Tag Archives: Notes from Underground

Note from Underground #10

I take for granted how relentless the New York City subway really is. A trip to Boston a few weeks ago reminded me that up there, the T stops running at about 1am, just in time for the widespread 2am bar closings. In France, strikes seem to be a monthly occurrence. New York is pretty good about its subways. Not so good that the price should continue to rise exponentially, but pretty good. Unless you’re going to or from Astoria, which is not so far-flung that service should be so terrible. But otherwise, pretty good.

So I understand when service on the weekends gets screwed up. When you’re hustling all manner of folk around one of the biggest cities in the world all week like a circulatory system, something’s gotta give and that’s often weekend service. Express trains become local, local trains stop running at certain stations, others are skipped in favor of shuttle buses. It’s an organizational nightmare or the wet dream of someone who’s not me — either way I’m happy not to have to worry too much about it.

But it’s always interesting to me showing up on trains different than the ones I usually take. It’s a Bizarro situation, like I’ve stepped into someone else’s routine, maybe unwelcomely. It’s a parallel universe, with a great number of people living their lives just outside your peripheral vision, with nothing necessarily separating all of you except your own habits.

Whenever a routine gets blown up, I pay a little more attention than I’m used to doing. The brain seems to seek both novelty and security, the new and the familiar. Awareness is the cost of efficiency. I looked around a bit more on that subway ride home than I usually did, which is not at all, except at my iPod, certainly not making eye contact with anyone. It started on the platform itself. I was standing more or less in place several feet from the edge for a few minutes before a couple of people showed up to my right. The A train arrived shortly thereafter and these folks committed what I consider no less than a crucifiable offense: As I stood pat, letting people already on the train get off, these two sneaked around to the side of the door and got on in front of me. It was lucky for me and luckier for them that there happened to be a seat for all of us.

Then, a woman got on rolling her bicycle alongside her. I’m never too keen on this juxtaposition. I’ve mellowed some in five years but here is my earlier take on THAT. It was nighttime, so I sort of understand, but to me it’s like driving a car until it runs out of gas, then having it and you towed back to your house. It works, but where’s the forethought? Where?

Finally, quickly, the third leg of the tripod: The homeless guy in the corner. Nothing against his being homeless, and even less against his passionate views on religion, it’s just hard to buy his metaphysical take on things when he’s also clearly peeing into a plastic garbage bag.

Three strikes, I’m out.