Thursday, November 08, 2007

Getting There

I love the subway. I love not having to think about driving or parking. I love being given a structured opportunity to catch up on podcasts and books and video games. I love the cast of New York characters that the subway parades in front of me everyday. I love not having thought about the concept of a designated driver in 3 years. I love the free morning papers. Like any good cynic I do a fair bit of cursing at slow trains and rude passengers but ultimately when I think about moving back to California the thought that pops into my head is, “But I have great friends here! And my job is good! And the subway is so awesome!” If I do move away some day I will likely spend the remainder of my days annoying my new neighbors with constant reminiscing about the NYC subway.

My morning commute starts at the last stop on the N/W line, living near the last stop is a mixed blessing – on the one hand there is usually a train sitting in the station with ample seating available but you pay for this luxury on the way home when the train often sits on the tracks between Astoria Blvd and Ditmars Blvd for 5-10mins while waiting for a free spot to open up at the end of the line.

This morning I was cursed with bad subway luck. Regardless of what you non-New Yorkers have heard the worst case scenario subway situation doesn’t involve robbery, murder or being accosted by some teenager selling candy for his “basketball fieldtrip.” No, despite the prevalence of mysterious dripping liquids, rats, and bottles full of urine the worst thing that can happen to you in the subway station is watching the back of your train pull out of the station just as you set your feet on the platform. I’m so focused on trying to avoid this dire situation that I often find myself walking to the subway thinking “what if the train is there now? Or now? OR NOW? – Must walk faster.” Obviously this is ridiculous – the lack of any set train schedule means that the odds of a train arriving NOW or 5mins from now are essentially equal, which means that half of the time my speed walking results in spending more time chilling at the subway station. This morning was one of the times when speed did not work in my favor -- instead of settling into my seat to start another morning of sucking at crosswords on my DS (Another D-? F-you New York Times.) I was forced to stand around in the cold staring longingly at the butt of the leaving N train.

When the next train arrived I was able to snag a seat on the bench next to a guy in a bright orange camo hunting cap and a very chic hipster girl in a pumpkin colored coat and green boots both of which I coveted. There are two kinds of seat on NYC subway trains, benches and buckets. The buckets are highly superior because they hold your ass in place; when on a bench seat you’re constantly slip sliding into your co-riders. I didn’t feel too bad about getting close to Miss Pumpkin (maybe some of her style would rub off on me…) but the unplanned cuddling with the urban hunter was less pleasant.

The N line runs above ground in Queens which I usually feel is a negative since the train is loud and ugly and waiting for it at the outside stations exposes one to the elements but it’s hard to be too down on the el when staring out the window as the morning breaks over the Triborough bridge. It’s one of those magnificent New York views that leaves me amazed that human’s can build cities.

At the Broadway stop a very hot boy boards the train and stands right above me (riding the subway quickly desensitizes one to the weirdness of having someone’s crotch positioned only 6 inches from your face, I am well prepared if life takes a turn for the worst and I have to make a go of it on the streets…). He has on some fancy jeans which I guarantee coast more than $200, this along with the eyes he’s making at his a less cute but equally well dressed male travel companion lead me to believe that he would not be interested in checking out my rack (pity, it looked nice today and all he’d have to do is glance downward). When I glance downward I notice that hot guy is wearing old school 70s style hiking boots (brown suede, red laces, forced onto my feet by my hippy parents for at least 10 years of my childhood, apparently known as “wafflestompers”) and now I have to wonder if someone is actively trying to make these into a trend – are ugly hiking boots the next trucker hats?

By the time we reach Queensborough Plaza the train is stuffed full of mothers, hipsters, working shlubs, butchers, bankers and candle stick makers. The subway is the great equalizer and often leaves me glowing a bit with a new love for humanity – if grocery stores bring out the bad in New Yorkers riding mass transit together makes us all a little more angelic. I witness more random acts of kindness on the subway than anywhere else. From giving directions to helping mother’s lug strollers up flights of stairs to handing out change to the homeless more often than not I come off of the subway loving my neighbors even if I am left with the imprint of someone’s ass on my shoulder after having said ass forcefully stamped into my flesh for 25 minutes.

Subway routes are very Manhattan centric which means that to get from Astoria to Dumbo I have to enter the island on the N train and traverse the tunnels beneath Herald Square in order to make my transfer to the Brooklyn bound F train. As you can see on the above map (made by my friend Giselle who is AWESOME), this switch is a less than direct route inside of a larger less than direct route. Traversing the 34th street station requires a long hike reminiscent of climbing Everest, I have often has to leave gasping and wheezing companions for dead on the sides of the trail. I’ll always miss them but I have to get to work (little does the boss know how much I sacrifice for the biweekly paycheck).

I really hate switching trains and will often walk long distances pre-subway ride in an effort to avoid it (god bless hopstop and it’s “More street walking fewer transfers” setting). Sadly there is no way to avoid my daily transfers to and from work and so I have done the next best thing – memorized the optimal route from train 1 to train 2. This requires one to be on the exact right subway car on train 1 so that the doors open next to the stairs that lead up to the shortest possible path to the down stairway that will drop me off next to the car that will deliver me as close as possible to the door leading out of the subway station at my final destination. I am ridiculously proud of how much this system increases my subway transfer efficiency.

My subway enemies are the V, Q and R trains which run on the same tracks as the F and N lines and often trick me into thinking my train is coming when in fact one of these loser lines that won’t take me to work or home is showing up. Luckily this morning I made a smooth transition from N to F without any intervening V trains. I catch the F train towards Brooklyn on its way out of the city and board the last car so there are always ample seating options. This morning I made an effort to notice what was going on around me on the train (as opposed to most mornings when I focus very hard on getting lost in my own world). The Subway Emergency instructions posted in every car ask that in the case of fire, medical emergency or crime you refrain from pulling the emergency brake which makes me wonder what the emergency brake cord is for besides tempting hoodlums to annoying pranks.

The F train rockets me through lower Manhattan passing through my favorite subway station at Delancey. The MTA has commissioned artists to decorate each station with its own mosaic and Delancey is blessed with a huge iridescent rainbow trout which on top of just being pretty reminds me of my trout fishing filled childhood. After Delancy it’s only two stops to work and the end of another subway commute. The entire adventure takes 45 minutes to and hour which is about 20 minutes longer than I’d like (the ideal commute time being about 30mins which allows for ample reading time without feeling like I’m wasting hours of my life in transit). For unknown reasons doing the reverse every night on the way home is an hour at best but I’ll spare you the details.


amy said...

Fabulous because it's true! Even getting on the train car with no air conditioning and the smelly, crazy homeless man is better than missing the train by a quarter of a second. Those moments when the doors close, but the train hasn't pulled away yet are the worst, because there's always that pause before the train leaves where you have to wonder if the conductor saw you and will take pity and open the doors.

themikestand said...

I hate you for being able to write this during NaBloPoMo... If my trend continues, I'll be posting haikus and recipes in short-hand within the week. Or pictures of my kids.

Regardless, your postings about New York only serve to underscore my belief that you're some kind of high-class celeb. To anyone I'm in conversation with, you're "my friend WHO LIVES IN NEW YORK CITY." And then I make this snotty face like I'm the only one who knows people in the big city.

Lisa said...

Yeah its so annoying how York is just ONE STOP FURTHER than the V goes. Hey, you should just move to Brooklyn.

Anonymous said...

You know the BART isn't that bad and at least we have a schedule they follow (most the time) I know I have to get the 5:38am or 5:46am train to SF and then I can change to the Millbrea/SFO train all in the same station on the same track and make it to work on time, with enough time to hit Peets on the way to work from the station. California isn't all like LA, SF does have some transit options

and we miss you