Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Number 1 Looks Just Like You

When I checked the MTA website first thing yesterday morning, I was positively ecstatic. The Number 1 train was running through my neck of the woods without interruption. For the last year or so, it seems weekend service of this venerable subway line has been screwed over big time due to seemingly endless track work and station repairs. And so, Saturday began on a high note.

But when I requested a six-dollar addition to my MetroCard, the clerk at my local subway station couldn’t read it. He scanned it, scanned it again, and nothing. He even tried to bring it back to life with a spritz of some fluid and a Handi Wipe, but nothing. No problem, I’ll take a new card, I said. This very agreeable and helpful transit employee then informed me of the available options vis-à-vis my unreadable MetroCard. I told him I didn’t think there was much monetary value left on it anyway, so it didn’t really matter to me. In other words, I had no intention of taking the card to the transit authority’s version of a higher authority—wherever and whatever that was. I briefly considered trashing this old and unreadable card on the spot, but for some reason decided against it and put it back in my pocket.

After paying my fare with a new and workable six-dollar card, I walked to the far end of this Northwest Bronx subway station. A southbound train heading into Manhattan pulled in a few minutes later. I entered the first car that, when push comes to shove, is frequently the least crowded one for a trip's duration. This very special car is often spared the urban onslaught, even when trains are packed like the proverbial sardines in a can.

No such luck yesterday morning. The lead car, too, filled up rather quickly, and so there were a lot of my fellow New Yorkers and tourists, too, hovering over and sitting very close to me for much of the ride. A man with not the best hygiene in the world sat right beside me. He exuded not quite the forlorn homeless man smell, which subway riders are accustomed to, but a level or two below that on the odor-ometer. In other words, I wasn’t literally gagging, and his ill aroma didn’t make me nauseous. But I’d say it was one of those fine-line moments. That is, I didn't dare dwell too much on the olfactory nerves and what they were absorbing, because nauseousness wasn't out of the question.

Sitting directly across from me from the start of my journey was a businesswoman. She initially plopped down and placed her laptop bag on the seat beside her. This was okay at the get-go, when the subway car was mostly empty, but when it filled up to standing room only, she made no effort to place her laptop bag under the seat and let somebody sit down next to her. She actually pulled out a book during the subway ride and started reading. The title had something to do with making a small fortune—and rather effortlessly at that. No doubt, I surmised, at the expense of those standing above and around her who had been denied a seat. Oh, yeah, and then there was this father and young son tag-team combo. The subway milieu as a classroom setting for parent teaching child about the wonders of urban life in is pretty commonplace. Occasionally, they are precious moments; often they are embarrassing and intrusive. If we were living in the 1970s, I would describe this particular father and son's interplay as “Annoying City!” If the Herman Cain lookalike's facial expressions were any indicator, he seemed to be on my wavelength. But then he might have been more annoyed by the dead ringer for Madonna, who was constantly blowing her runny nose from 168th Street to Times Square—six miles or so—and was sitting nearer to him than me.

To end on an upbeat note: the MetroCard I very nearly tossed away…well, I tried it one more time on my trip home…and it not only scanned, but had a fare left on it and then some. There must be some New Age meaning to all of this…but what pray tell?

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