New York City Diary

Words and pictures from my interesting life in New York.

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Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Buggin' Out

Here's the tale of the latest New York subway freakout. I think I could make this a regular column.

I got out of work early today (at 4:45 p.m.) because there was nothing going on at the office (we're between issues). I caught a subway to 14th Street/Union Square, and went to make my normal transfer to the L train, which would take me home to Brooklyn.

The platform was flooded with people and I immediately discerned that the trains were messed up. Some people were giving up and leaving the platform, presumably to find alternate means of transport.

My transportation alternatives were pretty lame (I have some options but it's too much to get into here) so I decided to wait around a little while to see if the problem with the L might be rectified soon.

I walked to the end of the platform and stood under one of those huge fans connected to the ceiling (not quite ceiling fans in the traditional sense, more like industrial fans stuck on the ceiling) and pulled out the latest New Yorker.

For a while there there were no trains and the platform kept getting more and more crowded. People from every walk of life were forced to deal with a New York inevitability: the subway delay.

After about fifteen minutes, an Eighth Avenue-bound L train came through with no passengers. It didn't stop, it went on toward Eighth. Of course the majority of people were waiting for a Brooklyn-bound train. This was a Brooklyn crowd.

Finally an announcer got on the public address system and said that he's sorry for the delay and that in a few minutes a Brooklyn-bound train would be coming. He asked us to please, please allow the passengers to exit the train before attempting to board the train. He asked us to please wait for the next train if we couldn't fit on this one. He said there was a train directly behind it, and one behind that one as well, and so on.

Over the next 20 minutes two more Eighth Avenue-bound trains came through. Finally the first Brooklyn-bound subway train pulled slowly into the steaming hot station.

I was hanging back, away from the crowds that were standing right by the edge of the platform. The people were hot, restless, and frustrated. I would not want to be standing by the edge when the train pulls in, with people pushing and shoving behind me. I knew I wouldn't fit on that train, I wasn't even going to try.

I flipped through The New Yorker, realized that I had already read The Talk of the Town so I read some of the Seymour Hersh story "Get Out The Vote: Did Washington try to manipulate Iraq's election?"

The first train came in, already packed to the gills. A couple of people wormed their way off, and a mob tried to push their way in. Just watching from a distance I was glad I kept clear.

There were two black men in their early 20's hanging around near me. One was stocky and about 5'7" with a broken arm in a cast that went up to the middle of his bicep, and the other was thinner but about the same height. The thin one had a gold rope chain around his neck. They were both wearing loose tank tops over jeans or long shorts.

They had been talking loudly about how they were going to get on that f**king train but even they didn't get close to boarding the first one, or even the second.

By the third train I realized I'd probably catch the fifth (which I did), but these two characters were ready to get aggressive. They split up to try at different doors.

The heavyset, broken-armed guy basically went offensive-line straight into the train when the doors opened, muscling his way, probably leading with his arm cast into the scrum. The train was already packed, this was pure squeezing. It was too much, not civilized at all.

There was a white guy on the train who must have said something to the broken-armed linebacker. The white guy was about 5'10" and had glasses and long hair in a ponytail. He might have been in his mid-thirties and was wearing a white or light blue collared shirt. I couldn't hear what he said but the linebacker went ballistic in his response, shouting at him (from a distance of about 12 inches) "what the f**k?" this and "motherf**cker" that. He was loud and he was freaking out.

I could see from the platform that the collective vibe in that train car had just gotten concerned. Eventually the doors shut and the train left the station for Brooklyn. I hope that guy calmed down or somebody took care of him. It was too much.

Two trains later I was able to get aboard myself. I thought I was the last to get in but then a very tall woman squeezed in behind me just before the doors shut. It was crowded but more like a normal rush-hour crowd, not like a tin of sardines.

And I came home sweet home without incident, but I was wondering what can be done about people with such anger control problems. I know what it's like to just want to get home but you're stuck on a hot, muggy, crowded subway platform. It's uncomfortable, it's frustrating, it makes me mad too!

But you've got to control yourself, keep your cool. That's how it works around here. We all share the experience. We're all in the same boat, even if that boat is a subway car.

And as for the overly-aggressive linebacker? He's a loser, he's living a loser life, he's not happy, and he will be that way to the end of his days.

Before any of this had happened I had actually thought that this particular crowd was simmering, and that tempers might flare. I doubt that the linebacker was the only meltdown on that train. I'm so glad I let the first four trains go by.

And now I'm cooling out, relaxing in my lovely home. It took me almost 90 minutes to get home when it normally takes 25 minutes, but in the scheme of things, that's nothing at all.


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