Sunday, August 13, 2006

Subterranean Railway Blues

New York City, Canal St. Station

The Metro Subway in New York City is the vascular system of the island. This is how the masses get about Manhattan, and the boroughs that surround it. It is crafted in elegance, executed in a style befitting New York, and is utterly confounding to outsiders. We used it extensively to get around, but not without a few “learning experiences.”

Things to remember when you visit New York and wish to take the subway:

1.) Never leave your map behind. If you cannot navigate with out a celestial point of reference (the Sun, for starters), better bring the map.

2.) Bring your cheaters and don’t be shy about using them. New York City Metro maps are pretty detailed, but they’re printed with the intricacies of a Swiss watch, and important nuances like North and South can easily be missed while attempting to read the map under a street light without visual enhancements.

3.) Always ask directions. Men don’t like to do this, but it’s a great way to save yourself a headache, aneurism, stroke, heart attack, and being late to things, which men also dislike. If you’re a single male, asking directions is also a great way to meet slightly exotic-looking women in the New York subway system, albeit not the best way to meet a mate. Not that I was in that market; I am not. But I am a pretty good observer of human behavior, and it is what it is.

New York Subway stations are generally great places of warmth and human activity. This is a good thing in the winter, where the weather can be pretty miserable here.

The middle of August, however, is not the best time to be stuck inside a Metro Subway station. I soaked through two suits this week. There was enough water collected in my shirts to irrigate a small crop of corn for a week.

I wish I had the iPod earbud franchise for the Metro system. Everyone has a pair planted in their ears, heads nodding to the beat of their music genre of choice. You have to learn to read between the tracks of the MP3-player. When the head stops moving is the time to tap the elbow and ask for those directions you need.

Reading the crowds on subways is an interesting pastime when you’ve gotten on the wrong train, missed your stop, or discovered you’re way past where you want to be, and have to backtrack. At least on the Metro, even when you’re lost, you make good time.

People on rail cars are poems in motion…if not poetry in motion.
There is a difference.
The choreography of subway travel is really pretty simple. Like a football game, twelve guys running running away (or into) twelve other guys with an inflated pig bladder, the herds of commuters flood on and off the cars at each stop. I don’t know if they keep score or not, unless you count getting through the doors before the shut on you.

I missed a train this week because the doors shut just before I was about to step on board. My bride and son had jumped on ahead of me. I wasn’t sure it was the right train to be on (see rule #1 above), and so I hesitated to make sure it was going where we wanted to go.


The doors slid shut an inch infront of my nose, and the rail cars clattered off into the darkness of the subway tube, out of sight. Having violated Rule #1, there was no need for observing Rule #2…and I was not in the mood to employ Rule #3.

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