable rainy days by saying he would take us all to Miami beach.
posted by cazoo at 9:26 AM on March 7 [1 favorite]


The combination of WMATA's PA system and train drivers who seem to not know where they are on the lines makes we wish we had automated announcements of station stops. All the ducking and bobbing of people's heads as they crane to see what stop we've arrived at can be amusing, but it's 2014 and this problem has been solved by now.

For a while the Green Line had a guy who was incredibly enthusiastic about the U Street Stop. He'd read the whole name with glee in his voice "U-Street, Cardozo! Site of the African American CIVIL WAR MEMORIAL!" It was actually fairly delightful, even though I tend to be irritated by people like that.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:33 AM on March 7 [1 favorite]


My all time favorite subway commuting experience was a conductor a little bit like this on the A train.

His MO was to add a little spice to the usual announcements, but to do it in sort of a uniform and rhythmic way. He had a great voice and always enunciated perfectly into the PA system. He'd usually say the typical shpeil and then "This has been an Uptown A Train Experience. Good morning, and have a joyful day."

Mostly it wasn't even about what he said. It was just about the fact that it was well said, and hopeful. So much of the subway system is crumbling, dirty, ugly, and utilitarian. Knowing that somebody out there actually gave a shit made life just a little bit brighter.
posted by Sara C. at 9:36 AM on March 7 [2 favorites]


And I clearly owe whimsicalnymph and kokaku a coke.
posted by Sara C. at 9:39 AM on March 7 [1 favorite]


Harry Nugent was a gem.

"Welcome to the One. The Only. Uptown Number One Train."

"And we're off! In just a moment we'll be coming up at our next stop... Times Square! Home of the biggest TV in the entire city! Step Lively, everyone."

In the mornings, there's an F train conductor who is unbelievably happy. I love traveling with her. She brightens my whole morning.
posted by zarq at 9:42 AM on March 7 [2 favorites]


We've got one train conductor/driver in the Calgary that does this and it drives me nuts. Usually the only announcements are delay or emergency related, so I take off my headphones and try to figure out what going on, only to realize he's letting everyone know about possible cloudy periods later in the day, or spouting off random trivia that I don't care about.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:29 AM on March 7


longdaysjourney: "The combination of WMATA's PA system and train drivers who seem to not know where they are on the lines makes we wish we had automated announcements of station stops. All the ducking and bobbing of people's heads as they crane to see what stop we've arrived at can be amusing, but it's 2014 and this problem has been solved by now."

It's just a hunch, but I'd bet that the PAs on the various incarnations of WMATA's trains aren't designed to talk to each other. They've been having all sorts of problems because they're being forced to run mixed sets of trains (because the old 1000-series cars are too fragile/dangerous to be placed at the front or end of the set).

The original cars also actually had a (multitrack cassette-based) automated PA system that WMATA opted not to use.

Personally, I think that the personalized announcements are awesome when the driver is enthusiastic about them, and kind of shitty when things are broken, or the driver doesn't seem to care. I think that WMATA are aiming to do automated announcements in the very near future, but I hope that they let drivers disable/override the system if they want to read out the stop names on their own.

Hearing a real human helps to break up the monotony of the commute. WMATA's got enough problems being huge, opaque, impersonal, and profoundly inept at PR. I don't think that it's in their (or their riders') best interests to remove even more humans from the loop.
posted by schmod at 10:49 AM on March 7


schmod - even worse, bellying is a sham:
Following the Fort Totten accident, WMATA began "bellying" the 1000-series cars (that is, placing the 1000-series cars in the middle of trains with cars of a later design on either end). This practice was intended to reduce the vulnerability of the cars to catastrophic damage during a collision. In the Fort Totten accident report, the NTSB concluded that the WMATA practice of bellying the 1000-series railcars does not provide appreciable crashworthiness benefits and is not an acceptable substitute for removing the cars from service.
posted by djb at 11:19 AM on March 7


Heh, WMATA derail. Er, perhaps that's not the best turn-of-phrase.

The day the government reopened after the shutdown, the driver on the Orange Line train I took in told an extended riff joke about how bored he was during the shutdown. He started as the train pulled away from Rosslyn, so he had a bit of time. It had half the train grinning at it but a bunch of others rolling their eyes.

There's another guy that I occasionally get on the Orange Line who seems to be trying to be as smarmy as possible. "Our next station...Court House." (Awwww, yeah! If you know what I mean). Not that he actually says those, but it would fit in perfectly.

Regarding bellying, I think their excuse was that they couldn't take the 1000's out of service -- there's just not enough rolling stock. There's a big order of 7000-series cars coming, which will let them retire the 1000-series. Like so much government contracting, it moved pretty slowly. Unfortunately, they're not acting like they're in a huge hurry to retire the 1000's.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 11:32 AM on March 7


Yes yes and yes to the A train conductor whimsicalnymph, kokaku and Sara C. are talking about. When I had to commute down from Washington Heights he always brightened up the trip. He has the most amazing wry announcer voice and would always pause for just a hair before saying "experience."

Some mornings he wouldn't do it, though, and it was astounding how that would affect you emotionally. Why wasn't he saying it? Was he having a bad day? If he was having a bad day, then what hope did the rest of us have? Noooo!
posted by greenland at 11:32 AM on March 7 [5 favorites]


One of the BART drivers on the Fremont line has an exceptionally cheerful pleasant older gentleman voice. It absolutely made me smile seeing him driving the train as it approached the platform wearing a Santa hat around Christmas time. Other than his weight he's a perfect Santa Claus (looks and personality)
posted by TwoWordReview at 11:35 AM on March 7 [2 favorites]


I love when train operators add some personality to my commute in this way. My favorite instance of this was on a red line train headed to Loyola one Friday afternoon, at the start of a holiday weekend. The train op kept encouraging all of us to get psyched for the long weekend, and at one point, announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, to your right - a dancing banana!" And sure enough, there was someone in a banana costume out on their back porch, dancing around, waving and raising their glass to us as we passed by. Never forgot it. :)
posted by deliciae at 11:38 AM on March 7 [2 favorites]


Fun story, thanks for posting! In San Francisco, I used to frequently end up riding with the super-charming and hilarious "Muni loves you" driver, which never failed to make my day.

He's got a whole routine for Fridays (or the end of his work-week regardless of the actual day) about how 'it's Friday, and you know what that means... Tequila time!!' and of course his signature 'I know you don't love Muni... but Muni loooves yooooou!' bit always led to the happiest bunch of commuters I've ever seen. Imagine all this in a really strong Hispanic accent just so full of joy. Absolutely the best.

Googling around now, it's good to see he's still in action!
posted by KatlaDragon at 11:54 AM on March 7 [1 favorite]


I like live announcements better. King County (WA) Metro's buses use a text-to-speech system that sounds like it was hacked together by Matthew Broderick and it's awesome but the pre-recorded ones used in other modes just gets grating after the 973rd time.

"This is the train to...SeaTac Airport station." Yes it is, perpetually-upbeat-recorded-Sound-Transit-Lady, yes it is.
posted by fireoyster at 11:55 AM on March 7 [1 favorite]


One point in favor of automated announcements -- if you're a visitor, especially a visitor to a place where you're not fluent in the langauge -- they can make life much easier. I made a lot of mental Turkish pronunciation notes based on the automated announcements on trams in Istanbul.
posted by Sara C. at 11:59 AM on March 7


I used to ride the WMATA's Red Line, and there once was a conductor who knew the score.

"We will hold at this station due to a stoppage further ahead on the tracks. Sorry for the delay -- but you KNOW you're on the Red Line, so ... "

:: mic cuts out ::
posted by hmo at 12:07 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]


My favourite bus drivers are the ones in mild-mannered Victoria, BC. Two memories:

Driver 1: Morbid-sense-of-humour bus driver. The bus was approaching a crosswalk where the pedestrians were ambling across a bit leisurely. Suddenly the bus speeds up a bit and a voice comes over the PA: "Hey, think we should we nail these guys?"

Driver 2: Losing-his-fucking-shit bus driver. It was a Halloween party bus. All four Ghostbusters were jumping around in the front, and costumed kids were literally crowd-surfing at the back. Suddenly, from the PA, crazed howling and screaming: "AAAAHHHHHH! AAAAHHHH!" Everyone started doing it back and it was maybe the scariest Halloween ever.
posted by Beardman at 12:18 PM on March 7 [4 favorites]


Denver's finally got GPS-based stop announcements on its buses, which is great for having uniformly decent announcements across the system at all times of day (it used to be much more variable.) But it doesn't leave room for the handful of drivers who made their announcements with a real sense of style, or just had very pleasant voices to listen to.

I wrote our transit agency a complimentary letter about my favorite driver's announcements -- he made every ride home a treat, and really knew how to work the microphone. Guy could've been on radio. I got a note back saying that they'd added my letter to his file, and I hope his noticeable good cheer and kindness pay off for him monetarily someday. (Support your awesome bus drivers! Their supervisors ought to know when they're being awesome.)
posted by asperity at 2:10 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the guy deliciae mentioned on the red line in Chicago is a regular. Whenever I get on a train with him running the show you can see people either smile or look annoyed, depending on their "patter" preference. Most of the time I like the guy. Wouldn't want it every day, though.
posted by bibbit at 2:12 PM on March 7


The SkyTrain drivers in Vancouver are all jerks...
posted by schmod at 10:11 AM on March 8


QuantumMeruit: "Like so much government contracting, it moved pretty slowly. "

It didn't help that the factory making the cars was damaged in the 2011 Japanese tsunami/earthquake. Can't really blame DC/WMATA for that one...

The more concerning issue is that the 2000 and 3000-series cars are almost as vulnerable as the 1000-series are, and nobody seems to be all that worried about it.
posted by schmod at 7:06 AM on March 10


BTW, I had the Orange Line announcer I wrote about again this morning.

"As a reminder, passengers, eating, drinking and smoking are all prohibited in the train and in the stations. Its in small print, but it's in there."

"To the people running down the escalator: When you put an object into the doors, they won't stay open for you. Next station, ____, where our mechanical, non-sensor doors will open on the right."

"Passengers, please remember that there are eighteen doors on the train. Regardless which door you exit out of, you'll arrive at the same station."
posted by QuantumMeruit at 2:00 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


I don't know if it's the same Chicago Red Line guy or maybe his predecessor, but in the eighties there was a conductor who seemed like a frustrated radio DJ. "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard the LOVE TRAIN."
posted by salix at 4:03 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


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