Riding Metro North. A break in rush hour.

MetroNorth Train
It’s a brisk morning. 45F.

I board the 5:59 am Metro North train to Grand Central.

I settle in with the morning news. Rifling through the papers. Eyes scanning headlines. Going no deeper. Distracted. Then annoyed at my lack of focus. I turn to my work papers to prep for my late morning meeting. Mind wanders again.  I toss them in my bag in frustration.  I lean my head against the window. Close my eyes. And listen.

There’s no conversation. No disturbance of the clickety clack except for the periodic rough jostling of the rail cars on uneven rails. This being no high-speed train.

Conductor breaks the rhythm.

Tickets. Tickets please.”

I pull the ticket out of my shirt pocket.

Conductor stops five rows up.

Sir, these tickets are for non-peak rides.”

Soft voice responds but words are undecipherable.

No, sir. You will need to purchase Peak ride tickets.”

Other riders now rubbernecking to check out the break in morning routine.

More low level murmuring from the passenger wearing the NY Mets baseball hat.

No sir. That will be an additional $14 for the surcharge for Peak fare for you and your family.”

More passengers lift their heads. Many now shifting uncomfortably in their seats.

Then it hit me.  I passed them when I boarded. Juxtaposed among the suits.

Baseball hat. Work boots. Head bowed. He caught my glance. Tired, weary eyes. Wife leaning heavily on him. Two young children huddled in passion pink oversized down coats. Sleeping between two stuffed garbage bags.

Sir, I’m sorry. But that will be $14.”

Man then blurts out: “We don’t have money!”

Conductor drops his head. One second. Two Seconds. Three seconds. Then he rotates away and proceeds down the aisle: “Tickets please. Tickets.

We arrive at Grand Central.

The morning commuters spill out of the train. Many stealing glances at the foursome, now huddled together.

I wait in my seat. Pretending to fiddle with my papers.

Mom rustles the children. Sleepy 1 and Sleepy 2 were fast asleep. Father struggles to lift the two garbage bags and the team ambles off the train.

I sit for a few minutes.

Gather myself.

And walk down the platform.

Off to work.


  1. this made me very sad…and at the same time gave me hope…so much happens in the seemingly insignificant moments of the day…


  2. Thank you for so vividly capturing a poignant moment and all that it reveals. Well done.


  3. Well written vignette, David. Out of place among the suits? I rode into Manhattan with a Professor from an out of town college years ago. He thought all the suits were pretentious stuffed shirts and said so even though I was one of them. Its not pretension, is it? Its more like conforming to the company culture – right? Do you think the family was homeless? Do you think the conductor was one of the “thousand points of light?” Or was he just not wanting to be bothered?


    • In our business, is is conformity and expected by employer and I believe by clients. As to the family, I pray not but don’t know. I’m still thinking about their fate today. As to the conductor, I believe he had a heart. I want to believe that. I need to believe that.


  4. This is a beautiful piece of writing. So much tension and emotion conveyed in so few words, love it.


  5. Now that’s a reality show.


  6. Superb. You took me on a journey, once again.


  7. That is horribly sad. I see homeless people every day…and it’s hard to think of entire families having to go through that…the poor precious children. You are a wonderful writer David. So much felt right in the center of the heart.


  8. Makere Stewart-Harawira says:

    Bless the guard with heart. Too often, far too often, those in such struggle are hauled off the train. Bless the guard.


  9. Such a poignant moment, David, and, as others have noted, a beautiful piece of writing. I could *feel* that man’s mortification at having to announce his plight. I could feel the guard’s indecision as he struggled with whether or not to press for the extra fee. Tough situation, and all too common these days I suspect….


  10. ..and I related to how you had to ‘gather yourself’. How could one just walk away untouched when your heart echoes in your words?


  11. Your description had me on the train with you; I physically felt the discomfort, the humiliation, the compassion and tears welled up in my eyes. Your writing is beautiful; your awareness, inspiring.


  12. Michael Zahaby says:



  13. I have tears in my eyes and a song in my heart for the conductor–some have been untouched by poverty, some have not and understand it. Beautifully written.


  14. A clear, sharp snapshot. Thank you, David.


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