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Thursday, 9 September 2004
the rain on urban terrains can really screw up the trains...
Now Playing: Bryan Ferry - Mamouna [Virgin]
Topic: transportation

I?m sure that there were those of us who live and/or work in New York City dreading a repeat of yesterday?s commuting events. Although there was rain off and on this morning, it was smooth sailing on the subway. Yesterday was a whole other animal.

A random straphanger on the subway hit it right on the nose: ?The MTA is clueless on a normal day. When things go wrong, it?s just chaos.? I couldn?t agree more. Sometimes I think that Mother Nature throws the weather pattern into a tizzy just to watch the MTA cause more confusion than it solves. Their current slogan is ?Going your way.? I would like to propose an addendum to that:

?The MTA: Going your way?until some sort of natural disaster happens. Then we pretty much make things up as we go along.?

It was raining pretty hard when I stepped out of the door yesterday. I was determined not to let things get me down: not the weather, not the job, not anything. So the meditation started the moment I walked outside and put up my umbrella. Of course, the umbrella didn?t do a bit of good as the rain was coming down at an angle. The bottom of my pants were soaked?almost up to the crooks of my knees. I?m standing at the bus stop with another brother whose umbrella is twice as big as mine, his pants soaked also. And we?re looking at each other as if to say, ?Why are we even using these things? It?s pointless.?

Bus picks us up and we?re whisked to the subway station. I think I boarded the train around 7:45 A.M. Usually, this is a 45-minute trip at the most. I didn?t get to work yesterday until 10:15 A.M. Six stops into my trip, the train sat for what seemed like 20 minutes due to a sick passenger. Once we went underground, things got worse. My train emptied everyone out at the 149th Street-Grand Concourse stop. Flooding problems had killed West Side service. Nothing was running: no 1, 2, 3, or 9. I think the A, C, and E were affected also. So everything was running on the East Side, which meant crossed signals, misinformation, and maddening delays.

The next express train I boarded turned into a local around 125th Street. I don?t think I need to tell you how crowded that train was. I remained surprisingly calm throughout all of this, just closed my eyes and meditated. People around me cracked a few jokes and shared stories about their traveling mishaps. One man commented that he never took a local train before today. ?I didn?t even think the trains stopped at 77th Street,? he said.

On the plus side, I was almost dry by the time I got to the office. I wasn?t the only co-worker with a horror story about the subway, so when I finally arrived, it wasn?t news to anyone what had happened to me. Thankfully, yesterday was our breakfast day at work ? folks bring bagels in and all that. Along with the bagels was a cookie platter with plenty of oatmeal raisin still left. So I happily munched on some cookies, checked my messages, fired up the computer, and listened to WFMU?s Listener Hour. The show from last Saturday was hosted by Otis Fodder. An interesting character, he hosts a website that?s sort of a portal to incredibly strange music and a showcase for his various projects. His hour-long show was dedicated to the music of high school bands. You haven?t lived until you?ve heard a high school band perform Rod Stewart?s ?Do You Think I?m Sexy??

Posted by macedonia at 12:21 PM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 9 September 2004 12:25 PM EDT
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Monday, 28 June 2004
the possibility of an iron worm beatdown
Now Playing: Various Artists - Body and Soul Vol. One
Topic: transportation

For those of you that may still need evidence that common sense has been outlawed by present-day society at large, check this out?

Last Monday, my wife parks the car across from the Pelham Parkway subway station and we make a mad dash for the number five train. Within one stop of our travels, we hear this commotion in our subway car. A man starts yelling at a somewhat malodorous individual to go back into the car from whence he came. Almost immediately after, this loud individual presses the emergency call button and says?

?Conductor, there?s a bum on the train that?s stinkin? up the whole car. Get him off.?

At this point, we?re on our way towards the East 180th Street stop. About a minute later, he presses the call button again. ?Are you gonna get him off?? Then he tries to get confirmation from the people around him. ?Nobody wants to smell that s**t. Am I right??

With all the attention he was paying to the bad odor (which, in the grand scheme of things, was a walking, breathing personification of hard times, mind you), he was completely oblivious to the air of aggravation growing around him. You could feel it rising to the surface. The only thing that the rest of us wanted was to get to wherever we had to go on time. And the self-appointed Smelly Bum Patrol was seriously getting in the way of that. Keep reminding yourself that he used the emergency call button for this situation - not because someone was having a heart attack, not because someone fainted, but because someone smelled bad. While it may not be pleasant to be around, smelling bad still isn?t a federal offense. Unfortunately, neither is being rude or stupid.

So we pull into East 180th Street and sit there. Big Brother Buminator hops onto the subway platform and finds the nearest police officer. ?Yeah, he?s over in the next car. Yeah, that car over there. He?s stinkin? up the whole train.? At this point, the natives are beyond restless and muttering obscenities to themselves as the conductor comes over the loudspeakers.

?Attention passengers: we are experiencing delays at this time. We should be moving shortly. We thank you for your patience.?

He would repeat this twice over the next ten minutes. To make matters worse, we see another number five train pull up. We watch people depart and board the train. And we watch this train that was once behind us pull out of the station. Now here comes the icing on the cake: do you think the man who caused all this ruckus actually stuck around when that other train pulled up?

That?s right, boys and girls: he held up our train, he boarded another one, and left the rest of us behind. And I?m sure when Tuesday morning came along, we were all secretly hoping that we?d see him. I haven?t seen him since, actually. I?m starting to wonder if he takes an earlier train most of the time or if the wrath of last Monday caught up with him and I just don?t know about it. Honestly, I hope the latter isn?t true. Although he was pushy and careless, it?s not within my rights to bring down that kind of judgment. On the off-hand chance that somebody made sure that he would catch a bad one, I?m not saying they should?ve killed him?

But I understand.

Posted by macedonia at 4:36 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 6 April 2004
more subway stories...
Now Playing: Sinner's Crossroads w/Kevin Nutt (wfmu.org)
Topic: transportation

I?m sure that there are more than a billion subway stories underground. Here are a few quick ones of my own.

One. Sunshine on my face.

It?s one of the only things that makes the train ride bearable. If it?s a really sunny day, I sit facing the sun. It?s usually shining right on my face when I board the train. I close my eyes and absorb as much of it as I can before the train goes underground. I like to think that God is smiling on me when that happens. And I need as much of that as I can get during the work week.

Two. MTA?s got jokes.

Sometimes I think that the train conductors do things just to mess with people and at other times I just KNOW it. I?m in the Union Square station waiting on an uptown number five when a four pulls in. People board only to hear that there are heavy delays on the express line and to take the local across the track. Damn near the whole entire train empties out and crosses over to the local?except for a few wise souls who either chose to stick it out on the number four or already knew that somebody would change their mind.

Not even two minutes later, an announcement is made from the number four that the delays have cleared and the train will soon depart. Everybody hops out of the local and makes a mad dash across the track. And somewhere within that number four train, a conductor was laughing to themselves, saying, ?Dance, puppets, DANCE??

Three. Def Comedy Tram.

I tried to stay in a foul mood on the way uptown, but this cat asking for change on the train wouldn?t let me. He cracked every last one of us up, shootin? off one-liners and telling jokes along the ride.

?I told my friend I just came back from the Island. He asked me if I had a good time. I said, ?Hell no, I didn?t have a good time.? He said, ?Really? With all those beautiful bikini-clad women on the beach?? I said, ?There ain?t no beach or any women on the island I was at!? He said, ?What island did you go to?? I said, ?RIKERS ISLAND???

About half the subway car burst into laughter. God bless that brother. He wasn?t trying to hurt nobody, wasn?t being rude or anything like that. All he wanted was to put a smile on people?s faces and get some pocket change in return. Brother man got my dollars; he deserved them. Right before he left the car, he wished us all a good night and gave his final punch line?the one that I will always remember him for:

?If anybody needs a job, I want you all to know that I?m hiring. I need somebody to work the number two train!?

Posted by macedonia at 5:53 PM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 6 April 2004 5:55 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 17 February 2004
any other way but the MTA
Now Playing: Downtown Soulsville with Mr. Fine Wine (wfmu.org)
Topic: transportation

?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.

HOWEVER?

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.

Posted by macedonia at 12:35 PM EST
Updated: Tuesday, 6 April 2004 5:56 PM EDT
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