Monday, April 12, 2010

I Want His Job!!!!

I Want His Job!!!

Many of you know Lynn and I enjoy traveling on the trains. We are not really sure why, but it must be because we can get up and walk around, and look out of the windows, and watch Bulgaria slip by. Of course there are the times when the trains will just stop in the middle of no-where, and we are told the engine is not working. After 30 minutes, we are off again. We are never sure what happened, but are glad to be moving again. Heat on the trains is another issue. It is either 95 degrees, or not turned on at all. On a recent trip on a warm spring day, it was so hot in the train car, that almost all of the riders had fallen asleep. It almost looked like some “poison” gas had been leaked into the train - - but it was just the heat combined with the rocking of the train car as it went through the mountains.

The trains in Bulgaria are either very old, or brand new and modern. The modern trains look like “bullet train wan-a-be’s”. You imagine the new ones could travel along at 100 mph. But, alas, they don’t go any faster than the very old trains. (Speed is based on the track technology – not on the age of the train.) There are many more of the old trains than the new ones. Although they have a first class and second class cars there is not much difference between them, and the heat problem does not make any class distinction.

One of the nice things about taking the train is that you get to see Bulgaria from where the tracks go, and not looking out of a car (or bus) window. The train rides through the Bulgarian mountains are really beautiful. There are narrow “alleys” carved though the rock, and then you quickly enter total darkness of a long tunnel, coming out into the bright sunlight and another spectacular view. All along these routes there are very small villages with little train stations. They are generally run by the station manager.
Although, if many of you are thinking about the way transportation systems work in the US, you probably need to “re-adjust” your thinking when you are in Bulgaria. Every station has a least one cashier window. You can NOT purchase tickets one day early. In fact, you can often not purchase tickets until about 30 minutes before the train arrives. If you are getting a ticket on an “express train” (this is generally an oxymoron), they will assign seat numbers to you. The ticket agent will pull over a sheet of paper with all the seats in a car marked. They draw an X through a number, and hand write the seat number on your computer-printed ticket. I have yet to figure out how this system really works. I’m always expecting to find someone in my seat. However, except for the first time we used the train and did not realize the numbers meant something and sat in the wrong place, we have never found anyone in our seats.
The village station manager job is very similar – from a manual process perspective. The station manager is the one person who is the cashier, ticket taker, platform sweeper, and he tells the train when everyone is out of the station and on the train. The train can only continue on when he raises “the Green flag”. In the US, we would have electronic communications, head sets, and microphones so the “all-important” station manager can easily talk to the conductors and engineers. But Bulgarians would ask why you need all those gadgets when a simple hand stick with a green (or red) circle will work just as well.
Each station manager does the same thing. When the train is pulling in, they are on the platform in their uniform standing almost at attention. When the train stops, they turn and enter the station to check (or maybe announce) the train has arrived and everyone should be boarding. Then he comes back out, and looks up and down the platform checking to be sure everyone is on the train. At this point the job of station manager gets creative. Most station managers will bend their elbow at 90 degrees and twist their wrist so the green flag stick is pointed up. But there are other station managers who will stick their arm out straight from the shoulder, and cock their wrist so the flag stick is up. (This is similar to the roman emperors giving a thumbs-up during a gladiator event.) Then, there are a few more aggressive managers who flamboyantly stick their arm straight up with their flag stick held high for all to see similar to the black pride symbol during the sixties. As the train departs from the station, they lower their stick, turn abruptly, and walk back into the station to wait for the next train to arrive - - when they can repeat the process - - over and over and over again.

When I grow up, I think I want to be a Bulgarian Station Manager!


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