I won’t pretend that I’m the first person to write about New York’City Subway. I won’t even pretend that what I have to say is particularly enlightening, but I’m weirdly turned on by efficient public transportation systems. It makes me want to write like this:
There’s a roaring monster below New York City. It pitches and careens through caverns.
It wears its innards like a badge of honor. Exposed hoses, wires, pipes, nuts and bolts hang out for all to see.
In a world where every word out of our mouths is expected to be politically correct and each public utility must meet Americans with Disabilities Act specifications, the NYC Subway system thrusts its unmentionables in your face like a drunken exhibitionist.
The paint is chipped. The signs are outdated. The seats carry the same color scheme as they did when the cast of Seinfeld sat on them more than 20 years ago (when he sat across from an exhibitionist on his way to Coney Island).
It’s like an organism that evolved to its peak physical condition in the mid-1990s and decided it would just maintain at that level forever. Like older men who wear the clothes that were en vogue during their glory days for the rest of their lives.
“Yeah,” the Subway says, “I’ve seen the elevators and guardrails and waiver agreements of your generation, but I don’t care. I’m the NYC fucking Subway and I’m the greatest public transportation project that was ever conceived.”
Sure, there have been advances. There are mobile applications that help you time your trains and displays that count down the stops, but these amount, essentially, to handing a cell phone to Big Jake and asking him to call you from time to time to check in.
It’s easy to argue that the raw, antiquated innovation of the NYC Subway is what’s lacking from the world today, so I will. The closest that government comes to most citizens across the country today is when their house is broken into or burned, but in a handful of cities across the United States, the government allows us to descend into earth’s depths and subsidize each other’s travel.
Actually, maybe I just like the NYC subway system because the Ninja Turtles live beneath Manhattan…
I saw others quicken their pace ahead of me and knew somehow what I would see when I rounded the corner: doors closing warranting a decision concerning how important making this ferry was.
The man beside me made the decision for me as he took off in a dead sprint.
He had an athletic build and a bag much lighter than mine. As we stole off toward the doors I cursed myself for jamming a weekend’s worth of clothes and a six-pack of beer into my messenger bag.
The sliding door the man was dragging closed came from left to right, just like the airlock doors on Grievous’ ship in the opening scene of Revenge of the Sith. As my flip flops clack-clacked on the slick floor, I realized I was no longer gunning to reach the ferry foyer before the door closed. I was sprinting only to beat my running buddy. When I realized this, I eased my stride for just a moment, which he must have noticed as he raced out ahead of me. (Or I just got tired maybe.)
We both scraped through before the door closed. I looked back and saw the doorman hold the door for a couple. “Slackers,” I thought.
I stepped onto the first train I found.
The doors were wide open and I sat down to begin looking at my phone and pretend to be a cool New York commuter that knows exactly where he’s going.
Except that everyone who steps into my car doesn’t stay. They go through the doors into the next car, mumbling something about a “cool car,” (even the little kids) to the point that I wonder why I’m not considered “cool” enough for these people. I even wonder if for some reason this car isn’t attached to anything and that I’ll just be stuck on the track in Lower Manhattan forever.
The car pitches forward and I relax.
When I emerge from the depths, I call Time who asks me a silly question.
“Are you okay with vague, pirate directions?”
He directs me to walk toward the setting sun. Cross a bridge to where I see a carousel, but not to ride it.
It’s closed, so no worries there.
When I meet him we scurry off to a sports bar with a North Carolina theme to watch the State game. Well, it’s an N.C. bar if we eat off picnic tablecloths out of buckets and Mason jars. OK, it wasn’t so far off.
I heard echoes of “cool car” talk throughout my weekend and Tim finally explained that between having no air conditioning at home or at the school he teaches at, air conditioned Subway cars are immensely important.
By my trip back to Battery Park, I was feeling for A/C, as well.
It’s a brilliant opportunity to eavesdrop.
There are two men holding bags from IKEA with every imaginable kitchen houseware you cold imagine, a girl about my age and a mother with three sons.
One son is removed from the family, across on the other side of the train. I imagine he feels all grown up sitting beside himself.
He’s about 10, while his younger brother seems to be about seven. The youngest looks about two or three.
He’s talking about how he doesn’t like the fact that his family has moved. He had to leave his best friend of two years, whom he gave a Beyblade to, even though he only gave it to him because he didn’t want it anymore.
I get a knowing look from the woman, who is about 28. She hides her smile from everyone but me.
She’s wearing a zipped corset that resembles a breastplate out of a gladiator movie.
Now the 10-year-old is talking about a loose tooth and the conversation bubble has stretched to include everyone in our section of the car.
The IKEA roommates, the woman, the mom, the kids. We’re all listening and learning about Beyblade now.
We all laugh out loud with as the conversation drifts from Beyblades to Dragonball Z moves. The 10-year-old is simply quizzing his brothers on each characters special moves, but mom is answering them as well…
The woman leaves the train. It’s another example of unspoken conversations that go unresolved. I had dozens of them riding the Subway and grew a new appreciation of Craigslist’s missed connections.
The Dragonball Z conversation continues, however, and the boys begin acting out the moves a bit.
A couple has gained interest and laughs with me and the IKEAs, but my stop has arrived.
Eyes fixated on the boys, their two scooters, skateboard and pizza box, all successfully corralled by a loving mother, I slip out the back.
Now I’m the one that has left a conversation unresolved.