I run for trains: my love/hate relationship with the NYC MTA
The way I see it New Yorkers can be divided into two categories: those willing to thrust limbs and appendages (umbrellas, briefcases, backpacks, shopping bags) into closing subway doors to pry them open, and those who are not. I am of the former category. My determination not to miss a train that can be seen waiting on the platform with open doors has few rivals. The fact that my chances of catching it may be slim to none doesn’t deter me one whit. Perhaps, after all, it is the thrill of the chase.
Last Thursday morning really took the cake. My son and I left the apartment on the late side and went off in our respective directions, him to school and I, well, to school, since I’m a teacher. I rushed down the street, around the corner and up 8th Avenue, past the main Post Office and down the stairs to the A train, right across the street from Penn Station. As soon as I got to the bottom of the stairs I felt it—the uptown A train was stopped at the platform. New Yorkers have a sixth sense for these things. I tore past the MetroCard vending machines and up the next set of stairs. Indeed, the A train sat waiting. I blasted up the left side of the stairs with my fairly heavy backpack on and tripped, practically flinging myself upon the railing. A guy on the right side—the correct side of the stairs for going up—said, “Are you all right, miss? Be careful.”
“I know. It’s not worth it,” I replied, looking up and seeing the train still there. “But I can get that train,” I said, and ran the rest of the way up to the platform. The doors were all closed. The platform was cleared. Except for one lady’s bag that was stuck in the last set of doors in the last car, leaving about a three-inch gap between them. That’s right. I crossed my hands and thrust them through the gap. The lady pulled her bag out and the train doors closed on my wrists. Now here’s the time to envision how I stood in front of the train, arms out in front of me, as if handcuffed by the doors. The people inside the train were looking at me; I was looking at them. Not for one moment did I feel fear. I felt as defiant as I would had I been wrongfully arrested. “They better open the door,” I said. “Someone better open the door”—not clear whom I was talking to.
It took longer than I’ve seen on multitudinous similar occasions for the doors to open. Two minutes, three minutes, I swear. I imagined the people inside waited in hushed silence. I was looking at them without seeing them. The doors eventually opened partway with that little ding, ding. I pulled my hands out and tried only momentarily to shove myself into the train and then gave up. I saw that same guy from the staircase looking at me. “Are you all right?” he said. He looked genuinely concerned.
“I’m crazy this morning,” I replied. I felt a little crazy at that moment. A split second later I realized how nice-looking the guy was. I should have asked him out, I thought. About a minute later another train came. Yeah, so, being handcuffed by the train, veritably arrested by the MTA, had been quite unnecessary. But that’s not even the point. As with all dysfunctional relationships each action takes on über-significant meaning when viewed through the prism of life’s great scoreboard. Maybe I lost this one. Maybe I didn’t.
I love the MTA. I may or may not have a closer relationship with the subway than most New Yorkers. I marvel at the convenience of the trains. I’ve been in New York for over 16 years now and I still haven’t gotten over the fact that I can walk out of my house, step down a few stairs and go anywhere in the city I want. That’s right, maybe only a transplanted Midwesterner could feel this way, but I hope I retain that feeling of glory till the day I die. I love the vicissitudes of the subway ride, the way the drivers announcing the stops make the train their own. The other day I was told to “have an inspiring morning” by a driver who must have been practicing meditation up there in his little control booth. Equally I love the ones who warn riders—with contained violence in their voices—to stop holding the doors so the train can move out of the station. A poetic cacophony of moods and rhythm, an ever-changing mise-en-scène, a world, a community that shifts at every stop.
I hate the MTA. I curse their outdatedness and the way they destroy my life. Why on the day I’m late for my job do the doors of the A across the platform close just as I’m getting off the E to transfer? Why does it take so interminably long for another A to come at 42nd? Why does the D stop underground and sit in the dark when I’m already late to go pick up my son? Why is there always train traffic ahead at 59th Street when you’re just almost there? I’ve cursed and blamed the MTA for everything that’s gone wrong in my life when I’ve had a bad day. When I first started my teaching job and I was dropping my son off at school and transferring from the C to the A to the D to get up to the Bronx without a shaved minute to spare, things really got extreme. I remember waiting on the platform at 145th for the D or the B to show up and envisioning going to the central office of the MTA and throwing a tizzy that would send me to Bellevue or wreaking havoc and destruction in some similar way.
Yeah. I realized I was going down the wrong path at that point and tried to pull back. My relationship with the MTA was getting a little too personal. I tried to think of a cloud instead of destruction. My son, after all, learned the alphabet from the trains. For entertainment when he was young we just used to ride a certain line that he would choose that day. We didn’t even have to end up anywhere. Okay, NYC MTA, I love you. But I hate you sometimes, too.