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Untold Tales Of The Polar Express

, , , , , , | Working | December 23, 2022

I drive passenger trains for a living. This story took place on the last train of the day before Christmas Eve, which in Sweden is a way bigger deal than Christmas Day. For many families, Christmas celebrations start at three pm sharp on Christmas Eve.

There had been a lot of snow during the last few days, meaning that it was hard to keep up with cleaning the tracks from snow and defrosting the ice and snow build-up on the trains. The type of train I was driving had the issue that too much snow and ice could make the brakes freeze stuck to the wheels, causing friction, which in the worst-case scenario leads to derailing.

Obviously, there are lots of precautions to prevent that, and just one such precaution had detected that my train might have that problem. I carefully came to a stop at the next station and went out to check after informing the passengers of the situation.

The snow beside the track was almost at hip-depth, so there was plenty of plodding through the snow to check the brakes. After performing the standard winter test of tossing snow on the wheels, I could immediately tell by the hissing and steam that the brakes were indeed stuck. I then plodded back to the driver’s compartment and informed everyone that we’d be stuck for a bit while I tried to unstick the brakes.

After turning off the affected brakes, I plodded back with my iron bar to try to get rid of all the ice that had made them stuck. After about fifteen minutes of back-breaking work, I realised it was very unlikely to work; there was just way too much ice. I informed my company who tried to find buses; there were no trains available. A few were already standing still because of the same reason. I kept at it for quite a while longer just in case I could fix it; it would be so much more convenient for everyone involved. But in the end, I gave up. During this time, another decimeter (about four inches) of snow had fallen, and the entire time I’d been able to see naturally upset passengers inside the train, but being too tired to plod on, I called for my colleague to open the door I was closest to.

Onto the train I scrambled. My pants were frozen nearly solid from snow melting from my body heat and then refreezing. I stiffly walked to the driver’s compartment while dropping clumps of snow I hadn’t managed to get off my pants, all the while dreading the expected and justified complaints. But instead, they just took one look at me and most people looked so much less irritated. Some even smiled at me. Whether they did that because of how comically I resembled a snowman or because they were grateful for me trying my best, I don’t know. I’m not certain which I prefer. I really did look ridiculous.

But we did happily get buses quite soon considering the time of day and the date. My colleague and the passengers continued to their destination while I got the fun task of driving the train back at fifteen km/h (about nine mph) with constant plodding to check the wheels and brakes.

When I got home, I had to switch bathwater twice before I thawed.

Until They Walk A Mile In Your Shoes…

, , , , | Working | December 14, 2022

We recently got a new library manager who is… well. Let’s just say she’s very keen on doing things her way.

Manager: “Why are there two people scheduled for the Monday opening shift? All the other shifts only have one person.”

Me: “Because it’s the busiest shift of the week. We have to deal with all the books that have been returned in the overnight slot over the weekend, and we’re always swamped by visitors first thing in the morning.”

Manager: “I think one person should be able to do it. You just need to manage your time better.”

Since I almost always work Monday mornings, I’m the one who gets saddled with the shift on my own. As predicted, there’s far too much to do. I’m far from done with the morning routines when it’s time to open, the visitors have to wait longer than usual to get help, and by the end of my shift, I’m exhausted.

Me: “[Manager], I would need to come in at seven in the morning to get everything done in time for opening. I’m okay with that, but then I want to leave earlier in the afternoon.”

Manager: “No, you can’t leave earlier. Someone needs to be here as a backup when we close. Just try to manage your time better; it shouldn’t be that hard.”

One Monday not soon thereafter, I come down with a cold and have to call in sick. No one can cover for me on such short notice and [Manager] ends up having to work the shift herself.

I don’t know how it went, but I can guess. At the next weekly staff meeting, the manager has a few closing words for us.

Manager: “Also, I have decided to schedule an extra person for the Monday opening shift. There’s far too much to do for just one person!”

You Need To Find A Solution… Elsewhere

, , , | Working | December 14, 2022

I worked at an investment company, but when one of their subsidiaries needed me full-time, I was transferred there. That was no problem as it was better for me to be able to focus 100% on a project with reasonable deadlines. After a few months, the parent company decided to sell the subsidiary.

It has now been over a year since the sale, which brings us to today’s email discussion.

Parent Company: “Hello! We need help developing an IT solution for our new holding, [product].”

Me: “Hi! I would love to help you, but unfortunately, I don’t have the time as I am busy with my current job. I wish you the best of luck with [product].”

Parent Company: “What do you say? I’m your boss! We need to resolve this ASAP!”

Me: “I am no longer employed by you, as I was moved down to the subsidiary, where I am now employed. But since I worked for you for six years, I can produce a quote, so I can help you outside of my current working hours while you look for a person who can take over the project.”

Parent Company: “I don’t know what to call this… We can’t go on like this. We have to help each other. It’s not okay that if I ask you for a favor, you want to start sending invoices. We must help each other!”

Me: “I do know that what you’re trying to make me do is called slavery. That is, work without pay, which I agree is not okay. No, thanks.”

Well, Ain’t That Just The Cutest Thing

, , , , , , , , | Right | December 13, 2022

We’re next door to a school, and the students (ages thirteen to fifteen) often come and spend their lunch break at the library, hanging out and playing cards. This year, the new seventh-graders are a rather cocky lot. There’s one group in particular we’re having problems with: a gang of teenage boys who are extremely cool and tough — at least according to themselves. They won’t listen when we tell them about our rules, they often leave a mess behind, and they’re generally loud and disrespectful, both to staff and to other visitors. On several occasions, we’ve been forced to ask them to leave, because they’re disturbing other patrons.

It’s not that we don’t want teenagers in the library, but it’s very frustrating to have to be the stereotype of the stern library lady who walks around and hushes people all day.

One day, one of our regular patrons, who is on maternity leave, comes in with her toddler and her baby. They hang out in the small children’s area. The baby is crawling around on the floor in our play corner, chewing on everything he can reach, and the toddler is all over the place. Mommy is a little overwhelmed keeping track of them both.

I’m busy helping another patron when I notice the toddler making her way over to the sofa where my teenage troublemakers are sitting. I try to keep half an eye on the situation and be ready to intervene, but a minute or so later, one of the boys gets up from the sofa, takes the toddler by the hand, and escorts her back to her mommy. A moment later, the other boys follow.

I’m half-expecting some kind of trouble, so I try to help the patron I’m with as fast as possible, but when I’m finished, I find that the general ruckus that always accompanies this group of teenage boys seems to have quieted down.

I decide to do a walk-around in the little children’s area, officially to put some books back on the shelves and clean up a little but mostly to make sure the boys aren’t bothering my regular and her kids.

What I find is the entire group of cool, tough teenage boys lying on the floor, playing with the baby. One of them has cozied up with the toddler and is reading a picture book to her. Mommy seems perfectly content with the free babysitting services and is happily answering curious questions about her kids.

It was the quietest lunch hour in weeks, and I was tempted to ask Mommy to keep coming in at the same time every day so my young troublemakers would keep being distracted by the cuteness.

Maybe He’s Just Really Antisocial

, , , | Right | December 7, 2022

This is a bizarre experience from the world of the Swedish so-called “färdtjänsten” — a municipal transportation service for citizens who, for one reason or another, are unable to use public transport.

A citizen calls from Casualty (that’s “the emergency room” to our trans-Atlantic friends) and wants to book a so-called healthcare journey back home — basically, an ordinary taxi ride, except the municipality bears all the costs.

Me: “No problem, sir. Could I please have your healthcare travel card number?”

Citizen: “I don’t have one of those.”

Me: “No worries. In that case, I’ll just need you to ask the staff to issue a one-time paper ticket and call us back, and we’ll be able to book your journey on a generic card number that we have for situations like these.”

Citizen: “No, I can’t be a**ed wasting time on that. I just want to get home!”


Me: “Do you perhaps have a permit for regular transportation service? If yes, we can book the trip on that number, instead. You’ll have to cover some of the costs yourself, but it’ll still be cheaper than your ordinary taxi ride.”

Citizen: “Nah, don’t have one of those, either.”

I was now officially out of options, but I kept my composure and explained to the gentleman, as diplomatically as circumstances allowed, that if he didn’t want to ask the staff to print a one-time ticket and call us back, and he didn’t have a permit for regular transport service, then he’d have to book an ordinary taxi and pay full price for the ride out of his own pocket.

The gentleman opted for this solution. In other words, he’d rather squander correspondingly fifteen to twenty USD instead of waiting five minutes for “Sister Agnes” to print said ticket for said journey. 

Okay, his money, his problem, but c’mon… how impatient can a person get?