Minutiae, day two

Yeah, I’m really on this microscopic thang. Bear with me, it will pass.

Today’s subject of my intense scrutiny is the ticket validator machines for CalTrain.

Here’s the situation. To catch a commute on the train you gotta have a ticket to get ‘er done. Some people do single rides. You buy that day of from a machine at the station. Some people do a monthly pass. You get that in advance (or from the machines). You just flash that to the conductor and it keeps you on the train.

But for many of us, we buy a ten-ride ticket (more cost effective if you ride occasionally, not every day). So in order to get a ride, you have to punch your ticket. So to do that, you slip the ticket into the validator machine and it punches your ticket, stamps date and expiration time (four hours), and cuts off the ride number on the side.

Here, better to go visual on this. Please excuse the crappy iPhone photos.

Here’s what a ten-ride pass looks like:

Note the slots for the rides and you can see the numbers off to the side. You can see that this morning I punched off the number 5.

Here is the validator machine:

And obviously, here’s how it works:

So here’s my question. One of those “you’ve got way too much thinking time on your hands” type of deals.

What happens to all of those punched numbers? I mean, look at the machine, it’s not that big?

A LOT of people punch their tickets every day. And as evidenced by the fact that they are always out of ink, the CalTrain people don’t service the machines very often. So the punched numbers build up in there…I’m guessing.

Where do they go? I assume they stay up there in the red part, but that doesn’t seem like a lot of room.

And when they service the machine, what do they do with the little numbered punchouts? Like confetti in there?

I posed this last night to The Good Man and he patiently suggested that they save them up for the CalTrain New Year’s Eve parties.

But I really am curious. I mean, I suppose they just toss them out, but given that there are, like, 24 stations punching both northbound and southbound riders, that’s a LOT of little punched numbers. It seems like something useful could be done with all of those?

Or am I over thinking it? Don’t answer that…

Because mainly, all this ticket validator scrutiny was just me trying to distract my “no wanna go to work” mind. Succeeded, too, for a little while.

So while you too ponder little numbered confettis, here’s my “art shot”…a glance northbound up the tracks, to help get you in the pondering mood.

Sometimes doing the right thing is a really hard road

(settle in, it’s a long post today)

Yesterday afternoon, late afternoon, I got a voice message from Stanford Blood Center.

They call me quite a bit. Being an O positive means the stuff in my veins is in demand.

Lately instead of whole blood, I’ve been giving platelets. It takes longer to donate but is MUCH easier on me. They take the blood, spin off the platelets, and return everything else back to you.

But back to the message. They said they had a patient at the Stanford Hospital with whom I was an exact match in terms of blood panel (something called an HLA match). And this person desperately needed platelets on Saturday (it takes two days to test) and could I come in right away and donate?

Honestly, my first thought was “I can’t be bothered”. I’d taken the train in to work so I didn’t have my car. I was tired. And usually before giving platelets I like to make sure I’m ready by eating right and drinking milk before hand (donating robs calcium).

Then I stopped and thought, “What the hell am I thinking?” and called them back. I said I would be there. They gave me a 6:30 appointment.

Ok, so I looked at the shuttle and train schedules. I could take an early shuttle and train that would get me home by quarter past five. Enough time to get home, eat, drink milk, and get to Palo Alto.


So at 4:30 I waited for the shuttle that would take me to the train. The shuttle that never showed up.

I tersely called dispatch. I was put on hold for about five long minutes. Long story short. The bus had broke down.

Ok, so I asked could they promise the NEXT bus at 5:11 would show up?

They couldn’t.

I didn’t tell the dispatch my story, I just said “I have to get to the train station”.

So they sent out one of the intercampus shuttle vans (our work buildings are spread far and wide so there are vans that take employees hither and yon) to take me to the station.

Ok, with train schedule in hand, I worked out when I might get there, what train, what station and could The Good Man come get me? (he was working from home)

The shuttle bus driver, hearing my story, offered to drive me all the way to Palo Alto (which I thought was cool) but I said no, I’ve got it worked out.

So I waited for my train, anxiously bouncing my knee and watching the clock. Suddenly giving my platelets to this unknown person with an unknown malady was really, really important to me. I didn’t want to let them down.

So the train was due to arrive at 5:37. 5:37 came. And went. No train.

Deep breathing.

5:43pm, the train rolls into Mountain View. Yes!

I wait for disembarking passengers and I climb on. There are plenty of seats, just as I select my fave row, the lights turn off and the sound of the engine winding down fills my ears.


The *last* time I got on the train and the lights went out, it was due to a busted cable they had to repair. So we sat on the tracks while they did. Then when we took off, we were chugging along and the part fell off. We had to stop again. Good times. So I was imagining this happening again. In horror.

I had to employ many of my new “calm down” strategies. Deep breaths. I told myself however this worked out it was supposed to work out that way. I thought about being in Half Moon Bay this weekend. The sound of the ocean. Breathe.

After about five minutes, the lights didn’t come back on, but the engine was revved and we were moving…in the dark.


I only had to make it to the NEXT stop. Just one. Just make it to Menlo Park (one town north of where I needed to be). That is all I ask!

And we did make it to Menlo. Cool! Only about 15 mins late. Still enough time to make my appointment.

Except, the lights were still out. Usually with the train, when it makes a stop, you hear a “ding ding”, then the doors automatically open. There is a brief window of opportunity when everyone who gets off has to get off and everyone who has to get on gets on. If you miss the window, you are, in the vernacular, screwed.

So several fellow passengers and I waited at the doors.

No power. No “ding ding”.

Uh oh.

We looked and couldn’t find a manual lever. Now, panic is starting to rise. The Good Man is at the station, but I can’t get off the train.

One helpful passenger said, “hey, the door is open in the next car”. So like a herd of wildebeests, we turned en masse and began stampeding down the aisle of the car, overturning passengers who had just gotten on.

“We need to get off!” the gentleman in front of me said loudly.

I took up the charge as well. “Help! We need to get off! Please, let us by!”

We got to the platform between cars where indeed, the doors were open enough to allow passage.

And just as the man in front of me got to the doors, the power came back on, and the doors slammed shut.

“Nooooooo!” I wailed.

And in what can only be called a Herculean effort, the guy in front of me sacrificed important appendages, placing both hands between the rubber edges of the closing doors. Then like Superman pulling apart jail bars, he grunted a little unmasculinely, but got the doors to open and leapt off the train.

“You rock, thank you!!” I yelled as I bounded off behind him. The guy behind me turned to look and gave me that headshake and “whatta ride” smile.

“It’s a weird night,” I said, and he nodded and walked off.

The Good Man was waiting right where his text message said he was, and we plunged into the night and the traffic on El Camino. Terrible.

So we turned off and using one of the newest iPhone features, “Skyhook” (basically a GPS system that uses cell towers to locate you) we meandered on Palo Alto back roads, took a few wrong turns, made heroic u-turns and found the donation location.

(Have I mentioned that my Fiancée is, without a doubt, my personal superhero? This is but one of many heroic things he’s done for me.)

Parked then in we went. There was a brief kerfuffle with the paperwork, but they got me set. The folks at the donation place were like, “are you the match?” It was kind of funny. “Are you the one?” to which I wanted to reply, “Yes, my child” but showed restraint.

Next challenge? Well, I tend toward anemia and have been turned down before based on low iron.

So I told this to the intake nurse. We used all the tricks we both know. Holding a cup of warm water (dilates the vessels), rubbing hands together vigorously, and shaking them. My hands were nice and warm and red when she took the sample.

You have to get a minimum reading of 12 on their little iron counting machine.

The intake nurse waved her hand over the machine while it worked. “Pixie dust” she said.

Then she said, seriously, “The Doctor is here tonight (Director of the Blood Services) and he can make an exception of we need one.”

The machine thought for what felt like an eternity.

And pronounced a reading of 12.3.

Sometimes good enough is good enough.

Soon I was strapped in, needle in arm, machine whirring away, book open in front of me, platelets filling a bag and all was well.

I asked my body to give up only the finest platelets so that the person who needed them most could benefit. It took about 70 minutes to give a two-bag donation. The person who gets ’em has a much longer fight on their hands.

I was left a bit shaky and weak when it was done, but The Good Man took me into custody and made sure I was ok. Plied me with juices and soup and lots of clucking worry. Giving platelets always makes me freezing cold. And I was hungry too, but I was ok.

And on Saturday, I hope my platelets find their way to the veins of a sick person who needs help.

The Blood Center folks didn’t know what the platelets were for, but they suspect it was to assist along with a bone marrow transplant.

I enjoy thinking that the recipient of my platelets will wake up Sunday morning craving a heaping plate of huevos rancheros with extra green chile, and wonder why.

We all know that green chile is a curative, right?

By the way, if you don’t do so already, and you are physically able, donate blood please. It really does save lives. And when you do, ask about being tested to see if you can do platelets. Thanks!

(Found this photo online. This is the center where I donate, and that’s the exact chair I sat in but not the machine that was used. The gentleman on the left in the lab coat was working last night but didn’t do my donation. He’s a friendly guy but is a little rough with the needle stick.)

I wanna be supportive, I really do.

Due to gas costs and the mental toll that commute-time driving extracts from me, I’ve been riding the train a lot recently. Today, for a variety of reasons, I needed to drive, so I took my trusty hoopty out on the road.

And as I cruised along (at, yes, the speed limit) I observed a blue Prius cut me off, then slow down.

As I stifled the curse words and angry gestures (yes, I actually *did* pay attention to that driver’s ed course I took and passed), I wondered to myself, quite bluntly, “Why are Prius people always such crappy drivers?”

I know, broad generalizations are never accurate, but go with me on this, for a minute.

So yes, I live in hola-granola, tree-hugging, skunk-kissing Northern California. Which means there are a lot of fans of that little gas sipping automobile. Fundamentally, I have no problem with the Prius. If the financials could bear it out (meaning the premium they charge for that car more than offsets the cost at the pumps) I might even consider one. I can be environmentally conscious, I really can.

Here in the Bay Area, people who drive hybrid vehicles can get a special sticker that allows them to drive in the car pool lane even if there is only one person in the car. So that has definitely helped boost their popularity.

So there are a lot of little Prisuseseses (what exactly IS the plural of Prius?) on the roads out here. There are a lot of other hybrid and electric vehicles too, but today I’m talkin’ about the Prius people.

I’ve checked in with many friends. Their experience matches my own. Something about the Prius drivers is off. Is it bad visibility? Is it the alternate way they have to drive (coasting to build up a charge)? Is it the kind of person who chooses to own one? I don’t know, but I’ve observed some truly crappy driving behind the wheel of these little wonders.

Like a lot of changing lanes rapidly and slowing down. I’ll attribute that to the coasting, I guess. A lot of not looking or signaling before changing lanes. Is it hard to see in those things? And a lot of driving real slow in the fast lane.

I haven’t observed this as much with other environmental cars, just the Prius.

What’s up with that? I mean, when I read the news report that Al Gore’s kid was popped by CHP doing 100 in his Prius, I thought “well, there’s hope yet!” But perhaps all the drugs had changed his view (…and I can’t support that).

I’m all for assisting the environment by using less fossil fuels (this after reading, with horror, about the “milky rain” in Silver City and the Gila) but damnitall! Let’s keep it safe out there, ok?

Meanwhile, I’m doing my own part by taking the train as often as possible. Good for the environment, good for my sanity.

Thus ends my rant.

Time for my calmness affirmations……”breathe in…..breathe out….”

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