Now Playing: Downtown Soulsville with Mr. Fine Wine (wfmu.org)
?the window doesn?t open and the fan is broke and my face is turning blue
I haven?t been in a crowd like this since I went to see The Who
Well, I shoulda got off a coupla miles ago, but I couldn?t get to the door
There isn?t any room for me to breathe and now we?re gonna pick up more??
?Another One Rides The Bus,? ?Weird Al? Yankovic.
Brother Al?s parody of a popular song by the group Queen was all about a cramped bus ride, but those four bars above easily describe what many New Yorkers deal with on the subway. I subject myself to the morning madness five days a week like many others. I take a bus to the subway, then take that the rest of the way to work. Some might say, why not a faster route, like Metro-North? Real simple: ECONOMICS. It all comes down to the dollars, and they?re in short supply these days.
It costs me $70 for a 30-day unlimited MetroCard. That?s exactly what I used to pay for a monthly Metro-North off-peak ticket when I worked in Greenwich, CT. Since I was traveling in the other direction, I didn?t have to pay peak hour prices. I?m currently earning half of what I used to make at my last job. Consider the fact that Metro-North?s rates went up last year and it shouldn?t take you very long to dig the logic. Peak hour prices were astronomical before ? now they?re just insane. It shouldn?t cost someone $5.50 to travel for 30 minutes on a Metro-North train during off-peak hours. That?s the cost of a one-way trip from the Mount Vernon East station to Grand Central Terminal. A.M. and P.M. peak time ? you?re looking at $7.25 one-way.
My wife was paying at least $126 a month for a peak-hour ticket from Pelham to NYC. That price has gone up about 30 bones. Think about the heads that are traveling from places like Poughkeepsie or Brewster North. Think about the money the MTA?s making off of the State of Connecticut alone. Their prices skyrocketed last year. Everybody?s getting taken for a ride, but the ride that they paid for is lessening in quality by the day. Check this out: there are about 800 cars in Metro-North?s fleet. About 300 of them bad boys are being repaired. Less cars mean mad crowded trains. The brutal weather we?ve had this winter has taken its toll on a lot of those cars. And for some reason, the New Haven Line (which serves Connecticut) always gets the short end of the stick. I used to ride it daily, so I know from experience. Imagine how heated you?d be if you were paying $200, $250, $300 a month to ride a train that?s constantly late and when it does come, your ass can?t get a seat. I?d be heated, too.
You know what I just thought about? Sesame Street. They had this skit on the show called ?Subway? well over 15 years ago. They recreated a subway car and various muppets were riding the train singing about the subway. I only remember a few of the lyrics: ?If you?re in a hurry, take the express / It will go right by your local address.? But the line that sticks out the most in my mind is ?You could lose your purse (or you might lose something worse) on the subway.? The idea that they would be that honest and real with children still boggles my mind. You?d never know that judging from today?s Elmo?s World bits, but anyway?
The subway contains its own set of misadventures. Depending upon when I get out of the house, my ride is relatively headache-free (especially considering I?m likely to sleep most of the way through it). But sometimes I have to take the 8A.M. train, and if that happens, I know what I?m in for - a conductor who loves to hear themselves talk. Every ride with him starts off like this:
?The time is (enter time here) and thank you for riding the MTA New York City Transit. Have yourself a magnificent, safe, and a glorious day. Please enjoy it?and be careful.?
Now, there?s nothing wrong with those sentiments in and of themselves. In fact, it?s rather nice when you hear it after a stressful morning. Most subway train conductors aren?t that considerate. And supposedly, this brother was on a train near the World Trade Center during the 9/11 attacks. Once you know that, his words carry even more weight than before.
If you hear it seven times in one 45-minute trip, it gets monotonous. Multiply that by five days a week and you?re ready to strangle this cat. Plus, right before the conductor says something, you hear a little bell sound. Imagine how many times I have to hear that damn bell during the work week if I don?t catch a train before 8A.M. And on that train, when I hear the bell, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. The best is what he almost always says right before we pull into the 42nd Street-Grand Central Terminal stop:
?To all passengers exiting at 42nd Street: do not slow?the FLOW. Please use all available doors to exit this train. Help. One. Another.?
EVERY. FREAKING. WORKDAY. I will admit that his heart?s in the right place. I?m just warning you in advance: don?t be surprised if you pick up the newspaper one day and a headline reads, ?Crazed Black Man Gags Conductor on Subway Train.? Still, Mr. Magnificent-Safe-and-a-Glorious-Day pales in comparison to what I?ve had to deal with lately.
About a month ago, my wife and I were making the routine trek into the city when the train stops somewhere around 77th Street. An announcement is made that someone in a train at the 59th Street station got sick. EMS has to go and do their thing before our train can move. Mind you, we?re underground, so it?s not like we can just get off the train. I have more sympathy for the claustrophobic than ever before. Not a good scenario for asthmatics, either. Anyway, just as the incident at the 59th Street station is taken care of, another announcement is made. Someone in a train ahead of ours got sick. The next thing we know, our train?s heading back uptown to the 86th Street station. We?re told to get out there and walk upstairs to catch a local downtown train. Since it makes all stops, it was all kinds of crowded by the time it got to us and we piled on. In cases such as those, the concept of personal space becomes nonexistent. Those that choose the lifestyle of the malodorous give themselves away almost immediately. There is no other adventure for the nose quite like the subway. It would stand to reason that Tuscan Sam (the Froot Loops cereal mascot) would either be beside himself or dead from asphyxiation.
Then there?s my subway story from last week. My Monday morning was already off to a bad start. Somewhere between waking up and having my breakfast, I slept for almost two hours. I?ve rewound the video tape in my head about a dozen times and I still can?t figure out how this happened. All I remember is listening to *1010 Wins* and hearing the announcer say:
?WINS news time: 7:41.?
Seeing as how I usually leave the house by 7:15 at the latest, this was a problem. I?m sitting on the bed with a half-eaten bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats, still in my pajamas, wondering how time managed to escape from me. So I race through the hygiene ritual, throw on some clothes, and my wife drives me to the subway. I hop on the number five and I?m on my way, but my troubles have just begun. At the 149th Street-Grand Concouse stop, an announcement is made that the train is being rerouted. This would take me out of my way, so I run upstairs to catch the number four. After sitting in that train for about five minutes with no movement, they make an announcement that the train isn?t going anywhere due to debris on the tracks and to take the rerouted trains anyway.
At this point, I?m rather annoyed, but nothing compared to other riders who were straight up cursing conductors out. Soon, I?m surrounded by a mass of people all trying to board the next train heading downtown. It was literally hundreds of people all moving in this aggravated swarm down flights of stairs. I couldn?t get anywhere, so I just got out of the way and waited for things to blow over. After about five minutes of this, a brother in a denim outfit who had been communicating with others by C.B. radio says?
?Go back upstairs. Everything?s back to normal.?
If you?ve ever seen Do The Right Thing, one of the most memorable parts is when Buggin? Out confronts this white guy living in the neighborhood for stepping on his sneakers. Buggin? asks him, ?Why don?t you move back to Massachusetts?? The man (rocking a Celtics basketball jersey) replies, ?I was born in Brooklyn.? The crowd alongside Buggin? lets out an exasperated, ?AWWWWWW!!!? That?s exactly what the straphanger multitude did. As irritating as the whole incident was, that made for an amusing moment.
There?s a woman working in the school district of Kenosha, WI named Mary, and I hope the Lord God blesses her real good. Shortly after I got to work, her call was the first I received. She sounded like she was having a day similar to mine. We commiserated and shared a laugh. That was all I needed for my day to realign itself. So Mary, thank you. And I hope it?s all good today.