NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — For the past three decades one conductor has done more than punch your tickets on the train.
His welcoming smile is only matched by the laughs he gets from entertaining riders, and he’s the focus of this week’s Snapshot New York with CBS2’s Steve Overmyer.
New York boasts one of the oldest and largest public transit system in the world. Every day, 5.7 million people ride the rails.
If your daily commute is Connecticut to Manhattan, the treasured experience isn’t found looking out the window. It’s from the man taking your ticket.
“Occasionally, I’ve been known to do a little music for the passengers,” Larry Diomede said as he broke into song on his harmonica.
Train rides are traditionally impersonal, but for the past 30 years Diomede has made sure the journey has been as as meaningful as the destination.
“I’m just being myself. I believe in customer service. I really think commuting is not easy,” Diomede said. “I work the early morning rush hour trains. My heart goes out to them. They’re serious, they’re heavy, and I lighten them up a little bit. Sometimes they come up to me and say thank you. That was nice.”
A train ride is a perfect mix of function and nostalgia, but if you’re in the right car at the right time, you also get a one-man show.
Larry is a people person. He doesn’t accept tips. All you need to give him is a smile.
The school teacher-turned-conductor never misses an opportunity to make a connection, or give a young rider a memory of a lifetime.
“People just love trains. I bring the kids into the cab and let them blow the horn, and the father’s want to do it. They’ve got a big grin on their face. I said, ‘Do you wanna do it?’ And they look at me like a little boy. I say ‘Come on,’ and then toot toot!” Diomede said.
But his run is coming to an end. CBS2’s Overmyer was with him on his last full day before retirement.
“I’m a little afraid to retire because I’m gonna miss these relationships,” Diomede said.
His final rides were filled with well-wishers, but it didn’t take away from his primary job.
“When the conductor closes the door, the key out man is the last one to go in. That’s a safety issue,” Diomede said. “When all the red lights go out, that’s when I know its safe to go in and no one got stuck in the door. I give the conductor the OK to go.”
Before arriving in a city of multi-tasking workaholics, your train ride gives you a reprieve from the stress of the day.
“I see sometimes people are little distraught and I’ll say ‘Is everything OK?’ I come by and say (plays harmonica) and all of the sudden they go like this,” he said, breaking out into a smile.
As we closed in on Grand Central Terminal, the conductor collected the last remaining tickets and prepared to welcome retirement.
“I know its a good decision because my face is hurting from smiling, so I know retirement’s a good thing,” Diomede said. “I mean, I know what I did was good, but you have to bring the curtain down to open up another curtain. I’m ready, and the railroad’s ready to get rid of me, too.”
Diomede may be retiring from his career as a conductor, but he’s trying a new adventure. Last week, he began EMT classes.