July 11, 2010

Last Train to Flushing


As far back as I can remember, New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority has either found itself with a shocking budget deficit or an unexpected budget surplus, depending on which worked to its advantage at the moment. Sometimes they can have a deficit and a surplus within a few short months of one another. Nobody seemed to notice this until the late nineties, when a sharp-eyed comptroller discovered that the MTA was working with two sets of books. It was big news here in town for about four days, then everyone forgot about it. Not long afterward, the comptroller was forced out of office. Almost immediately the MTA once again began juggling those crazy deficits and surpluses. It’s been that way ever since, and everyone believes whatever they say.

            Well, in an effort to close their latest mysterious deficit, the MTA decided to raise subway fares and cut service. Two subway lines and a few buses vanished completely.

            As I told my sister, whose first visit to New York happened to coincide with all this, “On the bright side, it means the trains will run less often and they’ll be much more crowded!”

I can’t say as the loss of a couple of lines really bothered me much, as one of the dead trains—the V—was just a pain in the ass. It used to run along the same track as my regular train, but ran express and never left Manhattan. This meant there was always an added level of stress as I waited on the platform—is the train pulling into the station my train . . . or a dreaded V train that does me no goddamn good at all? It’s a particularly tricky business when you can’t see to read the train’s markings.

            Now with that stupid V out of the way, every train that rattled down the tracks would be good news.

            As it happens, the day after the lines were cut I was waiting on the subway platform in Manhattan, on my way back to Brooklyn. I was slightly buoyant, knowing minutes beforehand that the next train to arrive would be the one I wanted. And when the next train pulled in, I happily stepped aboard. I was relieved and surprised to see the car was half-empty. I took a seat and off we went.

            Well, as usual, it took me awhile to realize that something wasn’t right. I’d been preoccupied, and so didn’t notice that my train hadn’t been making its usual stops. Then we were going across the Manhattan Bridge. My usual train never goes across the Manhattan Bridge, even when its been rerouted. Still I held out hope that somehow things would right themselves again once we hit Brooklyn. Nobody around me seemed concerned about it, so I took it in stride. Everything would work out.

            When we reached the other side of the bridge, nothing was clarified. I didn’t recognize any of the stops we were passing. After the fifth or sixth one, I finally decided that I was, in all likelihood, on the wrong train. And by the time the idea had taken a firm enough hold to push me into action, I was in Flushing, Queens.

            I hopped off the train.

            As it pulled away, I learned that it was an M train. The M train had never, ever stopped at the Broadway-Lafayette station before. It seems once the V train was gone, the MTA realized they needed to screw me up in some other way, so they rerouted the M for that sole purpose.

            I tapped my way to some stairs, found my way over to the Manhattan-bound tracks, and waited. It was one of those brutally hot, humid days. I had a lot of work to do, and was in no mood to be spending a leisurely afternoon in beautiful Flushing.

            The one thing I’ll give my long trip into Queens—at least the train was air-conditioned, which was more than I could say for my apartment.

            Eventually a Manhattan-bound M train came along, and I headed back to where I began. There I stepped off the train onto the steamy, urine-soaked platform, and tapped my way over to the stairs to switch to the Brooklyn-bound side. My knees hurt, I was soaked in sweat, and too much work was still waiting for me at home to deal with this tomfoolery. With all these things occupying my mind, I didn’t notice the lummox heading down the stairs toward me. Then he announced himself.

            “You’re on the wrong side!” he barked.

            I paused. “Hm?”

            “You’re on the wrong side! Use the right side!”

            Like I said, it takes me a long time to register stupid things, so in my confusion, my weariness, and my discomfort, all I could do was sigh. And amidst all that sighing, I did not move.

            Here’s the thing. I appreciate people who encourage civility and courtesy in others. It would be much easier to get around this city, yes, if people stayed to the right while using the stairs or walking down the sidewalk. I do appreciate that. But if you’re gonna be a big asshole about it, doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose?

            I was clutching the cane in one hand, trying to get up an overcrowded staircase on a hot day, beef jerky here was the only one swimming against the stream, and he’s yelling at me about civility. Yelling at a blind guy about where he should be walking does absolutely no good.

            Too tired and in no mood for a confrontation with a self-righteous asshole ox, I finally sidled over, feeling for the opposite handrail, blocking the paths of lord knows how many other people. I then continued on my way.

            Suddenly the man behind me—a complete stranger—turned and screamed after the man. “Hey, ASSHOLE! He’s BLIND!”

            A few seconds later I heard a voice from the bottom of the stairs: “My mistake.”

            Even though I would never yell at anyone that way on my own behalf, I must say I do quietly appreciate it when strangers do it for me.

            Ten minutes later, I boarded an overcrowded but blissfully air conditioned non-M train and headed home, silently hailing the MTA’s wisdom and perseverance. Or something.


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