When I tell people I was once a train conductor I get a big gasp of disbelief. It seems I am not the image of a train conductor and I am pretty sure I do not look like Tom Hanks. However, I really hated it when people didn’t have their ticket or when passengers wanted to use some lame excuse as to how I was “singling” them out because of some irrelevant yet a hot trending issue. It is not easy being around hundreds of people every day. Managing different personalities with lack of sleep combined with the over-worked lives of our travelers is a skill that cannot be taught. However, the position taught me how to observe people from all walks of life and how to eventually be able to write articles like this one.
The truth is that at one point I LOVED being a train conductor. I was able to use the train for free and I took advantage of that very much. I was able to go from one side of the country to the other. I was able to hop in my car (yes, my car) from Virginia to Florida as I wined and dined on the Auto train. It was a magnificent time and I enjoyed every minute of it—until I didn’t. See, riding the train and working on one are two totally separate experiences.
I wrote this article to honor all the railroad employees and staff from the Engineers to the Snack bar employees and Train conductors. I call it the “un-life” because so much of our everyday lives are sacrificed. From weekends to holidays—yup, we worked them all.
I didn’t hate the job and I didn’t LOVE it in the end—but I LIVED it and I will ALWAYS treasure my railroad years. My biggest frustration is that a company like Amtrak functions a lot like the U.S. government, meaning—it doesn’t go smoothly. If we look at working for the railroad as a microcosm of the bigger world that we live in—I am using my experience there as well as the continued experience of MANY other women to illustrate that Trump’s vision of America is not a new thing.
From sexism to homophobia—I felt like Amtrak is an example of all that is both beautiful and chaotic with people. Amtrak really has a lot to “clean up” just like our U.S. government. People are outraged that Trump is President, but women have been treated as “less than” since forever and those of us that have the courage to speak up are “troublemakers” and are quickly dismissed even by other women in higher up positions.
Needless to say, leaving that company was possibly the BEST decision of my life for my well being and sense of integrity. Is it a good job? Sure. Is it a good life? Depends what you are looking for. However, it just wasn’t for me until retirement so I decided to retire at 40 and live the life I truly wanted to live. When you work for Amtrak, anything goes. There are Unions (both good and bad) and Union reps (both good and bad). Like the U.S. government, the principles that created the great United States of America and Labor Unions are beautiful until we realize they are not being put to fair use. We all deserve fair wages for our jobs, but I am afraid that both the government and labor unions have forgotten who they TRULY work for. The goal is no longer to watch out for the people or employees, but to extort hard earned money in exchange for “representation.” At the end of the day, the experience taught me that when you cannot fix a situation, join them in their shadiness, or change it, you leave it. Like the government, Amtrak talks about change, but then they are so resistant to it. Women work as hard as the men, but they have to try just a little harder to get ahead. Some women go the good old fashioned way of dating the right people to go from cleaning the bathrooms to the corner office almost over night (true story). The men are still a part of the good old boys club and at times I was seen as a joke. Even when I was able to fix a train one day (yes little old female me) I didn’t hear a peep from anyone except my lovely conductor at the time. On the contrary, whenever I made a mistake—I would never hear the end of it. I would get “written up” which is an archaic and a Neanderthal railroad tactic to keep employees subservient. For the sake of comedy—I added humor to this article because it’s better to laugh than to cry. We may be living in “Trump’s America”, but the issues we currently face have been present in our society since way before President Make America Hate Again was even born.
There were times in crew areas that I would talk to my other Latino coworkers in Spanish. I heard it more than once “This is America and we speak English.”
SEXISM AND NEPOTISM:
If I had a $100 dollar bill for EVERY time I was rejected for a promotion I would have bought a nice sports car by now. I would get a letter that I was not qualified like the candidate that was chosen. Needless to say, apparently my two college degrees, over ten years of management experience in the past, and my ability to speak two languages fluently could not compete with someone’s nephew that just got his degree after his Summer training at T.C.B.Y. or The Gap. Nothing says “railroad experience” like the subway the former Gap employee needed to take to commute to his job in the mornings. At the end of the day, a man would be hired for the job as a train conductor way before a woman. The excuse was that not as many women apply, but the truth is that not as many women are hired.
If I had a buck for every inappropriate picture received from coworkers, I would have had a down payment for a house by now. Seriously, fellow, NO MEANS NO. You cannot grab me by—well you guys know how it goes.
Apparently there are no railroad employees that are in the LGBTQ community. (cough cough). Boy, I see your Diesel jeans and your Ralph Lauren work boots. Boy—werk the railroad in style (yes, I am saying work with an “E”).
On a serious note, I once had to deal with a co-worker say “If you consider Mendoza a woman” as the Union Vice President—that was present—ignored her comment. Luckily, she was fired a couple of months later without me having to say a word. Karma always comes around. In addition, I once had a supervisor close the doors behind me and inform me to ignore another coworker so that he would go to another position in another department. The gentleman they were trying to get rid of was apparently too “dainty” for the railroad. I refused to be a part of this homophobia. Instead, I filed a complaint against this department for their ugliness, corrupt ways, and bully tactics. The decision to speak up had consequences that followed me after this incident. Luckily, karma bit again and this Vice President was removed from his position after over thirty years of service.
Let’s be clear about something. RACISM exists and it is alive and kicking in the good old U.S.A. I have seen racism from my own ethnic group towards others within our own race. Ignorance has no boundaries, but fortunately LOVE unites us all. I saw perfectly qualified African-Americans with over two decades of experience being over-looked for the promotions they deserved. Similarly, I experienced other people from minority groups act like bullies towards others just when they perceived themselves to be in a position of power. Racism hurts everybody and sometimes the suppressed eventually become the suppressors. I will never forget the day a Union representative with a 7th grade leadership ability told me to “Suck it up Mendoza you have a job so do not complain.”
As you can see, Trump did not suddenly make America Hate Again. On the contrary, we live this every day in our own lives. I miss some of my co-workers and it is YOU that I write for today. I totally agree with safety first, but let’s add humanity first? I definitely do not miss CREW BASE for completely violating our rights as employees by calling us in the middle of the night before our eight hours of sleep are completed. I also do not miss the endless books of rules that are written for employees to follow, but not for the Supervisors to follow. Just like the U.S. government expects us to pay taxes that even our President avoids, rules are enforced by the big guy as he makes fun of those less fortunate.
So there you have it. Six years of being a railroad employee taught me a lot about life and how it just isn’t fair. We like to blame Donald Trump for suddenly bringing hate to our country, but the separation and the corruption were already there. Being a female working for the railroad is not any different than being a female working at a bank. The seeds of racism, homophobia, sexual harassment, sexism, and xenophobia have branched out to other generations.
So Houston, how do we solve this problem?
My fellow men and women, we should not be scared to SPEAK UP and yet we ARE. The railroad says that if you “See something, say something.” Shouldn’t this also translate into speaking up about unjust practices or treatments towards our fellow co-workers? I take my hat off to ALL of you suffering in silence at the hands of your hostile work place. I reach out to you in solidarity for the female supervisors that have followed the “If you cannot beat em’ join em” mantra. It is not the woman with the shortest skirt that wins this battle against unjust practices. TOGETHER—the MORE OF US that say “ENOUGH” the quicker this world will change their attitudes and behaviors towards us. We cannot do that when we refuse to even acknowledge that the issues exist.We need to replace racism with inclusion. Homophobia with respect. Sexual harassment with healthy boundaries. Sexism with equality, and xenophobia with appreciation for our differences.
So ask yourselves are you a part of the problem or a part of the solution? As a former railroad employee—I love riding on trains and I will stick to that. Let me repeat. WE SHOULD NOT BE AFRAID TO SPEAK UP AND YET WE ARE.
To the troublemakers, the outspoken souls, the courageous and the revolutionists that said “Just because something has always been a certain way does not make it right” –you are the REAL change this country and planet needs. The second you start thinking for yourself instead of what the “system” has imposed on you—is the second you break free from the injustice that you have to live through every single day. We live in a society where FEAR controls us and similarly we work in jobs where FEAR is used to KEEP controlling us. To all my former co-workers (both male and female), you are either a part of the problem or a part of the solution. Which side are you on and most importantly, how do we ALL come together to find solutions?
Trump’s America starts with YOU. What are you turning a blind eye against and what are you facing head on? We cannot consider ourselves to be a civilized first world nation when we still have a Civil War mentality. The calendar may say 2017, but our consciousness has clearly not caught up. Next time you hear the song “I’ve been working on the railroad…..” Realize that it’s true. The hard working men and women are there all the live long day and eventually all their live long lives. The railroad taught me a crash course in humanity and the consciousness we are living in. Which mentality are you embracing and more importantly, how do we ALL come together to find solutions? Trump’s America existed before January 2017, and we were already a part of it.