The early afternoon Harlem Division trains out of Grand Central are locals, and therefore attract more of a mixed crowd than your 7:57 a.m. express from Bronxville. Fewer suits, more workshirts and battered boots. Students, maids, healthcare workers, laborers. People who commute at odd hours, riding from midtown to Melrose, Fordham to White Plains, Mount Vernon to Scarsdale. I had my back to the northern suburbs and my belly toward Park Avenue a couple of days ago, facing backward in one of the old cars, as the conductor came up the aisle collecting fares. Guy two seats behind: 30ish, green chinos, gray t-shirt, seated by the window. Conductor - tall, straight back, big ass, red face, sandy hair and spit-shined shoes - hands back his ticket.
"Sir, this ticket is for the New Haven line. This is Harlem Division."
"But the guy told me" - he waves his hand down the track in the general direction of the distant MetLife Building - "I could use this ticket to get to Crestwood. I have to get to work. It's the same distance as Mamaroneck."
"Sir, that'll be eleven dollars - this ticket's no good."
"But they told me..." Hispanic accent, English is the second language. I'm thinking he's a restaurant worker, perhaps. The time of day fits, and there are commutable restaurants in both places.
"Either you pay me eleven dollars or I put you off the train."
"Well, I'm not leaving. I paid for this ticket. They said I could ride."
"Sir, this is MY train. What I say goes. I don't care what they told you. Fordham's next. Get off there."
We wait in Fordham with the doors open. Quite a few times I've ridden New Haven on a Harlem monthly - but then again, that's an investment of nearly $200 and the monthlies generally have the conductors' respect. I don't say anything because, like everyone else, I just want to get home. Nor do I give him the eleven bucks, because he sounds like a working man to me and he ain't asking for it. But it sticks with me for a couple of days. The hard-ass conductor. The argument in the silent car that everyone listens to - their heads deep in their newspapers or looking intently at some newly-fascinating feature of the Fordham Road Metro-North stop.
And the guy's long, forlorn face on the platform as the train pulls away, still holding his ticket to Mamaroneck and trying to figure a way to get to work on obviously limited cash flow. Tough luck, I guess.