Tao of the Trains
convinced that the NYC subway system is a mystical, esoteric, yet misunderstood,
system of enlightenment that requires some serious meditation and thought
to understand. We've been viewing this mess of trains and crazy people
for years as simply a system to travel around the city with; I'm thinking
we've been ignoring its true meaning. The trains speak to us, man, and
it's high time we listen.
Take for example, my morning commute. I have one of the easiest
commutes out of any of my friends, mostly because I live right here in
Manhattan, near a subway stop, and my workplace is close to several subway
stops on various lines. This gives me a couple options in the morning.
I can take the downtown 6 to 42nd Street, catch an express and go one
more stop to Union Square, and walk a couple of blocks to work. Or, as
is my preference, I can take the downtown 6 to 51st street, transfer over
to the downtown F, get out at 14th Street, and hit Dunkin' Donuts on my
way into work. (ohhhhhhh, Dunkin' Donuts, mmmmmmmmmm.....) This all seems
like a nice, easy way of getting to and from work-- when the trains are
running smoothly. When they're not, it's a whole 'nother story.
But the thing is, there's really no reason for us to get all pissed
off when the trains aren't running smoothly. There's lots of reasons why
they don't, and no one knows for sure what causes the same trains at 8:17
one morning to be empty on day, and packed the next. It simply is. You
watch people getting all sorts of bent out of shape because they can't
get on the first train that comes into the station... pushin', and shovin',
and yelling at people... sometimes I think to myself, "We should just
feel lucky that the damn train came at all. Or that there even *is* a
train." Then there's the other times when I'm kicking the pushy guys in
the business suits who are all coked up for their day on Wall Street and
can't take the wait or the pushing. C'mon, those guys deserve it. You
blow that kind of cash on something as frivolous and short-lived as cocaine,
you deserve a kick in the ass. I saw this one guy in like a $1000 Armani
suit once yelling obscenities all by himself, because the train was braking
in between stops. Call *me* the crazy one, but I was sorta glad that the
train driver wasn't slamming into the trains ahead of us. This is the
same sort of guy that gives dirty looks to East Village kids with their
funky hair and piercings and "wild" clothes. In any case, that's just
my opinion. I digress.
The trains are trying to show us something, people. Wake up. I'm
going to give you an example of a true-to-life story from my morning commute.
This morning's commute.
I got up earlier than usual this morning, for absolutely no reason
at all. Normally it sort of pisses me off when I do that, but today (being
just a couple of days after Christmas), I was feeling all sorts of happy
and good-natured. I got my act together, and even made out the door ten
minutes earlier than my usual time. Go figure. I was ready to face my
Got down to the subway platform, and the first train pulled up
-- packed with people. Packed to the point where there was no point even
trying to nudge and squeeze; I was content to wait for the next train.
Next train came, and of course, it was packed just as full as the first
one was. Now, this was my first clue that it wouldn't be smooth going
to work, but I accepted my fate and put my trust in the spirit of public
transit. I nudged and squeezed as politely as I could, and found a nice
little unobtrusive space. Got out my new Discman and started groovin'.
Got slammed into at the next stop by a woman who had nothing to hold on
to; I said, "Hey, it's not really her fault, so, no point in getting pissed."
You should really only get annoyed at those people who *choose* not to
hold onto something because they HAVE to turn the page of the Wall Street
Journal just as the train is pulling into a stop. That's reason for annoyance.
OK, anyways, back the to the train.
I got out at 51st Street and started making my way to the F train.
It's a bit of a long transfer, just because you have to go down a set
of stairs, up an escalator, and then down another big flight of stairs--
all while dodging the other people around you. I've found that a walkman
or other music device aids in this-- people will generally avoid running
into you if you sort of dance a little while you walk, mouthing or even
singing the words to whatever you're listening to. Especially political
songs sung with a madwoman glint in your eye, they really steer clear--
"Open fire on each weapons manufacturer, while he's givin' head to some
Republican senator..." You'll have no problems, and you'll enjoy yourself.
However, my brand-new Discman quit out on me mid-transfer. I was left
to my own devices to make it to the F train, but I was calm-- once I got
down there, I could check to see if it was just an old battery that I'd
put in it. No problem.
I made it down to the platform with relative ease, something that
rarely happens at the Lexington station. I even had a minute to change
the battery and keep groovin'. (I should have known something was up,
but in my usual fashion, I question not these mystical happenings and
accept gifts from the platform spirits.) An F train pulled up a few minutes
later... I got on, and even had a seat right away. Clue number 2 that
something was going to not be right when we got moving... In any case,
we got to Rockefeller Center, and sat there for a minute. And a couple
of minutes more. And a few minutes after that. I didn't even notice really,
due to my new Discman providing me with pleasurable tunes to distract
me. I should've stayed distracted, but it's hard to do that when everyone
is getting off the train and going to the express train across the platform.
The express train doesn't stop at 14th Street, where I get off, so I stayed
put and listened to "oh, love the sweetest, oh-woh-oh, the sweetest thing..."
Then I heard a gurgly announcement about the train not moving for a bit
longer, or something like that, and I lost my cool. I said to myself,
"I deserve more than this, I got up early today!" And I transferred to
I figured I'd take the express to the next stop, transfer over
to the uptown F and take it back one stop to 14th Street. No problem.
As the doors of the express were closing and I was nestled into a seat,
I noticed my old F train starting to move as well. It sailed right out
of the station as soon as the express that I was now on did. Just like
that. And I went and lost my cool, and got all impatient, and became a
mumbly Wall Street guy who couldn't wait... and now I was on the express
when I didn't have to be. I rode all the waaaaaaaay downtown, got out
at West 4th Street and headed over to take the uptown F to 14th Street.
And I waited. And I waited a little longer. And I watched the downtown
F trains that I had no faith in come and go, while waiting for my uptown.
I realized the uptown F was probably punishing me for my impetuousness,
the spirits of the trains were chatting up and down the line that Deanna
gave up on them. "Oh little Miss Impatient had to jump on the express,
did she? Thought she could beat the system, hmmmmmm?" And they wanted
me to learn my lesson... so I waited ... waited... waited a good long
time for that uptown train. When it arrived, I mumbled a quiet, "Fine,
you win. I believe." From there on out, I had no more problems getting
to work. Except for the fact that I was 15 minutes late.
There was also a subway conductor once that I really admired for
speaking his mind about the people that "have to get on this train!" Groups
of people kept holding the doors and stuff while dashing on the train,
and the conductor was getting sort of angry. Finally, when the train got
moving, he got on the loudspeaker and said, "Alright people, listen up.
We gotta have a talk here, OK? Listen, don't be holding the doors with
anything just so you can make it on this train, okay? There's another
one coming, there's ALWAYS another one coming. This is the subway system,
we run subways. So I don't wanna see no more people throwing there briefcases,
backpacks, schoolbooks, small children or strollers in the doorway just
because you think you're so important that you gotta hold everybody else
up. OK? We're straight? Good. Next stop, 34th Street. Transfer for the
B, D, and Q express trains to Brooklyn."
The moral of the story, kids, is that you don't mess with the
trains. The trains are your friend, and they're there to help you. Though
it may not seem like it sometimes, and sometimes there's human intervention
(like those conductors that close the doors right before the transferring
people can make it on), but they'll get theirs. Trust me, man, put your
faith in the trains. They'll show you the way, they'll get you to your
destination, and if you notice once in a while, they give you the smack
on the ass that you need to remind you that everything works out just