Tuesday, November 04, 2003

tales from the underground

I'm riding the uptown 1 train as I write this, having missed the preceding train by just a few seconds. Is there any more bitter commuting experience than fumbling for you Metrocard as you watch the train doors ding-dong closed? (Well, except for being trapped underground in a stalled train for an hour because threre was a deranged man on the tracks, which happened to me a month ago.) The only feeling that makes up for just missing a train is catching one just as it's about to leave the station. The doors close just behind you, just narrowly clearing the back of your backpack, and you have to resist the temptation to throw your arms over your head, gymnast style. Yes! She nailed it!

I've been commuting by subway since I was twelve years old. My elementary school was within walking distance from our home, but when I started high school, I had to deal with public transportation just like everyone else. There were schoolbusses of a sort (we called them "the vans" because that's what they were, really) but those were more for toting back and forth the younger students who lived deep in the outer buroughs, like Richmond Hill in Queens, or (gasp) Staten Island. People were kind of embarassed to take the vans, and would pretty much stop as soon as their parent allowed them to take public transportation. No one wanted to ride "the short bus."

My parents made me take the bus uptown in 7th grade, but allowed me to switch to the subway the following year. I guess they thought the bus was safer or something. It probably is. You don't hear about too many people getting pushed under a bus. And I have yet to read a news story about young hooligans setting a homeless man on fire in a bus stop--though, if you're already willing to set someone on fire, why let geography stop you?

By 8th grade, I guess I was deemed mature enough to handle subterranean transport on my own, so I was able to take the uptown 6 to school every day. My parents only stipulations were that I always stand with my back against the wall as I waited for the train (again the everpresent fear of being pushed into the tracks--imagine their horror if they saw me standing at the edge of the platform, peering down into the tunnel, along with all the other commuters), and that I never, ever, under any circumstances, leave the borough. Yes, those outer boroughs are strange and scary places to Manhattan parents. Queens? Brooklyn? THE BRONX? Why not just pump me full of bullets now and get it over with?

(*Note* Views of aforementioned parents are not necessarily the views of The Underwear Drawer or its subsidiaries.)

I have an undisguised love for the subway. Probably since I can't drive and have no better way to get around anywhere quickly, but I think there's more to it than that. I love subway culture. I love knowing the schedules, the lines, the best places to transfer. I love that I remember the Metrocard when it was blue, and when people used to be suspicous that it was a government plot to track our travel patterns. I love that you can sleep on the subway, read on the subway, occasionally hear mariachi music on the subway. I love that everyone knows the same few panhandlers on each line. I love the incomprehensible PA system announcements, except, of course, when I actually want to hear what it is that they're saying. "What? What did she say? We're skipping which stops? Going express after when? God dammit." I love the 40 minutes it gives me every morning and every evening to sit down, chill out, and read my book. I love how the subway in movies looks nothing like the real subway.

Most of all, I love how the subway gives me the best excuse of all for never, ever learning how to drive.

Stand clear of the closing doors.

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