Wednesday, February 14, 2007

St Valentine's Day Massacre

The day dawned in the traditional way, with the exchange of cards and insults. The Stevieling was mad because the "snow" had only delayed the start of school by an hour rather than causing an outright cancellation of all things educational in favour of improvised recreation. Mrs Stevie was mad because there was only a card declaring true love yet no candy declaring true love nor a present declaring true love. This on account of the purchase of the Flowers of True Love1 sucking up all available funds. Roses are currently priced slightly more agressively than weapons-grade Plutonium in New York.

I left the house in plenty of time to get my usual train but was immediately confronted by A Challenge. The ice particles (still lightly blowin' in the wind) had formed Mother Nature's Bubblewrap over the entire Steviemobile, but particularly over the windshield and other windows. I gleefully used up eight or nine swear words of medium-to-harsh quality, opened the car and started the engine, dumped my bag in the trunk and grabbed my scraper/squeege. It was of no use whatsoever, as I had expected. The car looked like someone had melted about a ton of plastic and dumped it on the car to set. This is a sovreign symptom of Inconvenience Snow (ibid).

Now the Steviemobile is a miracle of modern automobile technology. Its engine is superduper clean and gets reasonably impressive mileage despite the gas being watered down with ethanol2. The car itself handles extremely well in the ice and snow owing to its front-wheel drive and the addition of traction control to keep both wheels spinning in slippy road conditions3 and it has a nice red paint job to boot.

Unfortunately, all this spiffiness comes at a price. The engine is designed to warm up quickly, so that emmissions are kept within a set band of tolerances. This means that the water jacket is re-routed fairly inventively to cut out any temperature sinks until the engine is warm, and the heater is considered one of those sinks. When the engine is cold or cool, the heater only pumps hot air when the car is under weigh, and shuts down when the engine idles. This means that in order to melt the ice off the windows before I didn't care any more I had to sit in the car revving it to 2k rpm, "fooling" the engine sensors that we were moving as it were. This would of course reduce the overall mileage I would get from that tank of exhorbitantly priced gasoline, as I "drove" off a good five miles in the driveway. As I say, Inconvenience Snow.

Eventually the windshield ice calved and I was able to get moving, though I had missed my usual train and would now be getting the rather less convenient 8:17 from Wyandanch that requires that I change in Jamaica and cross from track 1 to track 3 to do so.

This is always an exciting race against time. Sometimes they have a train standing on track two with both sets of doors open so it can be used as a bridge to the Brooklyn train4. Sometimes, that train isn't there and the actual footbridge must be used. This bridge is totally exposed to the elements - depsite having a glass windshield on both sides - owing to some rather inventive design (last year there was a three foot deep snow drift inside the thing). The stairs, being made of stainless steel, freeze down nicely in the sort of weather we're having, and one must certainly have one's wits about one to dodge the plummeting fellow travellers as they lose their footing and get hurled from the stairs by the wind (50 mph today). I prefer to avoid this train if possible, for these and other reasons I'll go into another time.

Anyway, I get to Wyandanch and as I'm struggling towards the little hut at the extreme west end of the platform that serves as a station building5 an announcement is made:

"The train scheduled to depart Ronkonkoma at 7:57, Central Islip at 8:03, Brentwood at 8:07, Deer Park at 8:12, Wyandanch at 8:17, Farmingdale at 8:23, Bethpage at 8:27, Hicksville at 8:33, Mineola at 8:42, Jamaica at 8:54 and Woodside at 9:05 is running with fewer cars."

Seldom does one come across a message of such monumental idiocy even when within earshot of the LIRR public address system.

Annoyance the first: Having to wait through almost half a minute of blither to find out what the real message is - in this case that the LIRR has responded to the foul weather by losing "some" cars off the next rush hour train. Note also that the exact count of missing cars isn't present. One might reasonably assume that the cars are breaking away from the train as it progresses down the track.

Annoyance the second: The message was read at around 8:05. Are we to assume from the fact that stations were mentioned where the scheduled departure time for the train lies well into the past that the train hasn't actually departed from any of them yet? If so, then we are owed a "late train" message too. Pesumably, these originate in a different department and cannot be read by the same idiot who read this one. We shall just have to use the standard method - assuming that if the train hasn't arrived and your watch tells you that it is ten or more minutes overdue, that the train is late and an announcement telling you this will be made in five minutes or so (just as it hoves into view on the horizon).

Annoyance the third: The total inanity of reading this message at stations such as Woodside, Jamaica and Mineola where the patrons have the choice of maybe 6-12 other trains to choose from before the affected one will arrive and (more to the point) won't actually be standing anywhere where they can hear the bloody message for another thirty to forty-five minutes.

What a bloody shambles.

  1. To be delivered sometime later today at her office barring ice-storm related Rose Deployment Fiasco
  2. Ethanol may be politically correct but it severely depletes the oomph of gasoline and mileage drops accordingly when it is used to adulterate one's go-juice
  3. It uses the anti-lock brake system sensors to detect wheel slip, then applies the brake lightly on that side so the gripping wheel maintains drive. Without this the car would suffer from the usual condition where one wheel spins maddly on the ice and the other wheel does nothing. This is a result of the differential gearing used on all cars to ensure that the car doesn't try to kill you when you turn a corner
  4. Perhaps they should call the train The Brooklyn Bridge. Ahahahaha
  5. No staff on duty though, and since January all ticket machines moved outside for passenger convenience

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