Many New York City dwellers will happily tout their knowledge of the City and how to get around it.
I am here to say many of those New Yorkers are liars.
Yes, they are the experts who know the optimal place to stand on the subway platform to be in the right car to be let off at the optimal stop at their destination. Key word “their”. It gets proven every time a wrench is thrown onto the their perfectly laid tracks throwing them off course. These are the New Yorkers who know how to get from Point A to Point B and that’s it.
Yesterday morning was prime example.
The train we’re on was being put out of service. The entire train. We are at a station that is not an exchange point. There is no other train coming on another track. Not something anyone wants to hear first thing in the morning. Especially those who, like me, have an hour or more commute one-way and we were barely fifteen minutes into it when it happens. Alas, we’re New Yorkers, we’re commuters such is life now and again.
Naturally, there are no announcements because usually such disruptions are minor, the conductor playing ‘better safe than sorry’ by putting a train out of service than risk something major. The train is put out of service, a few minutes later the train drives away and we wait for the next one. It’s fifteen minutes of griping commuters on average.
This was not an average day. It’s twenty minutes later of angry commuters playing ‘do I stay or do I go?’ as there are no announcements from the train crew or the station to help in the decision making. It all came to a head when NYPD, NYTPD, FDNY, and transit maintenance personnel with their equipment enter the station and the train. Aw hell, that’s a bit not good. NYPD, NYTPD and FDNY, respond to rule out there is no unexpected human element involved when a train is majorly delayed as such (aka no one died and/or a person needs to be removed – it happens). However, when you see the maintenance crew with their gear board the train, then you know the train you got kicked off from is not going anywhere anytime soon. This also means no other train on that track behind it is going anywhere anytime soon.
I build in extra minutes into my commute so I can get breakfast, get to my desk, eat and caffeinate before I officially start my work day. I look at my watch and know I am not getting to work on technically time, but I can still get to work at a reasonable time. I know where to go. Time to reroute myself and get going.
Finally there is an official announcement over the PA speakers telling everyone what some of us have already figured out: Get to the next express station, one stop away, where trains on the center track are bypassing all of this nonsense.
And THAT’S when the lamentations of those above mentioned experts begin.
“I don’t know what to do…” “Where to go?” “They ain’t telling us nothing!”
That was my cue to be quiet. I knew where I was, where I was going and several alternate ways of getting there. Mind my business and get myself going to my destination. Easy right?
Yeaaaah, about that…
An older woman looked to me. She’s one of the several commuters I see almost daily on my train. We know nothing of each other than the fact that we have shared the same train nearly every day for a couple of years now. She looks at me and I can see the barely contained anxiety about to explode as she asks “Do you know how to…”
Annnnnd fuck my life…
Because of course I know and I don’t want her to panic over something so simple as catching a bus to the next train stop and catch the train that is bypassing this stop from there. As I explain exactly what to do I see another woman nearby pretending she is not listening when she most certainly is and dammit I can feel the flashing MTA sign above my head beckoning all the lost souls turn on…
Sure enough, within the next few minutes….
- “Go downstairs wait for the Bx4 at the bottom of the stairs right here to the last stop at 3rd Avenue where you can catch the #2 or #5 downtown. Can you walk from here to there? Technically yes, but you don’t want to if you don’t know where you are going. And you clearly don’t.”
- “You guys follow me. You two follow him. You follow them.”
- “No. Don’t wait for the Bx19 cross town to get to the #1. Take the #2 to 72nd Street it’ll be faster.”
- “No, since we’re at 3rd Ave, take #5 to 59th for the N train. It’ll be faster than the #2 to 42nd Street.”
- “You’ve got a cane and limping, get off with me at 135th Street and wait for the #3. You’ll have a seat to your Chambers Street stop.”
- “If you move down two cars it will put you off right by the elevator at 42nd Street.”
I don’t understand how people have lived and commuted for decades, fucking decades, and still do not know how to get out of their own damned borough without a taxi at times like this. To be fair, I would have been in a cab on my way to work myself were the cost not prohibitive. Alas, I meander my way to the next station like the good employee I am and help a few others do the same. With various directions, words of encouragement, numerous iterations of “thank God I ran into you” and several effusive thanks later, my various temporary charges and I are all off on our respective, if not necessarily merry, little ways.
When the final transheep in my charge exited at Chambers Street, I throw my head back against the wall and let out the aggrieved sigh I have been holding back for nearly an hour. A fellow passenger on the train, not a part of the original mayhem, but has laid silent witness to my feats of transit shepherdess the past few stops of it, looked at me and grinned.
“Gee, I never knew St. Jude was a black woman because damn those were some truly lost causes.”
“Like you have NO idea.” I laugh with relief as my MTA signs turns itself off and I am on my own again for what’s left of my commute. And in spite all of that I was officially only twenty minutes late to work including getting a well-earned breakfast.
Slice of Life – Tuesday Writing Challenge – Two Writing Teachers
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I loved this! I have a friend who was born and raised in NYC. She can tell you every stop along the 1. BUT get on a different train and that’s it.
Ha! So many native New Yorker’s know their regular routes to travel and not a blessed thing else, it’s hilarious and a tad bit embarrassing. Thanks.
My aunt lived in Brooklyn for over 40 years. She apparently knew the system fairly well and could navigate in case of emergency which did happen on occasion when we visited. Of course, maybe it was just my young self being awed and overwhelmed by the whole subway system.
Many adults are awed and overwhelmed by the system, Arjeha. Understandably so. NYC may not be the oldest in the country but it remains the largest. With the sole exception of when it shut down at night for a year because of covid cleaning, it remains one of a very small handful of mass transit systems -in the world- that runs 24/7/365. It is a beast, that even with it hiccups runs fairly well.
This had me in stitches! I absolutely adore the voice in this piece which pulses with life and vitality and I just could not stop reading! Thank you for this slice of New York commuter culture.
Thanks Melanie, the voice in all its inherent snarcasm is mine. i’m glad you enjoyed.
St. Jude of the MTA, indeed. You had me smiling throughout this whole piece. I could picture you – the stress of timing logistics in getting to work, the dread with the change in plans, the teeth-gritted patience of a person who both wants to help but cannot even, the pent-up sigh, and at last…a moment of solidarity. Someone get you your sash and tiara, STAT.
“…who both wants to help but cannot even…” Oh Lanie, you nailed it! Now make that a sash, a tiara and a venti mochaccino and we have a deal. 👑 Thanks!
Oy. I was feeling for you through this slice, my friend! I tend to be a directions-giver, even when I’m in a hurry. I just hate seeing people lost and flustered if I can do something about it … well most people!