The Station Agent Diaries

Photo: Noah Sheldon

I work up in the Bronx at Pelham Parkway on the No. 2 line. I’ve been on the job 25 years. In the beginning, you feel claustrophobic. That’s part of the job—getting used to being locked in. Eventually, it becomes second nature. I go visit my mother, and I find myself locking the door. We’re more security-conscious. I’ll go to a movie, and I’ll look for the exits.

You get lonely, so you end up striking up conversations with people. I remember one time, I had a lady who asked to borrow a pencil and paper. She scribbled on it, and it said, “Hi. I live alone. You seem nice. Give me a call.” It might have been innocent. But we’re dealing with so much money, your brain says it might be a trap. All shortages come out of the clerk’s pay. Supermarket cashiers have leeway. In the post office too, but not us.

We’re more than just the guys who sell you tokens. We are psychologists, we’re priests, we’re the ambassadors for the system. Kids get lost. Usually, we’re the first ones involved. I once had a situation where a guy passed out. I had to block people from walking over him. New Yorkers will just walk right over somebody.

I had a guy who tried to rob someone and he picked the wrong guy and the guy shot him. He came into the station bleeding. My son worries about me, but he’s in Iraq, so I worry about him. The booth’s glass is bullet-resistant, not bulletproof. People knock on the glass, and it’s very loud. Sometimes I’ll go on the mike, which is not proper, and I’ll say, “Don’t rattle the cage, the beast might bite.” I have a little squeezy ball with eyes. When I get a customer that bugs me, I imagine the squeezy is the customer.

The MTA’s position is, they want to cut as close to the bone as possible. But you’ll always need clerks. Take us away and you change the whole system. God forbid somebody buys a card, it doesn’t work, and there’s no clerk to help. Senior citizens have a really hard time with the swipe.

I’ll retire in one or two years. My pension will be half of what I make now. But I get a free Metro pass for life.

The Station Agent Diaries