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Waiting, Crying, Hoping
The subway poster stared back at me, mockingly. “Improving service all the time,” it read, referring to improvements on the MTA. It was written without irony – except that right now, at this moment, everything about it was ironic. I had boarded the “D” train at one hundred and twenty-fifth street, hoping to get into work early. It’s a straight shot on the express down to fifty-ninth street and then four stops to my final destination, thirty-fourth street.
The train was crowded on this Wednesday morning, and I wormed my way past the people crowding around the door to a pocket of empty space in the center of the train. It was packed, but the advantage of the D over the C or the No. 1 is that it makes fewer stops and the discomfort is minimal. And, if I find a seat, I can usually get in a few pages of a Perry Mason mystery.
The doors closed and we zoomed off. I swayed back and forth with the train and let my mind wander. We had passed eighty-first street and were in our last leg before fifty-ninth Street when the train began slowing down. Slower. Slower. Slower.
Then we came to a full stop in the tunnel. It was dark out there. People in the train shifted uncomfortably. “Ladies and gentlemen,” came a faint, garbled voice over the train’s loudspeaker. “We are…” the voice faded away into a crackling collection of static.
We waited. And waited. Some people a few feet away from me talked loudly, and laughed, as though at a party. Everyone else stood glumly in place, trying to avoid staring at the other passengers, with whom they shared that strange intimacy of the subway rider. I put my bag on the floor. My legs were hurting. I tried to stretch them a bit.
Fifteen minutes went by and many other trains had rumbled slowly by us: the A, the B, the C, and the D, going both uptown and downtown. A young woman standing at the door said, “Why don’t they tell us what’s going on?” No one responded. She worked her way past me and others until she was deep into the car. An announcement came on, once again too garbled to understand. But, apparently, it was more audible at the point where the woman was standing because she repeated it for the benefit of those who could not hear it: “There’s a police investigation,” she said. “We will be moving shortly. Thank you for your patience and cooperation.”
I always wonder why conductors feel it is necessary to thank you for your patience and cooperation. What else can you do but be patient and cooperate? Yell and riot? It’s sort of like thanking the rat in a Skinner Box for being patient and understanding as he frantically tries to avoid getting an electric shock.
Anyway, it was reassuring to know that it was the police holding us up, not a mechanical failure of the train. That relief was short-lived, however, when the engineer came on the loudspeaker, crisp and clear, apparently trying to communicate with the conductor but also sharing his thoughts with us. “We have an air problem,” he said cryptically (and, I thought, somewhat frantically). I later figured he was referring to the brakes, but at the time, I thought he might mean the air in the train. And sure enough, it seemed to be getting hotter in there. We had been waiting 25 minutes. Were we running low on oxygen?
Just as I was beginning to have dark forbodings of all of us being escorted off the train and through the tunnel (like the scene in the good version of The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3), the train made a wooshing sound, there was a lurch, and we rumbled into fifty-ninth street.
Many of us tumbled out of the train, but many more intrepid souls stayed, happy to get a seat. No explanations and no apologies were offered. Just another day with the MTA.
March 3, 2011