A Job Well Done

As he has written in the past, The Curmudgeon is a telecommuter: he works at home. (And no, in anticipation of your question, he does not work in his jammies and slippers.) Occasionally, though, he is asked to visit the home office, and when that happens his day begins around the ungodly hour of 5:15 in the a.m., followed by his arrival at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia shortly before seven to catch a 7:25 train for the 1:40 minute ride to the state capital. (And yes, The Curmudgeon is one of those compulsive early arrivers. He learned long ago that he’s more comfortable being unfashionably early and needing to kill time than he is stressing about whether traffic is going to cause him to miss his train.)

At seven in the morning the train station is just starting to come to life. People are starting to line up for trains to New York and Washington, D.C. but most of the rest of the stairwells leading down to the tracks are still fairly quiet, the lines at the coffee places are still modest, the bathrooms are still clean, and there are only a trickle of passengers coming down the ramp from the local public transit commuter trains that feed directly into the Amtrak station. By 7:15, though, the station is starting to come alive: the lines at the New York and Washington stairwells run more than 100 feet long, folks are lining up six and eight deep at the coffee places, and commuters are now streaming in bunches down the walkway from the local commuter trains, scurrying so they can catch a bus or a subway-surface line or the el or just walk to their final destination in Philadelphia’s central business district or the University City area.

The Curmudgeon occupied a seat on one of the many long, well-worn benches – pretty much pews, actually – that line the large open space of the train station. He doesn’t see much need to wait in the growing line for the 7:25 Keystone to Harrisburg because he knows his destination on the train is the car farthest from the stairwell – the quiet car – and he’s not going to have much competition for two seats for himself because most people are either too lazy to walk the extra 25 yards or want to spend their commuting time in conversation on the phone or with their neighbor.

On this particular morning there were two pretty shabbily dressed men sleeping on benches not far from where The Curmudgeon sat. It was a cold morning following a cold night, and apparently, Amtrak doesn’t mind if a few homeless people use the train station so they can get a decent night’s sleep out of the cold and wind. With the station now bustling, however, two uniformed Amtrak police officers approached the two sleepers. This should be interesting, The Curmudgeon told himself.

It was.

When the two officers approached, one of the officers rapped his fist against the wooden bench about ten feet from the first sleeper, doing so almost as casually as he might knock on a neighbor’s door. The man opened his eyes and raised his head just slightly.

“Man, do you snore,” the Amtrak officer said.

The sleeper laughed and sat up a little more.

“Do I really?”

“Yeah. I heard you all the way over there,” the officer said, pointing across the cavernous hall.

The sleeper laughed again.

“Can I buy you a cup of coffee?” the officer said.

“No, thanks,” the man replied, sitting up. He took a moment to wipe the sleep from his eyes and get his bearings and then sat up and quietly departed.

Meanwhile, the second officer approached the second sleeper.

“Time to rise and shine,” the officer said.

The man sat up quickly.

“Did I miss my train?”

The officer was surprised. Based on the way the man was dressed, he assumed – as did The Curmudgeon – that this man was homeless.

“Where are you going?” the second officer asked.

“Atlantic City.”

“Man, that train left nearly an hour ago.”

“Damn, I missed it.”

“Well, there’ll be others,” the second officer said. “See that sign over there?” the officer added, pointing to the large customer service desk in the middle of the room.

“Go over there. You can pick up a schedule there or ask someone to help you. Have a good day, sir.”

“You too.”

And that was it. No fuss, no muss, no scene, no spectacle, no threats or posturing or yelling, just a couple of police officers doing their job and a couple of men who instantly understood that they needed to play by certain rules and the time had come for them to move along.

No, The Curmudgeon decided, it wasn’t just a couple of police officers doing their job: it was a couple of police officers doing their job awfully, awfully well.

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