The New York City subway system is quite antiquated. Suffice it to say, it has neither kept up with the times nor the technology. There’s been a spate of incidents recently—electrical failures, derailments, etc.—that underscore this reality. Yesterday morning, I ascended the steep flight of stairs at the Van Cortlandt Park station at W242nd Street. I knew there was ongoing track replacement work downwind, which was causing assorted delays and screw ups on the Number 1 line, but was willing to chance it.
When I arrived on the platform, I entered the sole train in the terminal. It was being held up due to signal issues in the vicinity of the track work. Announcements were periodically made concerning the delay along with an unenthusiastic "thank you for your patience" wrap-up. Ten minutes passed, then twenty, and finally a whole half hour. That was my wait. How long the train had been idle before I showed up, I can’t say.
Now it was big announcement time: “There will be no train service between W242nd Street and Dyckman Street!” Say what? Bedecked in their fluorescent vests, a couple of Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) employees ambled up and down the platform shouting, “No service! All suspended!” Not surprisingly, some of the passengers were infuriated. They had been waiting for a half hour or more on the train, expecting it to eventually move. One young fellow was on the verge of assaulting an MTA employee, which is a felony punishable by up to seven years in the big house. At least that’s what the signs say in the subway cars. He took exception to the attitude of a couple of the men in fluorescent vests. “You act like it’s our fault!” he bellowed before storming away. Still, a lot of people remained on the train. I’ve seen this happen before. I don’t know if it’s a language problem, a listening one, or both. They don’t move and appear unmoved by instructions.
For those who had a place to be—like a job for instance—the best bet was to promptly descend to the street level and hop on a bus or two to Dyckman Street. And that’s what many people did. After all, we were told in no uncertain terms that service was suspended. Why hang around? However, the MTA world is full of surprises. As I reached the sidewalk after this unexpected and unwelcome development, I had canceled my morning plans. Hopping on a bus to a train didn’t appeal to me on what was a hot and humid morning.
I began venturing down Broadway in the same direction that I had anticipated traveling via the subway. About six or seven minutes had passed since I had been informed that train service was suspended. Were my eyes deceiving me? The train that I was sitting in less than ten minutes earlier was pulling out of the station above me—with passengers in it!
I did an about-face and contemplated what had just occurred. Service had been suspended that sent countless men, women, and children scrambling for alternative routes to their destinations. And several minutes later it was restored. Now, I don’t blame the employees who are powerless regarding these snafus. They have a tough job dealing with an often arrogant and unforgiving public. But somebody somewhere is responsible for canceling all service, which seems to me to be a big decision, and then restoring it seven or eight minutes later. That's a big, bad decision. Somebody goofed. And the winners: the folks who don’t hear, listen to, or understand instructions.
(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)