She Likes Trains: The Human Gold
Shelley J Alongi


In July 2009 one of the station faithful asked me if the reason I wanted to meet an engineer was because I was a gold digger. Well, if you look around the station and dig pretty deep sometimes you’ll find the human gold.

The show and the Gold

When my engineer glen pulls Metrolink 608 into the station he usually greets me by asking “what’s up.” One of my typical responses is “oh, just watching the show.” There truly is a sho that goes on at fullerton station; it is for me the equivalent of another person’s Disney Land. Walt Disney used to say that the people were the show, and that certainly applies here at Fullerton. You’ve met some of the people who make up the show through my other writings, through interactions with the engineers or discussions of other things that go on at the station. These are people separate from the ones who catch the trains and who perhaps show up only once. The cast and crew that makes up the life of the station definitely appear more than once and always provide memorable interaction.
On Time

Bruce is one of the more interesting people to make an appearance on the station platform. Bruce is famous for asking one question: On time? This is usually in reference to Amtrak trains, any number, and every Metrolink train there is known to man. He knows everything about every crew, what trains they are on, though sometimes he may get it wrong. When I first went to the station he made himself known to me by giving me candy. Since I’ve started talking to Glen he always wants to know if I’m going to cross the bridge and talk to him. Lately he asks me if glen is going back to Amtrak. I don’t know if he’s going back. I suspect he’ll stay with Metrolink especially if he’s working on a race truck with his son. There are usually things I don’t want to ask him, things like is your train on time, are you early. I’d rather discuss more important subjects such as how many kids do you have, what kind of things do you do when you report for work. Do you do paper work etc? I don’t know what he does so I ask him. Sometimes we talk about working and his latest advice to me is to watch the practice of early releasing from work. The practice of early release occurs when there are not enough calls coming in to justify the staffing at the call center. Anyone who has put their name on the early release list can be given the chance to end the shift early. I have done this several times though I’ve always been a strong advocate for finishing my shifts. Since I need to pay some bills Glen is only cautioning me not to put my name on that list so much. Why is it I will take his advice? Because I like him, that’s why. During our short two minute conversations I don’t want to really ask if glen is going back to Amtrak. I suppose I’ll find out soon enough. I think he’ll stay with metrolink. Time will tell.
When I stand by track 3 waiting for Glen, Bruce will say “it’s coming” or “there’s the light” or “you have a green light.”

Bruce is famous for eating French fries, especially if they are someone else’s. A common joke among the station faithful or Jose the santa fe café guy, is to keep your eyes open, Bruce might get your fries.

He is a fun guy, a little slow, but he is a good guy. He sure loves trains. He rides to san Diego every Sunday and Los Angeles every Monday and Janice wonders if he expects it since he is gone practically every week. He causes a lot of amusement. He also can cause some annoyance. Overall everyone likes him. He comes to enjoy the trains. He has been reprimanded by Amtrak for calling up and wasting the agents’ time asking if each train is on time. He always seems to know how long each train is delayed and why. He is one of the regulars there and he has known of my existence for a year and now he incorporates me into his information sources. He knows if I’m at a train meeting though sometimes he’ll get it wrong. He says that I was at a meeting last week when I was actually working. He’s one of the reasons I kno I’ve been accepted into the railroad community there.

Everything About Everything

Dave Norris, who you know from my essay “Number One engineer” thinks he knows just about everything about railroads. He’s been watching trains for fifty years, so he might very well know a lot of things. Not only does he know everything about trains but he knows everything else about everything; cats, city politics,state politics, trucks, just everything. He writes down all the numbers of the engines.

One subject that we talkabout is the Chatsworth accident. Mistakenly, Dave assumed that Rob Sanchez lived in Santa Barbara but then later amends his statement to say that Bob Hildebrandt lives in Santa Barbara. I don’t’ know about the conductor, but Rob Sanchez had two houses, one in Big Bear and one in La Crescenta. Why is it that any railroad engineer I have an aquaintance with has two houses? Maybe these are the older engineers. Perhaps the younger ones are all in debt. Well I don’t know, I’m sure I’ll meet one we’ll just have to see what I meet and what they’ve got.

Two weeks ago Dave shows up on the other side of the station, the part that holds track 3 and where the construction of the new track is occurring. It seems to be a very slow process. We wave.

“I have to see this engineer,” he says ever the curious railfan. He wants to know what my engineer looks like.

“What does he look like,” Norm asks once on the patio. Even the engineer wants to know what Shelley’s adopted engineer looks like. What is it that drives these guys? Even the regulars want to know what engineer shelley has adopted. Glen, if he ever chooses to do so, can happily join us. He has a spot reserved for him on the patio. Maybe he’ll join us someday.

“So all the tears for that engineer,” I tell Dave later on the east end of the platform.

“He looks like a nice enough guy,” he says. He’s right, of course, Glen is a nice guy.

Gad About

Curt can be found most nights wheeling about on a scooter or a bicycle. You know him as Curt, Scooter Boy. Dave Noris affectionately or otherwise dubs him Scoots. He walks around the station on his bike and collects bottles and cans, a habit he says he picked up from Jimmy Wyatt, a man who died two years ago in a motorcycle accident. In October, 2008 when I first went to the station they were talking about him. Curt also knows everything; he frequently talks to the taxi drivers; he knows all their names. He knows the nicknames of the taxi drivers and says that Rick who is always sleeping, over charges the customers. Once in a while if I’m there late on a Sunday he’ll track down the best taxi so I can get home. I know the fair so I wouldn’t let a taxi driver overcharge me but he’s nice to have around for that.

He talks to the different homeless people that make this place their hangout; he knows Valerie, the lady who always asks for food and money and greets everyone. he gets into philosophical discussions with ray the man from Georgia who can be found intoxicated and who the other day took a leak by a palm tree just because he had to, a result of the adult beverages he had consumed.

It is Curt who went to dinner with Mike from Victorville at the Spaghetti Factory. He has been there with me twice and has not ordered a meal though I offered to get him one. He observes from out of his window the action on the platform; he reads the menu and tells me the dates of the openings of each restaurant. It is Curt, the social gad about there who accompanies me to my first try at waving at a Metrolink engineer whose name I knew. Curt is a good person to take along for a character assessment. He tells me that Glen looks shy, friendly, but not vocal. I would say shy sometimes, friendly, yes, vocal, when he wants to be. Maybe sitting up in the cab of a locomotive or in the cab car in a northbound train to Los Angeles he is serious, focused, and he takes time to talk to me. Curt made the assessment. We have a plan to go meet some more of the engineers, the Amtrak ones, the ones that bruce misses. I like curt, he recently told me about a ride on a steam train to San Diego in May. I might just do it. Why not!

Whenever I have a desire to try and strike up contact with a freight engineer who sits on track 2 curt will come with me, if he’s available. Usually the freight engineer’s response is minimal. In fact we’ve never gotten a stopped freight train engineer to at least wave at us. On one particular day, BNSF train 5311 meets us, its engineer on the side of the cab not facing us. His tented windows probably hide the fact that he is doing paper work. While he sits, the northbound and southbound Pacific Surfliner trains pass. Just as he leaves, the freight train pulls away, the engineer probably relieved that he has safely escaped the Fullerton foamers. Curt wouldn’t call himself a foamer. The engineer may have had an argument with his wife or significant other. I don’t know. I only know that curt and I gave it our best shot and got no results. But that doesn’t keep us from trying.

But Curt is also good for talking to or trying to get the attention of the Metrolink engineers. You know about Glen, of course. One Sunday evening a few months back probably in November, I decided to strike contact with the last train to Ocean Side, the engineer on the Sunday run. We went there and he opened the door.

“We’re not lost,” I said. I explained that we try to talk to the engineers. He didn’t seem to want to talk to us.

“He looks nervous,” he said once when the engineer rang the bell then blew the horn. “Maybe he’s new.”

Thinking a bout it now I don’t’ know that he was nervous so much as he was working with a defective bell. Some of the bells on the locomotives are tired, Glen says. The air leaks and doesn’t trigger the clapper to hit the side of the bell and ring it. If you’re sitting near the bell you can hear the air triggering the bell. Obviously if that bell doesn’t work you won’t get a consistent ring causing the engineer possibly to blow the horn out of the station. So maybe he’s not nervous at all.

“He looks like he might just want to go home and be with his girlfriend,” Curt says. Working on a Sunday night, maybe he has to be up early like Glen and Carrie and Frank and all those guys? Maybe. Maybe not.

On Saturday January 23 one day after his birthday I went down to the station just to see what was going on. I had a slow day at work, spending a lot of time writing this essay or another one called “Metrolink608 Learning the Story.” My plan was to stay till after the last Ocean Side train left. It makes its appearance at 9:18, close to the 9:15 time I gave it in the last paragraphs. Through the music of the two raucous bands I asked Curt if he would go with me to be our engineer spotter. Showig up at 9:05 just as the southbound Pacific Surfliner left the station I waited at my usual spot. I was nervous. You would have thought I was doing this for the first time. The train pulled up, its bell clanging abnoxiously, my not so favorite bell, perhaps drown out by the sound of the engine, its pistons rattling or whatever makes the noise in that engine. I did not get the number but I recognized the sound of that MPI, noisy, almost as loud as the rock band on the patio. The engineer stopped the bell. I waved. He waved back. I stood there waving on occasion. He waved back. He switched on the bell, it rang for a while, perhaps warning the silly girl standing by the tracks away from it, maybe just because he wanted to ring that awful bell. I despise those bells. Soon he pulled the train away and I waved him into the night.

Friendly, Curt said. Polite, studious, alert. He did not look like the body building guy on a Sunday, not like glen who looks like a cowboy with his beard and mustashe. The engineer did not open his window, but at least he waved Wonder if I’ll see him again. Once again Curt was there to assess the situation. It was a good engineer night.

 My most philosophical discussion with Curt came one night on the planter when we took up the subject of Stephanie, the Muslim man who wants everyone to think he is a woman. Covered from head to toe in a veil and gloves, even disguising his face, he presents a sometimes threatening picture to travelers and regularly is asked to leave the primasis. One night Curt informed me that he didn’t like talking to someone who was pretending to be something he wasn’t. The complete covering of the face put him off, he said. Sitting on his bench playing on his laptop, or sometimes telling me the colors of signals, he is harmless and mainly keeps to himself. But he is who he is and there is an element of the station that refuses to acknowledge him because of his disguise. I tell Stephanie that I am blind and he can’t fool me, he is a man not a woman. I explain to Curt that God has made judgment on who he is and his fate so why should I ignore him?

I don’t think curt sees it that way but it’s okay. If I want a social assessment I’ll go find Curt, he’s the gad about; he knows everything.

The Pig Mauller Brigade

Doug owns a bike whose model and make escapes me. Many nights sitting beside the railroad tracks on the wrought iron benches watching double yellow signals or flashing yellow ones, loaded freight trains pulling goods toward Los Angeles or the Cajon pass, watching empty trains, spine cars, or even the slab train, we discover a variety of things. Doug has kind of an unorthodox sense of humor, built around experiences of illness. When he’s not engaging in some description thereof he might say something useful, such as reminding me that I want to book a train trip to Seattle. The problem with that these days is that I will need to ask for the time off work and I haven’t done that yet. I keep using my time for early release, choosing to spend my extra money ro time on local train trips, bells, Santa Fe Café food, or any other kind of food. He is Stephanie’s friend. Doug is the one who originally told me about the Whistle Stop railroad model shop in Pasadena. He keeps reminding me that I want to take a trip to Seattle. He keeps asking me if I have made any more trips to the model shop. NO, I assure him, I only wanted the lantern from them. I don’t want any DVDs witht rains coming through Fullerton, or any DVDs with train disasters. He’ll tell me what color the signal is on which track. He hangs out with Stephanie and even lets him go to his truck during his prayer time. He has a bit of a twisted sense of humor but he’s a pretty nice guy. I haven’t seen him too many nights down at Fullerton lately. I don’t know why he hasn’t been there but when he is he usually kidnaps me. That’s what someone says at the station; they think Doug and stephanie kidnap me. Hey I’ll talk to anybody once. I don’t have to agree with their life choice but I’ll still talk to them.

You may be wondering why I titled this segment the Pig Mauler Brigade. Doug and Stephanie always alert me to the presence of engineers, i.e. pig maulers. Two weeks ago when I was missing talking to Glen I said “don’t even think of it.” I guess I was too attached to the Alfa cat pig mauler. I still am. They think I get a kick out of that term and I do. So if someone says “pig mauler” to me it’s most likely to be Doug or Stephanie.
There are so many other people I can write about and I’m sure I will. But this has been another delving into the gold you can find at the fullerton station. So maybe I really am a gold digger I’m just not looking for it from engineers.



Copyright © 2010 Shelley J Alongi
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