Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Now That's A Pretty Song

Steve Harley1 performing a very stripped-down version of "The Best Years Of Our Lives" on Dulcimer, live. You can check it out too, on an album called "Stripped To The Bare Bones", if you can find it. Now Tower Records is defunct2 it'll be that much harder Stateside.

I dunno why people are so down on the 70s when talent like this came out of them.

  1. Once a rebelious cockney, but much calmer these days
  2. As reported in the previous post. Keep up! One day I should tell Paul the Globetrotting Wargamer how much I appreciate his giving me this album

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Long And Wiring Road

Warning is hereby given that throughout this posting I refer to the American standard term "ground" rather than the UK one, "earth". If you are British or from another country that uses the term "earth" you must be prepared to do some instantaneous translation. I live in America. The wiring this tale speaks of is American (though I doubt any American bonded electrician would lay claim to it) and so the terminology used is American.

Pictures of New Bog, its piping and wiring, may be found here. They will open in a new window.

I spent large portions of the weekend wiring New Bog.

Complicating matters was the fact that there are no grounds in the upstairs of Chateau Stevie. The wiring is so old that the Romex type cable has no bare conductor inside it. Clearly, if the wire doesn't have it, there is no need for it and so the mighty electricians who wired the house back around the time that the Atlatl was being developed didn't bother. In truth, I don't think "grounds" had been invented then. My theory is that the house originally ran on Mr Edison's nice DC but that awful Mr Tesla persuaded Ye Olde Long Ysland Lyght Companie to switch to nasty AC after the sheetrock was up. Either that or people were idiots back when the house was built.

Some years ago I recognised that Something Would Have To Be Done about this and bought several hundred feet of green wire on a spool in order to get started on the job. Then life happened and I never got to it. However, since code and I both hold that bathroom electrical sockets should have a ground-fault interruption device, and since those pesky laws of physics demand a working ground for optimal device functionality, I now faced The Time Of Fixing The Grounds, at least in New Bog.

A Ground-Fault Interrupt works by detecting current leakage to ground from either side ("live" or "neutral") of the power supply line. If more current flows from one line to ground than from the other, a small circuit breaker built into the device in question (in this case a socket) drops out and the power is cut. Useful if water gets sloshed over the socket.

First job was to fix that stupid cable from the overhead light to the light switch. If you remember, this is the cable that erupts from the ceiling and is stapled to the wall header in clear contravention of code, safe practice and bloody common sense (the one place where The Builders1 used a bloody staple I might add. they eschewed them everywhere one might expect them to be used). I would not be re-installing the 3/8ths sheetrock underlayer on this wall and so would have to at least make a show of doing the job properly.

I disconnected the cable and fed it into the ceiling, feeding through a bent wire coat-hanger at the same time. By this method I was able to fish the cable over the interior header on the west wall, into the west wall cavity. I then simply drilled a hole in the corner stud and fed the cable through it, and ran it back down to the metal switch box.

Which had no ground.

So I drilled a series of holes through the studs on the north wall (scene of so many fabulous archeological finds) and fed yards of green ground wire through them so I could connect the metal switch box with a metal junction box. Which also had no ground. While I was about it, seeing as I was passing within a few feet of the back of the bedroom switch box (metal, no ground), I would chain that in to the Great Ground Connection of Safety too.

None of these metal boxes had any provision for actually connecting this wire, or connecting the ground wires in them to the case for that matter, so I nipped down to Home Despot and picked up a package of little green grounding screws. These miracles of modern science can be screwed down either using a nut-spinner (a sort of small socket wrench) or a slotted screwdriver2. Of course, the metal boxes either had no holes or holes too small for these screws to fit. All might easily have been lost but for my ever-active tool acquisition powers.

Some time ago Sears had a sale and I picked up a small set of taps and dies for a song. These are devices used for cutting threads (taps cut threads in holes, dies cut them on spindles) and although they had taken a beating in Domestic Flood Xena and become quite nastily corroded, I had rescued them as best I could and now they would prove my amazing powers of getting stuff that is useful later rather than now to that Vile Harridan Mrs Stevie, who has (in the past) refered to such far-sighted policies as "buying junk".

With the aid of a magnifying glass I was able to locate a matching tap for the screws3 and with the aide of a 5/32 bit from my nice new drill set4 I soon had nicely threaded holes in all the boxes and installed the screws. I attached my Green Wire O'Grounding to external screws and the ground conductor (when there was one) to internal ones. Job not done, but well started. I reinstalled the light switch (with ground) and moved on. Once the grounding wire was run to the junction box in the east wall I could begin to fix the problems there.

Problem one was that the junction box was dangling, hanging by the cables and not fixed to anything permanent or structural. This was easily remedied with a touch of Mr Drill and a screw. I didn't even have to take off the lid of the junction box, because the builders had taken the precaution of not fitting one.

The next problem was the fitting of screws for grounds. I had one pre-drilled and tapped hole inside, which would serve for the GFI socket ground connection, but nowhere for the connection of the run from the light switch or for the final run from the box to a suitable ground. Two more holes were made and tapped and wires connected. Green wire was run from the box frame to the cold water pipe, where it was secured with a thumbscrew-like bronze clamp specially made for the job. I would rather have run back to a wire ground of some sort, but there wasn't one in easy reach. I knew the cold water lines were properly grounded and would form an adequate path path to ground.

Next up was to reduce the number of wires The Builders thought was proper in each wire nut. American electrical junctions are formed not by screwing into brass blocks like older UK ones are, but by screwing the wires into a conical plastic cap. A metal insert bites into the wires and holds them securely in contact. UK readers will think it a bit odd, but it works very well. The size of wire nut varies with the number and thickness of wires involved. Local Code holds that three wires under a nut is the maximum you should attempt, and that if you need more you should use a small jumper called a pigtail and a second wire nut. Using this technique, one group of four becomes two interconnected groups of three wires (two cable and one pigtail connection each). This also made everything a little more roomy in the crowded junction box and reduced tension on the yonksold cables, and so can be judged A Good Thing. A new cable was run from the location I planned to install the GFI socket and wired in and a lid for the junction box found from the Box O' Electric Wonders and the job was done.

Then it was a simple matter of nailing up a new plastic switch box, wiring up the GFI socket and installing it in the switch box - albeit by the light of my lame head lamp and a flashlight since dusk was happening by now - and it was time to power up everything.

I plugged in my little test plug (it shows by means of three in-built neon lights whether the socket it is plugged into is wired properly, and if not, what exactly is wrong) and nipped downstairs to throw the circuit breaker. It didn't pop right back out again, which was a good start. I ran back upstairs breathing deeply, but there was none of the burning wire and wood smell that indicates a job gone badly awry, nor were there any cascades of sparks, bangs or any other naff-wiring phenomena. When I looked into New Bog, all I could see was the welcome sight of two orange neon lamps glowing to the world that All Was Well5 and that one could take one's ablutions in New Bog without fear of electrocution. Or one could if there were any of the hydraulic fittings and accessories normally associated with bathrooms actually installed in there, as Mrs Stevie pointed out.

I didn't let this minor detail detract from my victory over All Things Electric, nor were my manly howls of triumph quieted in the least.

  1. That mysterious people known only as "Genaro"
  2. It is a feature of household electrical work in the USA that one simply cannot perform all the tasks without the possibility of needing to swap screwdrivers while up a ladder with no hands free. Since the other screws on the more modern fixtures have the sort of screw that can be done up with either a phillips or a slotted screwdriver, I just used the older type from the get-go, secure in the knowledge that any time saved by this cunning strategem would be lost to some other stupid unforeseen difficulty.
  3. number 10, 32 threads per inch, or 10-32 for those that wish total accuracy and disclosure. The size of the tap, the size of the best drill to use and sundry other information is stamped into the body of each tap. This one, being somewhat less in diameter than a pencil, had very small type stamped into it
  4. While I was at Home Despot I took the opportunity to obtain a couple of spare batteries for my drill and a set of quick-change drill bits to replace the set knocked on the floor last week by The Stevieling and now missing some pieces. She neglected to tell me about it until the area had been trampled by herds of Water Buffalo and the pieces scattered. I was feeling guilty until I remembered that my Brother- and Sister-in-Law gave me a Home Despot gift card. I was so overcome with emotion at this rememberance, I added a bunch of Torx bits (for my new Leatherman tool) to the bag
  5. There are two orange lamps and a red one. You plug it in and a pattern of lamps appears. Two orange means everything is correctly wired up and there is a ground. One means everything is correctlty wired up but there is no ground. No lamps means no electricity. If you see a red light after doing some rewiring, you should seriously think of taking up a new hobby after you pull the circuit breakers. It means you wired everything up backwards

A Bridge Too Low

Saw something in the body shop next to Wyandanch LIRR car park the other day that made me laugh when I pictured how the damage had to have been done.

See what you think here and here (pix open in new window)

Friday, January 19, 2007

Winter Finally Shows Up

Well El Niño, Global Warming or whatever other meteorological phenomenon that was holding off the cold finally conked out on Tuesday and it got very cold very quickly. Yesterday saw a short flurry of snow that went away as soon as anyone noticed, but this morning we have real inconvenience snow.

As in, not enough to settle so the kids can play in it and the snowplows can deal with it, but enough to wet everything down nicely so that the LIRR switches1 will freeze in time for tonight's commute.


  1. People in the UK will snarl to themselves that the real term to use is "the LIRR points" but in fact that is a widely believed misconception, and as wrong as the term switch is2. The correct term in either country is "Turnout", an engineering term, since the switch is actually the bit that moves and the points are the ends of the switch. Before anyone writes to me to dispute this, the Wikipedia entry is wrong
  2. These people should, of course, begin demonstrating some of the supposed but oh so rarely demonstated British Superiority by figuring it out and moving on without comment. They are blowing the cachét by telling everyone about it instead of deploying the Stiff Upper Lip

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

So Much For That Plan

Attentive readers1 will remember that the plumbing in New Bog was discovered to be not up to snuff design-wise when inspected by Jeff The Kung-fu Accountant, and that I had resolved to fix things later. This is the tale of later.

Gritting my teeth I fabricated a back-board of plywood from the too-thin floor material left over from the reflooring triumph. This would be what I would attach the external piping to. My plan was to take the place the pipes emerged from the wall as a starting point and to run an extension to the cold water one along the wall, so that the little shut-off tap would be closer to the actual place it was needed. Recall that it isn't possible to extend the pipes inside the wall due to lingerie drawers. Then I would reconfigure the waste-pipe in a manner yet to be figured out.

Accordingly, I drew a scale plan of the corner vanity on the floor2 to aid in pipe geometry estimation and got on with draining the water from the system. I shut off the water, opened the downstairs bath taps and the little shut-off taps and redied Mr Compressor for the task of ridding the pipes of the solder-defying water. Stationing the Stevieling at the downstairs bathtaps I pumped air into the lines.

"Is water coming out of the taps?" I shouted.
"A bit!" came the reply.

The Stevieling is a genius with her pencils and can melt the hardest heart with her singing but is pig-useless sometimes when it comes to offering useful quantitive information. "A bit" could easily refer to a trickle or a reasonable flow. I chose to assume the latter and removed the compressor nozzle from the shut-off tap, receiving a facefull of pressurised water for my trouble.

Eventually I got the pipe empty enough that I could cut it. I then realised that the hot water pipe was going to be in the way of my planned route, and unless I wanted more Moustrap-Game plumbing I would have to move it as well. More fun and games with Mr Compressor ensued. Then there wasn't enough room for my full-size pipecutter and I had to use the miniature one that takes twice as long to do the job. Then the large pipecutter fell apart. The anti-handyman demons were making themselves known that day and no mistake.

Eventually I got the pipes cut and built new sections of pipe to run along the wall, with a short vertical run to the T-joints3 and the shut-off taps. Of course, the pipes originally fitted were too long and so I hed to remove a few inches from the middle of them. Nothing is ever easy. I turned the water on and cringed as I bled the air out of the lines. those T-joints had been sweated on and off and rotated one too many times for my liking, but for once the evil anti-handyman spirits were asleep at the wheel and there were no leaks at all.

Feeling smug I approached Mrs Stevie about lifting the sink unit up to the bathroom so I could figure out the angle the wastepipe would have to be set to for it to actually work. This was accomplished with only minor temper lossage and upon adjusting the vanity to allow for the missing walls, two thing became obvious. First, the wastepipe would have to erupt from the wall at 45 degrees rather than the customary 90. Second, the bloody hot water shut-off tap was too close to the vanity superstructure to be opened and closed, and attaching the riser for the faucet would be damn near impossible too. Three things.

I seriously contemplated cutting a slot in the vanity, but the real answer was unavoidable: The hot water pipe would have to be drained again and the joint heated and twisted around by about 15 degrees. I maganged to do this, using a metal plate to deflect the heat of the torch from the now well-screwed-in plywood back-board thereby preventing the house burning down (although to be honest I was rapidly approaching the state of mind in which burning down one's own domicile is seen to be the easiest route out of one's woes). I turned the water back on. No leaks. Smug Mode On.

I wanted to crow my manly superiority over all things pipe-shaped, but it turned out the women had decamped to a hotel for some overnight girly thing during my struggle for dominance over the plumbing in a World Gone Mad so I couldn't without looking daft. I did a little jig of manly pride anyway, then noticed that the bloody hot water shut-off valve was no longer watertight.

I must have cooked the valve seat (again) although I could swear the heat wasn't that bad that far away from the action. I got the original taps at Arse Hardware which was closed by then, this coppery battle having consumed several hours and taken me into the not-so-early evening. Home Despot had a different style of tap and I wanted matching ones. I eventually got one at Blowes. By that time it was well past 9 and so in a trice I returned home, fitted the tap thereby fixing the leak, took a shower and pigged out on quiche. I love quiche.

Sunday had me worrying that New Bog might not accomodate the new elongated-bowl commode we had decided to use in place of the standard on that floated off in Domestic Flood Xena.

I unpacked it and put it in place over the flange and was pleasantly surprised to find that not only did everything fit, but we had plenty of space to spare. The original Corner Sink Theory of More Bathroom Space was demonstrated irrefutably! For once I was vindicated in the eyes of that vile harridan, Mrs Stevie, who had voiced the most slanderous questions about my sanity when I first laid the tentative framework for the theory back before Domestic Flood Xena.

It's good to be vindicated.

  1. One of you must have been paying attention at some point during the saga
  2. It will be covered by non-wax flooring when I'm done
  3. Reference to the pictures of the original rebuilt plumbing might be useful here to see where the breaks had to be made

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

On The Warpath

As many of you readers1 will know, yesterday was Martin Luther King Day, a holiday in New York. That meant that everyone had the day off. Everyone except Mrs Stevie that is.

The Stevieling and I planned a raucous day of celebration, begining with breakfast, followed by some craft projects, TV viewing and later I was hoping to persuade her into a videoing project at the beach to show her the power of the little videocam we bought her for Xmas and toward which she has shown almost complete indifference despite being fascinated with filmmaking.

All was going well, properly behind schedule by about three hours by the time we returned from breakfast at IHOP2, when Mrs Stevie stormed into the house yowling about how it was no good everyone having cell phones if we were never going to use 'em, and why she bothered calling everyone to tell them she was getting a half day off was beyond her and why didn't we at least look at the answering machine for crying out loud3?

I pointed out that there was no need for such chagrin. I explained that we had each forgotten to take our cellphones with us. I told her that it was pointless to yell about what had happened since we were enjoying ourselves at breakfast a mere fifteen minutes ago and didn't want our peacefull meal disrupted by hysterical women yelling about cellphones so wouldn't have answered anyway. I pointed out that she was here now, and so were we, and therefore nothing was lost.

She threw her cellphone at me.

She finally calmed down enough to suggest going out to a movie. Unfortunately, all the shouting, carrying on and ballicstic portable communications device activity had upset my delicate constitution4, so I remained at home and had a medicinal snooze on the sofa while the Women of Chateau Stevie went to see "Happily Never After", a movie that would have upset my stomach anyway.

Thus the arts were patronised, Mrs Stevie was mollified and I didn't throw up after all.

  1. At the last count there were three of you
  2. International House Of Pancakes. You find 'em in buildings with blue roofs. If you find a good one, the food can be superb
  3. The obvious reason, that we didn't care what was on the answering machine never occured to her it seems
  4. Mrs Stevie sniffed and said it was probably all the greasy crap I had eaten for breakfast

A Simple Three Thousand Mile Service and New York State Inspection

Cue "Nova" theme music and title sequence.

Baritone Voice Over: Tonight our tale is one of events spiralling out of control at a suburban car dealership. This is the story of the attempt to get the Steviemobile a simple 3000 mile service and a New York State inspection certificate.

Dissolve to Huntigton Hyundai, early morning. Baritone Voice Over: "It is a few minutes before eight am here at Huntington Hyundai, the dealership from which Stevie bought the red Elantra you see turning into the dearlership carpark. The child beside him is the Stevieling. They are anticipating an hour or so in the waiting room while the car, which has just over 20,000 miles on it, is put through a 3000 mile service and a New York State inspection. The Date is December 28th, a date soon to become one of the darkest in history.

Dissolve to check-in desk. Stevie is booking his car in. We see the dealer representative, later to be identified as the manager of the service department writing on the back of a large white envelope into which he places the keys to the Steviemobile. Stevie's Voice Over: "I checked the car into the dealership and told them I'd wait for it. I explained that I wanted a three thousand mile service and an inspection. I also asked them to check the alignment as I'd driven down a pothole a few days before and the steering had developed a small wobble. Since a three thousand mile inspection is little more than a pull on the belts and an oil change I figured we'd wait. We had books, drawing supplies and a card game to keep the Steveiling occupied. The guy behind the counter took the keys but wasn't signed onto the computer system."

Baritone Voice Over: In fact, this is the point at which things begin to go wrong. The service department manager is supposed to sign onto the computer system and input the details of the car. In fact, he has filled out a form that is usually used when the computer system is not available. This departure from standard practice will result in terrible consequences.

Dissolve to various shots of Stevie and the Stevieling marking time with books and the card game. Stevie's voice over: "We were doing pretty well, but we hadn't eaten at all that day. I suddenly looked up and saw there was only one person in the waiting area that was there when I came and looked at my watch. It was already 11 o'clock. I went round to the desk and asked how much longer the car was going to be."

Cut to frantic searches for car details and keys. Fade up soundtrack. Service manager speaking: "Did you book the car in under a different name?"

Cut to Stevie's bewildered face. He speaks: "No, of course not. Why on earth would I do that?"

Voice over: As we can see here, no-one seems to know what they are doing. The car isn't in the computer system and the schedule is made up from records on that computer system. The car has been sitting in the carpark, and Stevie and his daughter in the waiting room, for three hours.

Cut to Service Manager: "I'm sorry, there's been a mistake".

Stevie: "Mistake?"

Service Manager: "We haven't started on your car yet, but we've put it in as the next one up. We can give you a loaner car."

Baritone Voice Over: Here the chain of events gets more tangled. Stevie's blood sugar is running low and he isn't making good decisions. He will now make a very bad one that will cost him two more hours. He will trust these incompetent people to make things right.

Stevie : "I had an 8 o'clock appointment. How can I still be here? I don't want a loaner car. I drive off and the car will never get serviced. No, I'll wait for it if it is the next one up. And I want the belts properly checked this time. I don't want to have been here for four hours for a simple service and wake up tomorrow to squealing belts like after my last service."

Service Manager: "No problem."

Cut to service department staffer explaining what they say is wrong to Stevie in the waiting room. Baritone Voice Over: The estimate is produced. It includes what Stevie believes to be unneeded brake work, but he is willing to let them do it if the steering wobble is sorted out. They also claim a buckled rim needs to be replaced. Stevie doesn't think the wheels are buckled, but does remember hitting a very deep pothole in the road which is when the steering began to act up, and when the price is explained as being $45 he agrees to replacing it. This is a misunderstanding that will end up costing a considerable amount of money. In order to placate the increasingly angry Stevie the staffer promises an extra mechanic to "get things back on track". This is a deliberate false move, as we shall see. The estimated time given to do the work is another one and a half hours.

Cut to various shots of Stevie and the Stevieling in the waiting room. The child is patient but is clearly beginning to loose it. Stevie waits until one and three-quarter hours has passed and walks around to the desk, and hold his hands out in the universal "So?" sign. Service Maganger Speaks Angrily: "You have to give the guys time to work!"

Stevie: "By my watch they've had four and a half hours to work. How long does it take to do a simple routine brake job? You said an hour and a half. That was an hour and three quarters ago! I had an eight o'clock appointement to get this stuff done!"

Service Manager: "We had people come in here at seven!"

Stevie: "I don't care. I was here in good time for my appointment that was booked weeks ago! You've had me here for hours because of your mistake! How much longer is it going to take?"

Service Manager: "You were offered a loaner car. I can't do more than that!"

Stevie: "I don't want a loaner car. I want my car!"

Baritone Voice Over as Stevie goes back to waiting area: Stevie is beginning to suspect the truth. The mechanics are at lunch and he will not see his car for another hour or more. But there is news.

Cut to staffer coming to see Stevie. Baritone Voice Over: The staffer explains that the delay has been caused because they are waiting for a wheel rim to be delivered from "down the road". They don't keep them on site. Stevie is incensed that he has been kept waiting again while no work is done on his car, and loudly and angrily says that he doesn't expect the labour costs of this wait to be on his ticket. More time passes. At one o'clock he finally breaks and goes to the desk to demand the loaner car they offered him hours ago. As if by magic, his car is "almost done", though it will, in fact, be about twenty minutes before he gets it.

Baritone Voice Over as bill is presented and Stevie becomes agitated: The bill is considerably higher than the estimate, by about a third of the total. The rim has cost an additional $125 dollars. The $45 originally mentioned was only a "fitting fee". Not only that, the extra mechanic offered as a way of helping resolve the original mistake has billed his time to Stevie.

Stevie Voice Over: "It was a damn cheek, but the priority was getting the Stevieling something to eat. She was a real trooper throughout all this hassle. I figured to write to the dealership owner about this disgraceful behaviour and let it go at that."

Cut to Steviemobile arriving at diner for meal. Cut to Stevie getting out, looking at the rear bumper and then screaming "I don't believe it! Baritone Voice Over: " The dealership at Huntigton Hyundai had one last joker to play.

Stevie Voice Over as we cut to close up of inverted "L" shape sliced into bumper: Those bastards had kept me waiting for three hours before they got their bloody fingers out, then f***ed around for another two and a half hours before smashing a hole in my bumper and then letting me drive off the lot without so much as a by-your-leave! F***ers!"

Cut to Stevie returning to dealership after lunch, calmer, and meeting staffer.

Stevie:Could you come outside and take a look at something?"

Staffer: "Certainly!"

Cut to exterior shot. Stevie points at cut in bumper and says: "What do you think made that?"

Staffer: "That wasn't there when you brought it in?"

Stevie: "Come on! I've been bringing this car to you to since I bought it here. Every dollar I've spent on it has not only gone on Hyundai parts but they have been fitted by your mechanics. I've been more than a good customer to Huntington Hyundai and I think I deserve better than this. No, the car did not have any holes in it when I brought it to you at eight this morning."

Staffer: "Let me talk to my manager. He'll want to take a look."

Baritone Voice Over: But in fact, the manager doesn't need to look. Within a few minutes the staffer returns, appologises and asks Stevie to bring the car in after New Year's Day. He says they will fix the damage at their expense and appologises again. He also says that regretably the car will be needed for two days, so a loaner vehicle will be supplied. Two days later that is what happens, and eventually the car is returned looking much as it did before the Simple Three Thousand Mile Service and Inspection was done.

Stevie Voice Over: It looked to me like the car had been backed onto either a partially raised ramp or an open toolbox. Something sharp. At first I thought maybe an SUV towing bracket, it's about the right height, but the damage was sliced into the bumper. These ABS bumpers tend to shatter if the damage is done by blunt-force. They get ragged holes in them like any plastic thing does.

It doesn't really matter in the end. All that matters is that they damaged the car and let me drive away without saying anything. You could tell they knew it was a scandalous thing to do because of the speed at which they decided to fix things. They did a nice job fixing the car, I'll admit, but I picked this dealership because they were the best one on Long Island for Hyundai cars. If this is the behaviour a regular customer gets from the best, well, it's a sad thing. A very sad thing.

You want to know something funny? They told me to bring their car back with gas in it. When they gave it to me it had three-quarters of a tank, and I brought it back full. My car was returned with a tank so empty it took fourteen gallons to fill it, more than I've ever managed to squeeze in before. They couldn't spare me so much as a cupfull." (Laughs, ruefully). "The belts don't squeal though. At least that bit was done right."

Dissolve to title sequence over distance shot of Huntington Hyundai. Cue music. Fade to black.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Debris On The Tracks

On Friday evening I boarded my train and settled in to listen to a an hour or so of digital music while I was whisked homeward in a state of the art commuter train, the very epitome of comfort and whisper quiet transport in the 21st century. No sooner was I settled than an announcement was made that our train had been cancelled and we should take the 6:07 Babylon train to Jamaica and figure it out from there.

This infuriated many people, me included. Why is it that the Ronkonkoma train is always the first to be cut in these situations? Surely it would make more sense to cancel the Babylon train since there are about ten trains an hour bound for Babylon (or that can be retasked with no great effort on the part of the LIRR dispatchers to continue on to Babylon from whatever local stop they normally terminate on)? Why cancel the one train that travels out to Ronkonkoma from Brooklyn? We all trooped in high dudgeon to the Babylon train and got resettled, only to be told minutes later that the announcement had been in error and that our original train was not cancelled.

You might think that this provoked feelings of spontaneous joy and hearty best wishes for all those involved with the day-to-day running of the LIRR but you would be, inexplicably, wrong. A torrent of vitriol was directed at the announcer by everyone as we trooped back to the train we had been on five minutes ago, but had now lost our original comfy seats to freeloading johnny-come-lately types. Another announcement was then made that there was "a problem, we don't know what" that would mean we would probably terminate at Farmingdale (one stop before the Steviestop, Wyandanch). Then another announcement was made that we would be stopping for "an indefinite time" at Hicksville, but would eventually continue on to all stations. In the end we didn't actually stop, we just crawled through the network at Hicksville, where the rails divide to provide routes to Port Jefferson to the left and Ronkonkoma to the right. No extra information was forthcoming.

Talking to people who ride from Penn station in Manhattan this week, I found out that the entire terminus had been severely disrupted with train cancellations and commute times stretching out to several hours. I also found out what had caused so much commotion.

It seems a young teenaged boy had been engaged in "tagging" some signals with graffiti and, belatedly realizing that it was near his dinner time, had raced across the tracks in his efforts to not be late. Unfortunately, he had not factored in the trains that normally take precedence on these same tracks, and he was consequently run over and killed.

The LIRR personnel never, ever, ever say "We just hit somebody". They refer to these incidents, if they do so at all, as "hitting debris on the tracks", presumably to avoid panicking passengers on the trains that experience the debris strike and to prevent the rapid onset of camera-equipped gawkers. I've always thought it a little cold, but can see the point. After all, there are many ramifications to allowing people to see and photograph an accident scene, both legal and moral.

The real kicker is that the teen's mother, obviously distraught from grief, has vowed to sue the railroad for not doing enough to stop her vandal son from getting himself killed by running around with his brain switched off. The problem now is that I and my fellow commuters will be paying for the inevitable flock of bloody lawyers that latch on to this poor woman’s grief-deranged statement and actually attempt to bring suit on "her behalf". I guarantee that right now a school of these humanitarians are rushing to comfort the bereaved parents and offer their services, for a modest fee of course.

Not only that, people are coming out of the woodwork to say what a good kid the tagger was, and that he normally wouldn't behave in such a fashion as to trespass onto railway property in contravention of well-posted signs and deface safety equipment, possibly putting every legitimate user of the railroad at risk.

The railroad can't win either way, of course. They can only show what everyone knows to be true: that the railroad discourages trespassers as strongly as it can because people are in real danger when they wander about the right-of-way, that in a collision between a train and a human the human invariably comes off worse and that the victim was actively avoiding detection because he was engaged in an act of vandalism with no thought to the consequences either to himself or others. In doing so they are attacking a dead young boy. If they don't defend themselves, the stupidity of the victim will end up costing the railroad in cash and bad publicity.

As a parent, I can only recoil from the horror of losing a child so far into his life, and I have nothing but sympathy for the parents and siblings of the deceased boy who are struggling to make sense of their world suddenly turned upside-down. I cannot, however, sympathize with the view that this is somehow the LIRR's fault, at least, not on the information I have right now.

Like many people, I believe that it is the parent's job to inculcate a respect for other people's property, a respect for the hazards posed by modern life and a respect for the law. As a parent, I also know that to blame parents for the failings of a child is usually naive. One's own innate knowledge of life should convey that a parent has little control over a child especially during the teen years, and can only hope that their guidance will be enough to see a child into adulthood safely. Too many seem to hold that while they may have been an independant free spirit, every other kid in the world is a robotic clone of their parents and any defect in the child must have a root cause in the parenting skills of his or her mother and father.

Not me. I know you can only guide, and that control is an illusion that lasts as long as the kids allow it to.

I have no doubt that the parents of the dead teen provided the guidance required. Once they have had time to grieve properly, they will understand that it wasn't their fault that their son was killed. What we all need to acknowledge right now is that it wasn't the LIRR's fault either. It simply isn't possible to police every foot of track to prevent foolish young people determined to enter railway property for whatever unauthorized purpose they have in mind.

Ironically, I find myself taking the LIRR's side in a blog whose function was in part envisaged as being a good way to let off steam at their incompetence.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Why The Posts Are All Late, Poorly Composed and Out Of Any Rational Order

Witty Xmas

Slogan Here

Late Posts: I've been too busy living life to write about it. Fortunately I am now back at work and have plenty of time to waste so the Tales From Christmas Week should start trickling in between now and February.

Poorly Composed Posts: This is a carefully affected style for the purposes of portraying myself as an average man of the people rather than the genius, boudior athlete and gifted raconteur I am in reality1.

Posts Out Of Order: This is deliberate, and is designed to elicit dramatic tension in the reader. Think Pulp Fiction. Pulp Stevie. Whatever.

It has also been brought to my attention that some feel that the posts of late are un-reworked rough drafts draughts. This is simply not true.

<Insert witty one-liner here>

  1. There are actually two schools of thought on this issue. I say I am. Mrs Stevie snorts her Latte Con Espresso Muy Forta down her nose when the subject is broached.


Bitten In The
Arse Again!

It seems I am once again the victim of the occult machinations of the dread Anti-Handyman Demons.

On New Year's Eve I was explaining to Jeff the Kung-fu Accountant how the corner sink would fit into New Bog when I realized the pipes wouldn't work and would have to be bent some more and made longer.

I hate Jeff.

It's A Rum Ol' Business, Life

Irony On The
High Seas

The DVD of Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest which I got Mrs Stevie for Xmas begins with ten seconds of anti-piracy warnings.