The importance of good signage
Heck, I deserved my promotion. 17 years I worked flat out every day, playing my part in the safe passage of millions of people travelling in and out of New York's Penn Station.
My job sounds simple enough, but requires total concentration. Every day I'd walk down to the green a few hundred yards down the track and I'd be there, helping to ensure the safe passage of the trains. My job entailed, when signalled to do so, holding up a sign with the letter 'M' on it for the driver to see.
This was an essential part of the network's safety system. Harry explained it all to me in my first week, though I could never remember exactly how it helped.
Harry usually walked to the green with me. He stood further down the green, holding up a letter 'W'. This was another really important part of the safety system, though I forget why.
I knew Harry was approaching retirement and I had applied for his job. He didn't know though, actually believed he'd pulled some strings for me. "It's my last day on Friday," he said to me, "I've had a word with management and they've agreed for you to take over from me. Your replacement starts on Monday."
I got an extra $22 a week for Harry's job, even though it was much the same as mine. The new guy was called Sam, though I couldn't make out what it was short for, something foreign. He came from somewhere in Europe, hadn't been in New York long. I told him some of the places he should check out while he was here.
I explained his job to him, leaving out the technical details. He didn't seem to understand completely, kept asking why he needed to hold up a letter 'M', how come it wasn't automated, why the signal he received didn't go straight to the driver. They must do things differently in Europe.
I reassured him, let him know I was just down the track from him. "Just copy what I do," I said.
The first I knew of the trouble was someone mumbling something in my earpiece about trains going missing. Wow I thought, must've been taken by aliens, they're the only ones with the technology to make trains disappear.
I returned to the office to find out what was going on, though by this time it was all over the TV news. Seven trains had crashed just outside Penn station, hundreds of passengers killed. All trains had stopped running by this time, so I grabbed a bagel and had an early lunch in the office, watching developments on TV. It was almost a week before the trains started running again.
There was an inquest of course. They tried to pin the blame on me, though in fact it was all Sam's fault. He'd misunderstood when I said 'copy what I do', and held the 'M' up wrong way, making it look like a 'W'. As I said at the inquest, it just shows what a good job I'd done for the last 17 years.
It's all been automated since then, of course. We're a staff member down as a result, they never hired a replacement for Sam, who I think made his way back to Europe, or wherever he came from.
I don't have to walk down to the green any more, just stay in the office. When I get the signal now, I just have to type the letters 'M' and 'W' into the computer and it flashes onto the track-side screen every time a train goes out.
I remain a vital part of the safety of trains to and from New York Penn station. Aside from that one day, I've never had an accident on my watch. I'm proud of that fact. It just shows the importance of good signage.