Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Bar Car Closing

There are sad days in our lives.  The Last Call on the last bar car on the old New Haven railroad is surely one of them.  While we cannot in good conscience compare it to “The Day of Infamy”, made immortal by Franklin Roosevelt (and the Japanese pilots who bombed Pearl Harbor), it's right up there in the category of dismal times. In the real lives of we “Mad Men” who rode out of Manhattan on our way home to the bedroom communities in West Chester and Connecticut it is much more than a simple end of an era. Yes, it was all so long ago but yet not quite so far away.  Memories have lives of their own.

Much has changed in 60 years. In commuter jargon “Metro- North” has replaced “the New Haven.” People from all walks of life, not just bankers and advertising toppers, are dressed to suit their own fancy, women mingle co-equally with men. Back in the 1960s and 70s, men wore narrow ties and lookalike suits, suits smelled of cigarette smoke for days, women in the bar cars were rare birds indeed. Males lived two lives even as the bar car was a constant among them, enabling them to transition from one to the other. The witty ad guy went from Madison Avenue smoothie to “Daddy's home!” And it all happened in just over an hour thanks to a few pops on the swaying iron horse. People did not die in those days. Faces were locked in perpetual late -30's mode.

One of the great moves was to purchase a small handful of rose buds at Grand Central Station for “the wife”, she who stood ready in her kitchen to greet the returning warrior at the end of the day. This less than noble and surely less than expensive (50 cents) gesture earned one the title of “hero for a half”. Women were mostly chained to the drudgery of homemaking. How they managed to survive it all is a tribute to both their patience and perseverance. Ultimately however they were freed from that lifestyle to compete on a more or less level playing field in today's world.  Hooray for them!        

In the long ago, stalled trains were a constant.  The sight of dozens of frustrated commuters getting off between stations to slip and slide down snow covered hillsides to thumb their way home on the Connecticut Turnpike was not a rarity. The flames in Harlem during that terrible riot, thank God, was. There is much nostalgia surrounding the demise of the commuter train bar car from Manhattan. But still we Americans are forward thinking. With or without our cocktails-on-wheels, no one wants to go back to getting there by Conestoga wagon.

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