The Motorman: How Mel Found His Road

“At 12, I was the coolest guy ever!” Mel Wright is 3rd generation transit family working for New York City’s MTA.

“I grew up in Alphabet City where we peddled things we shouldn’t have been peddling. I hung out with people that were associated with it and we’d do things like lookout for them on the corner for $75 a day. Fortunately my transit job took me away from the streets and saved my life. I come from a transit family. Starting with my grandfather. Back then, in the 60’s, if you were a person of color, you started as a porter, cleaning, then worked your way up to token clerk to conductor to motorman. My grandfather, his three brothers, my father and uncle all worked for the MTA. As a kid I was infatuated with the trains. In the morning, while my father was sleeping I’d grab his train keys. My friends were like, ‘Hey, Mel’s got the keys!’ At 12, I was the coolest guy ever. I’d be in the last car on the subway on the way to school. I’d unlock the conductor cab door, look inside, and show it to my friends. Sometimes I’d press the button on the PA and announce, ‘Next stop, Coney Island!’ The passengers would be like, ‘What?! We’re nowhere near Coney Island!’ At 14 I took my father’s rule book to learn the signal system. I’d ride in the front car looking out the window. I knew when the train was going to turn left or right by the signals. I carried that book religiously until I ingrained every signal in my mind. I guess that’s when I said, ‘I really want to drive the train someday.’

I love being behind the controls of 400 tons of steel. You’re on the express track from 34th to West 4th flying through. You’re at the helm of an underground behemoth with all this power behind you barreling down, and the finale is stopping your train right at the end of the station. When you master that, it’s a real thrill. Sure, I had to work holidays and it took 19 years to get weekends off. I missed some of my kids’ games and recitals and I’m sorry for that. Now I’m eligible to retire, but I’m still married to the job. When I look back, I see that it gave me a lot of joy. I was never broke. I was able to take care of my family, travel, and have a place to live. It’s been a nice ride. Who knew 32 years would go by so quickly?”

Find Your Road is a NEW SERIES we’re excited to share with you, based on our upcoming book. The book is filled with stories and strategies on how to find work you love that pays the bills.

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You can find Mel on IG @MultiMediaMel