The “conclusion” of Joey Vinny appears Wednesday. And now….
Bobby was the last crew member and the worst of the bunch. One of Bobby’s most traumatic moments was on a train during a snow storm. A perfect place for an introduction.
It was freak weather that came out of nowhere. Jersey gets a lot of weather dramas like that; sixty degrees in the morning, sleet at lunch, and sunshine for dinner. All of us wore t-shirts and fall jackets. Meanwhile icy rain pelted our eyes and lips as heavy winds sliced through the station. The lobby was closed for renovations, sentencing us to the open air platform. We crouched and huddled, sitting close as possible without touching, wedged next to a trash can stuffed with rotten milk and shrimp shells.
The train was late that afternoon. As was habit, the crew busted each other to keep our minds off bigger problems, like freezing to death. We joked about the movie we had seen the previous night.
It was a rogue cop vs. good cop movie with whatever stars of the day. A guy flick with guns, fast cars and three seconds of fake boobs. The boobs were fantastic.
“When that cop took the other one down the alley, I was sure he was dead,” said Joey.
“Course he was going to live! We were like twenty minutes in.” asked Bobby. “What they got if he bites it?”
Joey pondered that for a moment. “He might not have lived.”
“And you might not be a loser,” said Bobby.
Everyone except Tommy Q laughed at that. Tommy Q kept his hands in his pockets, mumbling that cops would eat for free in his pizza place.
The tracks on the trestle shook, rattling the steel and concrete beneath the station. Waiting next to the gray and dinghy doors of the NJ Transit train, Joey patted his pockets and said, “Who did I give the tickets to?”
“Oh, don’t even tell me you did what I think you did,” I said.
Yep, Joey had lost the tickets. Between us, we had seven bucks, three cigarettes, a half pack of gum and no tickets back to New York. Joey had the tickets because he bought them. This was was penance for losing the crew’s basketball the previous week. The trip outta Brooklyn had worked just fine. But I had let my guard down and it had cost. I took it personally. They were my crew.
The bell dinged and warned that the doors were closing soon. We stood, paralyzed and uncertain. A conductor with an eye patch leaned out of the next car, staring down the length of the train. When the train pulled away, he’d collect the tickets. On he reached that last seat, he’d cross through the cars and nail us.
“Man! What we going to do?” asked Joey. “They’ll call the cops and arrest us at the next station for jumping fares.”
“We’re going to the bathroom,” I said, eying the next car.
The conductor was two seats from the end of the car. He hadn’t seen us yet. I cranked open the door. Inside the next car it was half empty, and most of the people asleep, drunk or drinking out of bottles wrapped in paper bags. There was also a public restroom right past the door, handicap accessible. Enough room for a wheelchair, enough room for four. Waiting, I said, “Unless you want to spend the night in the tank.”
That’s all it took. Not saying that any of us knew exactly how bad or good a Jersey jail was. We had the idea that it was best avoided.
There was always the risk of undercover transit police officer on trains. One never knew for sure until they popped a guy. This ruled out bumming the other passengers for fares. Begging drew all the wrong attention. A rookie cop might miss the action, but not a seasoned one. That was just degrading anyway. We were thieves, cheats and liars, but we sure as hell weren’t deadbeats.
The crew piled in next to me. If you’ve never been in a bathroom on a NJ Transit train, treat yourself right and like, don’t. Besides reeking of industrial chemicals that stank was far worse than any portable potty at a construction site, the side walls and floor were paper thin. Imagine the wheels grinding against the track right next to your ear, and that’s how loud it was.
It was a trip with no end. The train broke down between Newark and New York Penn, dying on the tracks like a bum with two through the head. Voices rumbled outside the bathroom, something about another train being dispatched to push us into the station. When the train stopped, the power went, snuffing the overhead lamp.
And it was in the moments of blackness that Bobby needed the toilet. Like he really had to go. Refusing our pleas, he ignored all threats of physical beatings. Bobby whipped out the equipment. Nothing flowed. Performance anxiety, I guess. Not that any of the crew wanted visual confirmations about this disability.
“Don’t look or it won’t work!” Bobby whined.
“You miss and it won’t work,” I said ready to punch him.
I sure as hell wasn’t interested in executing the threat, but what choice did I have? Some guys just can’t go with other guys around them. Bobby always gunned straight for the stall, even if he was alone. Bobby had no chance against three guys ready for a nuclear grade pounding if he missed the mark. That was his lesson for shotgunning an eighty ounce soda at lunch.
In all we spent three and a half hours inside the stink hole of doom. Morale was shot by New York Penn. Bobby was bottled up, Joey Vinny was ashamed about losing the tickets, I felt bad about trusting Joey Vinny. I had failed the crew. Only Tommy Q was calm. “I’m gonna make pizza in the train station,” he said.
“Station stop is New York Penn! Everybody off!” said the conductor. People crushed into each other, filing off in a mass of sweat of anger.
No one moved, awaiting my lead. It was little moments like that, I relished leading the crew. In a low tone, I said, “We walk out, normal like.”
“What if the conductor spots us?” asked Joey.
“Tell him he already got our tickets,” I said.
I unlocked the door, and the crew poured out into the car, single file behind me. The conductor had his back to us. From the car and out the side door we trudged, blending in with the other passengers. Reaching the schedule display that hung from the ceiling on the ground floor, I called a halt. The crew was down one man.
“Anyone see Bobby?” I asked, glancing all over the place.
Bobby was nowhere. We waited a few minutes watching people run past for Eighth avenue. Still no Bobby.
“Did he get pinched?” asked Joey.
“No way,” said Tommy Q. “Someone even thinks about touching Bobby, he screams murder.” Tommy Q was right. Bobby was puss puss like that. I think his mom beat him too often. He was real jumpy.
I took charge. “Tommy and I’ll check the platform. Joey wait up here.”
Downstairs the platform was desolate. A conductor stepped off the train, the same one from our trip. He didn’t recognize us, but walked towards us anyways like he did. “Northeast Corridor is Track 5 fellas.” The doors shut and the wheels cranked around as the train lumbered against the rails.
“Where’s that train going?” I asked.
“Maintenance,” said the conductor.
“So what’s the next stop?” I asked.
“No stops,” said the conductor. “Straight down to Trenton.” Trenton, NJ was the end point of the North East Corridor line, more than an hour and a half from New York Penn. Tommy Q tugged my jacket and nodded his head towards the train.
Bobby was inside, smacking the glass in the door, screaming for the train to stop. At least he got to use the bathroom.