Thursday, November 08, 2007

Subway musings

Now, I know I have said I will miss the subway. The truth is, I don't take the subway very much. I am one of those lucky New Yorkers who can walk to work. When I need to go any distance I take buses as often as subways. Nonetheless, after eleven years here, like any New Yorker, I am proud of our subway. Yes, it sometimes runs frustratingly late. Yes, it's often packed tight like a can of sardines. But: it runs 24 hours, 365 days a year. It costs a mere $2 to go anywhere in the city, even an hour and a half from Manhattan (though that may change to $2.25 soon). You really can live a very active full life without a car in New York City, and that's mostly because there's a very good subway. These are three things you cannot always say about the public transportation in most other cities I have visited, around the world. Have you been to London lately? $8 to ride the Tube, and that's only if you stick to Central London. Boston? Don't stay out too late, or you'll be calling a cab home.

Another thing about the subway, something many writers have waxed poetic about, is that everybody takes the subway. Wall Street investment bankers and janitors are often literally cheek-by-jowl on the subway. Once I took the subway out to Flushing, Queens, and was astonished that, by the time I got off, all seventeen people in the car, including myself, were Asian. Yet the neighborhood I got off in? Purely Latino. This is cool. This is unique to New York.

It gives you chance to see all kinds of humanity in action, as it were. About two or three times a week I take the subway under my office building. If you stay there for any amount of time (read: the train is slow in coming), you start to see people doing the lean: they lean over the edge of platform and peer down the tunnel to see if the train is coming. The more people collected on the platform, the more impatient and aggressive the leaning. Oh, you can lean into empty space aggressively, let me assure you. New Yorkers will show that train they mean business, damn it!

Periodically when I am waiting on the platform, doing the lean or not, a man will come walking down the platform, talking very loudly to no one. I do not know if he is homeless or mentally ill: I hope so, frankly, and it's not just that he enjoys making people uncomfortable. He will walk the length of the platform (I've never seen him get on a train), lecturing about the evils of women. He will quote passages of the Bible (usually Isaiah) which sound bogus to me. (I'm not a Bible expert, but spend enough time in grad school in English and you become pretty familiar with the misogynist quotes from it, at least.) He will shout at the top of his lungs about how women are evil, and men would be generally much better off if women didn't exist.

Shouting homeless people are not a rare occurrance in NYC, but this last time I saw him, my attention was caught by the reactions of people on the platform.

Despite my years in grad school, I'm not someone who spends a great deal of time bemoaning how much harder life is for women than for men. Different things are hard for different people, and everyone's just trying to be happy. But it is true that I've yet to see a homeless woman pacing a platform and screaming about how men should be wiped from the earth. I'm not saying they don't feel this way, they just don't act it out in the same way.

Anyway, so I stood there, watching the poeple on the platform. Like true New Yorkers, no one spoke to him. No one engaged him. People, for the most part, ignored him. They studiously waited for the train to come.

The men: kept talking to each other. Glanced at him and chuckled. Didn't seem to notice him at all. Went on reading their newspapers. Kept doing the lean.

The women: kept talking to each other. Didn't glance at him. Didn't chuckle. Pretended not to notice him. Went on reading their newspapers. And every one of them, every one...slowly, casually....stepped away from the edge.

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