Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Duke and the Blackout of 06

115 Duke and the Blackout of 06

Duke of the E train lost 12.5 pounds during the big power failure in Queens, New York. He knows this because his new Way-Rite digital scale measures half pounds in decimal points and he keeps a chart on the bathroom wall.

That’s 12.5 pounds without his conductor’s uniform and hat on. That would add much more since subway conductors carry around almost as much crap as cops.

Duke is pleased. So is Annemarie his wife, a former nun from Guatemala. She thinks sweating off weight is a good idea and so is making the chart. The blackout, in the worst heat in years, didn’t bother Annemarie. It gets to be 110 in Guatemala, and that’s in the jungle shade. Plus, once a nun, always a nun, and sacrifice is good for the soul as well as the body.

Duke was NOT pleased when the AC first went out. When it did, he did. And she. Off to Frantangelo’s Bar, which for some reason didn’t get hit. Annemarie and Duke knocked back some shots and beer and went home to sweat it off. Next day, lights are still out and Duke goes to work to get out of the heat. The E train is air conditioned, even when it goes through the parts of Queens that aren’t.

Duke hasn’t worked ten minutes of overtime in 20 years. But today, he’s ready and willing. And they ask him, because many subway conductors are not married to former nuns from Guatemala and are unwilling to move off the couch until the air conditioning gets back.

Duke stops at the 5th Avenue station and makes his usual announcement: “E train tad a Worl Trade senna, next stop 50th Street. Watch the Kluzzin Dohs.” (Translation if you don’t speak Queens: E train to the World Trade Center. Next stop 50th Street, stand clear of the closing doors.)

The World Trade Center vanished in a hail of dust and bodies and smoke and fire four years earlier, but Duke is slow to change a time-tested set of announcements. The mayor of the city of New York once rode Duke’s train, heard the announcement, tapped on the window of Duke’s little on-train closet, asked him not to do that, and as soon as the mayor got off the train, it was “E Traintada Worl’ Tray Senna, watchda Kluzzin Dohs.” A tried and true traditionalist, our Duke.

Two days, three days, no power. Duke’s getting hot under the collar. Along with everyone else. Under the collar and everywhere else. Even Annemarie has decided she has to do something. She has decided to live in the bathtub and pray to St. Jude, who’s pretty busy and unlikely to heed the call of a nun who left the convent to marry a conductor from the E Train.

Duke puts on his Bermuda shorts and his Mets tee shirt and heads down in search of a Con Ed truck, which he finds at the corner of Queens Boulevard and 46th Street (he still calls it “Bliss Street” even though it hasn’t been that since before he was born. That’s what the 7-Train stop is called and that’s what Duke’s going to call it.)

There are a bunch of Con Ed guys sitting around in the semi darkness, outside the truck they have one of these little electric generators and they’re eating McDonald’s and looking into the open manhole.

Duke: “Hey, whennya gonna get this stuff cleaned up? I need my lights. My mother’s sick (Duke’s mother died in 1983.)”

Con Ed Guy: “We’re working on it.”

Duke: “No y’ain’t. You’re sitting around stuffing your faces while we all sweat to death, plus you’ve got lights down the manhole and you’re all up here.

Con Ed Guy: “Get lost, pal.”

Duke: “I’m gonna take a p__s down that manhole if I don’t get an answer.

Con Ed Guy: “You take it out and I’ll cut if off.”

Duke unzips. The Con Ed guy stands up and starts rummaging around his tool box, pulls out an insulation knife.

Duke zips, starts walking away, says “you gotta get the juice back on or I’m gonna be back here with a firehose.”

Con Ed Guy: “You got a firehose? Sell showers.”

The mayor, muses Duke, is pretty good about wanting to change Subway announcements, not too good at keeping the lights on.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2006 WJR

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