Posted tagged ‘New York City subway’

New York City – How Thoughtful

March 25, 2013


As many of you know, I am soon moving from New York City .  I have worried I will miss it.  Just yesterday, I was feeling especially forlorn, after dinner with a wonderful friend.

But, oh, what a thoughtful City she is.

I trudged down the steps of the subway station at 59th Street, Columbus Circle.

It is a cold, grey station;  last night, there were flaps of yellow tapes blocking off various lines–weekend construction.

The remaining lines all basically parallel each other.  Still, their platforms are at a criss-cross in that station.  If you are a train perfectionist–make that an impatient idiot–you stand at a stairwell in the vague middle of everything  so that when you hear a rumble, you can hightail it down (or up) to dash through some set of grey smeared doors just before they close.

This is a rather dangerous game: you may end up missing both the train you are running towards as well as the one you were originally waiting for.  Still, to a true New Yorker, anything is better than patience.  (In short,  I stood on the stairwell with several other toe-tappers.)

Then came the Number 1.  Fine.  As I dashed/slipped inside, I noticed (vaguely) the conductor making some convoluted announcement about how this train would only go as far as 14th Street–normally, it goes all the way to the bottom of the Island, where I live–and that we should change at 42nd.

The 1 is a local, meaning that the trip to 42nd was slow; stops every few blocks.   The conductor gabbled on about changing, and as we began to pull into 42nd Street, there was, amazingly, a 2 Express also pulling in across the platform.

Wow!   Most of the train stood up.  Most of the train, in fact, leaned towards the glass doors, ready to run.  (We know from experience that we’ll never make it anywhere if we just walk calmly. )

And then, although our train stopped for a palpable instant or more, it suddenly began to lurch again, to stumble further and further into the station.

Shit, the main next to me (pale, unshaven,) cursed.  The other train’s doors were open now.

As our train stopped (finally), sighed (leisurely),–the doors still not open–the doors of the train across slid closed.

The man was really cursing as our conductor began to  explain that this train/ our train would now be making express stops only to 14th Street, and that if anyone wanted any local stops, they should transfer to the 2  (the express) across the platform.  (Of course, the 2  across the platform had already closed its doors.)

At last, ours opened.  People projectiled out.

But it was too late.  (Yes, the 2 just sat there a minute more.  No, it did not open its doors.)

I for one went back to my seat.  If we were going express anyway, we could probably catch up with the 2, I thought.
Except that we sat there until a couple of other 2s went by.

Fine.  Except  when we got to 14th Street, I stepped out to a platform occupied by a sizeable rat. (My car had ended up next to the garbage.)

I jumped back into the train, nearly knocking into the couple behind.

“There’s a rat,” I said breathlessly, and then, with amazing presence of mind, “you go first.”

Thanks God, the Express (running now on the Local track) was also in the station.   The couple, determined, scurried around the rat pillars and into it, with me glomming just behind. .

As I sat down on the new train,I wanted to tell everyone around me about the rat, but they were all tuning out (into iPods or studied disinterest), so I made myself hold in all the excitement.   Only now through the end doors of the car, came a scrawny and somehow flattened middle=aged  woman in a short leopard coat over jeans that showed her to be so knock-kneed that her shins looked like the prongs of a dowser’s fork.

I winced before she even started singing.  She did not have a tuneful voice; the song, moreover, revolved around the line “they can’t take away my dignity.”   (I could not help thinking that she herself was giving that away with two hands.  I knew that was unkind and also dug into my purse for some money.)

And then, at last, my stop.  I stepped gingerly onto the platform that held no rat but a splat of fresh vomit.

New York.

I did not know whether to say please (as in stop) or thank you (for letting me go.)

“Improvements” On the MTA (From Lonely Elephant’s View)

January 14, 2011

I happened to be on a nearly deserted subway car the other day.   This is an increasingly unusual circumstance on the New York City subway system; even on weekends, trains are jammed, and weekday evenings–forget about it.   (Yes, I did try to write that with slang spelling, but it looked weird coming from my computer.)

One problem with a deserted car is that the debris really shows up.

Without other passengers, however, there is plenty space to look at the signs.  A new series posted by the MTA itself gave me a clue as to why the system is so decrepit.

There is, for example, the sign detailing a seemingly new repair policy: “If it’s broke, fix it!”

The sign explains:  “instead of waiting to fix everything in a station at once, we’re fixing critical parts as soon as they need fixing.”

Wow!  What a great idea.   Fixing critical parts!  Instead of waiting for complete break-down!

“Can our buses go faster?  You bet!”

(Then, um, why don’t they?)

Another:  “Improvements don’t just happen.”

I’m concerned that they reversed some words on that one.  How about “just” and “don’t”?

PS – the above illustration is more iPhone art, which allows for endless iterations.  There, the elephant’s in a hoodie.  Here’s two earlier versions – it’s a bit like playing with paper dolls.

NYC Sub(way) Sahara – Unlined Wool Pants

August 6, 2010

NYC Subway Platform Feeling Saharan

Subway platform today like a damp Sahara.  Made of concrete.

Which, I know, doesn’t sound Saharan at all.

But what I haven’t yet mentioned are the blasts of fevered air shooting through the tunnels as if from across miles and miles of sunbaked sand.

Those oven-y winds feel very Saharan.  As does the waiting.   For something, anything, to appear on the horizon.  A flash of light.  An oasis.  (An airconditioned car!)

Service cuts seem to be well in effect now  (My wait for the Number 4 or 5, probably the busiest line in Manhattan, was about 25 minutes this evening.)

Which brings me to unlined wool pants  I was thankfully NOT wearing those this evening, not even cropped ones, but I inadvertently ordered two pairs online.  (I intentionally ordered the pants; I didn’t expect them to be unlined.)  Wool pants which were on final sale, but still not THAT cheap.   I didn’t think to check the description because women’s wool pants are ALWAYS lined – especially from an upper end company.  (Hint, Michelle Obama wears their clothes.  Which makes me wonder–do they line the pairs sent out to her?)

How does this connect to Subway service cuts?  It’s one more sign, to me, of paying more – getting less, the persistence of hard times.

Yes, I know–unexpectedly unlined wool is the least of the problem. Especially if on the legs, rather than over the eyes.  Still, they are a symptom.  Like the nearly unbearable platforms that we wait upon, for a long long time.

Subway Blog – An Eye Out For Spiritual Texts on Train

July 9, 2010

Me , rather I, (in the seat there) on NYC Subway Car

On the subway this morning, I move quickly from the side of a guy reading the Bible, not so much because he is reading the Bible—well, a little because of that—but  mainly because I see an open solo seat further down the car.

I realize after I sit down, however, that I am now sitting directly opposite another guy who is swaying back and forth over a copy of the Torah (or at least some seemingly spiritual Hebrew text).  He moves his lips distinctly as he reads, and he reads very very fast.

I’ve already tried to be the Good Samaritan on the train this morning myself, holding the door open as long as I could for two elderly tourists who, having a hard time with their Metrocards, had just barreled through the barred iron gates onto the incredibly muggy platform as the train doors began to close.  But the train doors are programmed against Good Samaritanism and nearly took off my hand before the tourists could stumble in.

As a result, I feel like I’ve already brought too much attention to myself to move one more time.   Still, it’s a bit hard to focus with the Torah guy swaying and reading so—loudly is not the correct word–energetically.

His nose itches; he’s congested; it’s bothering him.  The hand motions dealing with his nostrils are out of sync with the rhythm of his sway, which goes on without interruption, as does his free hand, following of the characters of his text with a stiff, three-fingered point.

I don’t want to watch him so closely; I don’t want to know about his nasal issues.  To be fair, he’s dealing with them discretely enough (as discretely as a swaying, gesticulating, lip-moving, man can) but it is almost impossible not to be aware of him when he is shouting—okay, not shouting—gesticulating so much.

I make myself look up the car.  I see a guy, next to the guy with the Bible, looking at himself with a small hand mirror, and I began to really wonder about (a) the nature of this particular subway car and (b) narcissism when I realize that he truly holds a small rectangular magnifying glass which he is using to read a newspaper article about LeBron James.   (Okay, so just narcissism.)

But I find myself increasingly agitated by the Torah reader.  It has nothing to do with the Torah.  I realize, to my embarrassment, that if someone were reading the Koran opposite me with the same avidity, I would be considerably more concerned.

When the train pulls into the next station, the Torah reader bolts away, and I am amazed at my sudden relief.  How wonderful it is on a Friday morning to have the car taken over by silence, stillness, near emptiness.  I catch the eye of a woman on a far bench, who, for once, smiles back, and I feel so suddenly relaxed that I don’t realize, until the mechanized voice begins and those inexorable doors prepare to close once more, that this is my stop too.

I make the steaming platform just in time.

A long week.

Trying to Think About Pie and Not Faisal Shahzad, Though Perhaps Not Hard Enough

May 4, 2010

Smoking Pie

I wanted to write about pie today—the fact that my mother (now nearly 87) sprinkles sugar on top of the slice she will serve herself, while, if I eat a slice of pie at all, I spoon on plain, unsweetened yogurt; while my daughters will take the time to whip up heavy cream.   All evening, I’ve been wondering, in snatches, whether this is the natural progression of life.

But I live in New York City, and even though I really would rather think about pie toppings, I find my mind taken up by the 53 hour saga that began with the smoking car in Times’ Square, and has led to the arrest of Faisal Shazad, the alleged car owner and bombsetter.

I have to start by saying (and I’m mainly addressing this to you, Mom, if you ever happen to read this blog) that the attempted car bomb has had virtually no effect on my particular New York life.

It seems actually not to have affected many New Yorkers very much.  I noticed the absolute ordinariness of my evening rush hour train:  in the bank of seats I leaned over, the three people front and center of me either had eyes shut below furrowed brows, or eyes shut below a hand shielding said eyes (from the delightful train lighting or, perhaps, my stare).  The next guy was playing solitaire on a electronic game player; the next two were smiling and talking with great animation.

New Yorkers’ natural tendency to put their personal fatigue, or personal conversations, over hyper-vigilence has probably been accentuated by the fact that the Times’ Square bomb does not appear to have been a really well-constructed device.  A sense of security has also been created by the fact that the authorities, amazingly, have already taken the guy into custody.  (Even though it seems that they almost lost him as he boarded a plane to Dubai.)

I congratulate the New York City police force, the New York City bomb squad, the Times Square vendors (!), the FBI, the TSA, Homeland Security, all those authorities who coordinated efforts so quickly.

Still, one very frightening question comes to mind–what would have happened if the bomber had stayed inside the car?   Had, in other words, been a suicide bomber?  Committed enough to his mission (due to political or religious zealotry, bitterness, brainwashing, craziness, drugs, duress, whatever,) to physically see it through?   Would a smoking car with a driver have seemed that extraordinary?   Would vendors have been as likely to question it, even if it did seem strange?

Hollywood tends to depict New Yorkers as “in your face”, but, in fact, New Yorkers are pretty good are minding their own business, the art of non-confrontation rather important when you are all squished together.

So what would have happened?  I, for one, would rather think about pie, but there’s smoke in the background.

16th Day of National Poetry Month – Vacationing Away From New York Limericks

April 16, 2010

New Yorker In a Car (Outside of New York)

Unfortunately, this 16th day of National Poetry Month was so busy I had little time to focus on much poetic.  A good day, in short, for draft limericks!

I’m sorry to say that the limericks I did  (which connect as one longer poem draft) have a fairly limited subject matter;  they describe that feeling of “going to seed” which may descend on vacation, particularly a family vacation, in which normal exercise and eating routines are put to the side; this feeling may be particularly pronounced in the case of the peripatetic New Yorker.

The limerick form is five lines, with a rhyme scheme that is typically: A, A, b, b, A; with the first, second and fifth rhyming lines longer than the truncated couplet of the third and fourth lines.

Traveling New Yorker

There was an old gal from New York
who watched what she put on her fork;
still, outside the confines
of the Four and Five lines,
she felt herself turning to pork.

The thing is that life in the City
made her walk through the nit and the gritty,
while, whenever afar,
she traveled by car,
quite bad for the hips, more’s the pity.

So she worried, this gal from Manhattan,
as she felt herself fatten and fatten–
too many fast treats–
too many cheap eats–
and just about all came au gratin.

Oh, for her home—twenty blocks to a mile;
twenty steps too, till the average turnstile.
Sure, there was soot,
but she’d breathe it on foot.
Once back, she’d stay put for a while.

Subway Blog – St. Patrick’s Day/Ground Zero

March 17, 2010

Tassled Boot

St. Patrick’s Day.  Spring.  (Crocuses in the small park in front of my Battery Park City building.)

I work at home in the morning, so miss the main parade rush (usually bright green with hats), and go into the office late.   A small group of teenage girls stand beside me  on the platform with tight jeans tucked into knee-high boots, slightly wavy hair swooping across broad foreheads. Vague green (a dark shade on a shirt, or just eye shadow on a lid) is worn by the ones who look Irish, a brighter viridian on the girl who looks Italian.  “Like” is said frequently, and large slouchy purses are held protectively.

Their smiles slacken in the subway car as they become quickly aware that all seats are taken, mainly by very large men who are not giving them up.  They are not small girls, and there is only one small channel of grey plastic bench, which, after a minute or so (and a nod from one of the men),  I nab.

It’s amazing to me how men can take up so much space on the subway.  Even men who are not particularly large take up huge spans, their legs spread wide as a matter of course.  They never ever cross these legs, or even press them together.  (It may be a physical thing, but I always think it’s ego, ego stretching wide.)

The girls congregate by one of the poles, looking young, pale, and a bit subdued, under the fluorescents.   I want to shout out “Robert Pattinson”, to see if that would perk them up again.  But there is something about the way they hold their large purses which makes me think that they probably wouldn’t react (except to think I was nuts.  Hmmm….)

A friend at my office, male, who is completely immune to, and somewhat obtuse about, Pattinson’s charms assures me that the poor showing of Pattinson’s new film Remember Me is a sign that (i) Rob doesn’t really have it; and (ii) that the celebrity fixation of our culture is exaggerated.  (“People may look at little blogs about Pattinson,” he says contemptuously, “but they won’t shell out ten bucks.)

$12.75 in Manhattan.

Maybe he’s right.  I still think that the emphasis on 9/11 may have something to do with the poor showing of Remember Me. I walked by Ground Zero on the way to the subway today, before encountering the Irish/Italian girls on the subway.  I walk by Ground Zero every day, but today for the first time (perhaps because of the suddenly blue sky),  I realized that the site has turned into “Above Ground Zero”, or really “Above-Ground-By-A-Couple-Of-Stories-Zero.”

Big rust-colored girders are now extending into the air.  I know enough to recognize that the girders do not stand on the “footprint” of the old towers, but they are close enough.

My heart caught in my throat, my breath in my chest.  I was amazed, and embarrassed, that the sight of the girders almost brought on an asthma attack.  (I’m not someone who commonly has asthma attacks, but I was genuinely panting.)

I called my husband as I crossed Church Street.  He said something about pollen in the air.

“It’s not pollen; it started right here,” I insisted.

I told him finally the terrible feelings came because I didn’t like to feel like a target.  (As a non-New York City person, he doesn’t fully understand.)  I didn’t talk about the sadness that encompassed me.

But all of that was before the subway, before the Irish-looking, wavy-haired girls, and their Italian looking friend, before the possibly pregnant Hispanic woman just across from me on the train, who crooks her arm in her man’s arm, whose sweet smile is punctuated by braces and quick laughs.

Before too, the little girls on the platform as I get out, who wear green shamrock vests, and black and white polka-dotted dirndls, and white much-tassled cowboy boots.  They hold hands as they wait, behind their parents, for the next train, one of them tap dancing.

Buddhist Talks, Vampire Books, The IRT

February 23, 2010

Possibly Vampire Elephant Meditating on IRT

Litstening in the mornings lately to Buddhist meditation talks instead of vampire books on tape.  Although the vampire books are a great diversion when you feel down, I keep thinking that the Buddhist talks must provide a better path to long-term contentment.  (Vampires are typically not big on enlightenment.)

Today, my tape focused on Buddha’s list of ten “unwholesome” actions, which, in a peanutshell, are (i) killing, (ii) stealing, (iii) sexual misconduct, (iv) lying, (v) slander (gossip), (vi) harsh speech, (vii) useless speech, (viii) covetousness or greed, (ix) anger, (x) delusion.

These seem to me both remarkably like, and unlike, the Bible’s Ten Commandments; like, in that they proscribe killing, stealing, lying and coveting; unlike, in that they do not emphasize particular deference to authority.   There are no specific rules about God, no prohibition against idolatry, no special honors reserved for parents.  (Though, presumably, if one avoids harsh, useless, or angry speech, one will also be nice to one’s parents.)   The “not killing” is not even limited to human beings.

This lack of emphasis on a personal authority also shows up in their characterization as  ten “unwholesome actions”  rather than “commandments.”

I realize, as I sit on the IRT, that this is one reason that I kind of like Buddhism, at least my Western dabbler’s form of Buddhism.

It’s not that I resent authority.  (And, btw, Karma is certainly its own kind of authoritative force.)

But there’s something appealing to the (self-centered) babyboomer mind about having no-no’s called “unwholesome” rather than “sins.”

The list of “unwholesome actions” warns against certain conduct not so much because it is offensive to a higher power (remember, there is Karma), but because it is harmful; unwholesome conduct keeps you from being your whole self, and from connecting to the larger self, which, in Buddhism, is the greater world, all beings, loving kindness.  Unwholesome actions will, in other words, inevitably make both you and the world unhappy.

It’s such an interesting juxtaposition to me, sitting here on one of those small bottle blue seats of the subway:  being whole vs. being holy.  Maybe a better way to put it is being whole in order to be holy.    Being whole so as not to be “hole-y” (as in having great big cigarette burns all over the soul/self/spirit).

But even as I write that (we are whizzing through the tunnel), I worry that everything I am thinking smacks of semantics, philosophy too (which I’ve never much liked)  It also sounds pretty PC.   Shallowly exotic.  (After years of doing yoga around many Westerners who eagerly adopted bindis, Indian dress, and Sanskrit chanting, I know that there is a great attraction in the exotic.)

And then I look up from my notebook, returning suddenly to the here and now.  (This is another thing Buddhism urges.)  There is a sign across from me which reads “This Poster Can Make You Happier Than Any Other On The Subway”.   Below that statement is a lot of small print in two columns; a woman stands between them, facing away, her ponytail down the center of her back.  It advertises “The School of Practical Philosophy.”

The next sign over reads “Single Incision Weight Loss Surgery,” and the next “Bed Bugs Are Back.”

So, the Practical Philosophy sign may be right, I think (despite my personal dislike for philosophy.)

Except that then I notice two signs just below the philosophical one.  They are mounted on the top half and lower half of the subway door.  “Do Not Hold Door.”  “Do Not Lean On Door.”   A whole bunch of metaphors jump to mind—doors, gateways, doctrine (as in over-dependence upon), personal experience (as in examining, learning from),  non-clinging, openness….

Like a typical New Yorker, I think: whatever works for you.  (Even, sometimes, maybe,vampire books.)

Fear and Loathing on the Number 4 (The NYC Subway Not Much Of A Tea Party)

February 17, 2010

Boy on Number 4 Train

“The people here are f—ing animals,” said the slightly hard-faced young woman to her ten or eleven year old son as they scooted onto my express.

The train was full, but not jammed; there was space not only to breathe, but even to move around a bit.  The boy, wide-eyed and buzz-cut (his mom was holding his Yankees cap), stepped towards one of the center poles, reaching in between passengers, to hold on—his mom quickly pulled him back towards the door.

“These people push you,” she said, draping an arm around him, “I’ll push them back.”

At their side, I kept thinking how unfair this was.   Saying that people push on the train is a bit like saying that a bunch of clementines slung into a bag, clothes crushed into a hamper, or lemmings urged into the sea, push. Okay, maybe we and the lemmings do.  Some.  Still, in my experience, most New York City subway riders, especially the ones whose faces are almost grazed by my forearm as I reach for something to hold onto are pretty forbearing.  (A very different f-word.)

I’m kind of a busybody, I guess, in the sense that I pay attention to strangers.  (As noted in my previous posts, I believe in a “ripple effect” of trying to be peaceful, pleasant, on the subway.)  So now I tried to smile discreetly at the boy to reassure him that he wasn’t really surrounded by f—ing animals.

But it was hard to smile at the boy.  First, because I was afraid his mom would slug me;  secondly, because I was worrying about the fact that his mother had thrust him into a spot (by the door) where there was nothing at all to hang onto.   (I envisaged lurches, collisions, a huge altercation.)

But as the train pushed from the station, the mom grabbed him again, folding her arm around his neck.

After a minute or so, as the ride stabilized, she loosened her grip, and the boy turned himself around so that he faced the door itself and leaned right into it.   This worried me even more.  GERMS.   (I’m a mother too.)

Then I realized that he was (probably) not pressing his mouth into the rubberized seam of the door, but into the collar of his jacket. And then, that the little boy was gently but firmly hitting his buzz-cut head against the door itself.  Again and again and again.

He did not look autistic.  (Who knows?)   But he did not look like he had any “organic” type of problem that might lead to headbanging.   He just looked, well, down, as he softly banged his head.

The mother gently put her hand on the back of his head to try to stop him.  When that didn’t work, she put her hand on his forehead to shield the place that was banging.  That didn’t stop him either.

Finally, we got to Union Square where she put her arm around his neck again and told him they had to get out—

“This our stop?”

“No, to let the people get off.”

As they stepped back into the train, there was one emptied seat left, which I pointed out quickly to the woman.  I felt a little guilty as there was a little old lady right behind them, but the old lady probably wouldn’t have swooped down on the seat in time in any case, and the boy, with his mom pushing him, was a pretty good swooper.

The mother nodded at me once her son was situated,  half-smiling for just a moment.  Then she leaned heavily against the center pole, her face tired, stressed.

The incident somehow made me think of the Tea Partyers again.  I don’t think I quite said what I wanted to yesterday in my post about sneering.  And I don’t mean to imply that the woman on the train was a Tea Partyer.  Only that she seemed frustrated and fearful, and I’m guessing (with really no clear evidence) that she doesn’t much like or trust government, and probably not Obama.

A big part of me wanted to say to her:  ‘Hey!  Don’t spout the f-word to your kid.  Don’t teach pushing on the train!  Enough with automatic retribution!’

But I was able to stop myself.  Besides the fact that she really might have hit me, that kind of speech would simply not have been very useful.  As it was, I was lucky enough to be able to help her get a seat for a tired boy.  And to get a smile from her.  And for both of us to feel that strangers in our society could, in fact, have a kind of connection.

I don’t mean to pat myself on the back here.   Just to say that it felt good.

The Holiday Spirit – Politeness Rules! (Hmmm….)

December 16, 2009

A snarled shout at the door of the subway train from a person keen on politeness–“Say ‘excuse me,’ God damn it!”