I learned this tidbit from the Science Section of the NY Times: There are more bacteria in your face when you first turn on your shower than when you’re down in the NY subway. Whether or not this is a comfort to you, accept it as an introduction to three vignettes from my recent travels on the subways of New York. Enjoy!
Rush hour is underway and to add an extra twist, and a few extra thousand bodies, there’s a Yankee game tonight. The 4 train is so crowded I have to let a few pass before I manage to wriggle into a car. I push a bit and duck under a few arms—people tend to stand near the doors even when there’s more room toward the middle of the car—and work over to a spot where I can just about breathe. Just then, big shove comes from behind and to avoid a battering I bend to one side. My hip leans with me, a few inches in the direction of the nose of a woman seated to my right. She’s a formidable, well-dressed middle-aged woman, the sort that Chris Rock makes jokes about, and indeed, she huffs at me, “I don’t need no butt in my face!”
As that was hardly my intention, I straighten up as quickly as I can. I look down and she’s still glaring at me. I smile at her and say, “Are you okay now?”
For several seconds I can read no change in her mood but then I think that I see a tiny relaxing of her. I decide to call this a truce. At least I’m not going to be involved in a major territorial dispute. The subway stops at a station, then picks up speed again as we head toward 125th street.
Suddenly, the woman looks up at me and says, as if it’s the first time she’s ever seen me me, “Would you like to sit down?”
“That’s okay, I said, I’m fine.” And we exchange smiles.
The train’s above ground now, and slowing. The conductor announces in a thick Brooklyn accent, “161st, Yankee Stadium! Yankee fans exit the station at the rear of the platform. Minnesota fans get back on the train and keep on going.”
Tired from a day at the Bronx zoo, I trudge the two flights up from the street. The afternoon is waning and a cold wind is finding all the gaps between the scabrous advertising signs that line sides of the subway platform. At times like this I’d much prefer the muggy subway, but the No. 2 train isn’t underground north of 149th street. I see that there’s a No. 2 train marooned about half a block north where the track curves, causing those cars in my line of sight to lean at a very unstable angle. Oh, oh. That could be trouble. Then I notice that the train isn’t even on the right track, it seems to be on some sort of in between track, but it’s hard to be certain because of the curve. As I’m calculating the odds of freezing to death or finding alternative routes, a man in an overcoat comes up and asks, “Has that train been there long?”
I give him a quick evaluation and decide he’s harmless. Anyhow, there are at least 30 other people around. I tell him that train’s been there at least five minutes. He says with more interest than I think it merits, “I bet they’re holding it for the cops.”
He nods his head and I follow with my eyes until I see a NY city cop is standing across the tracks on the northbound side, talking into a phone. This could easily be a coincidence but my new companion doesn’t give me a chance to say that. He continues, “The other day, I’m at the station and this guy — he’s got his girlfriend balanced in front of him, walking on his feet and they go through the turnstyle together and a cop sees them. He stops them and the chick she takes off, just like that. The guy gets arrested. Howdiya like that?”
“Err,” I say, not knowing if I was supposed to not like the girl running off or not like the guy getting arrested. Undeterred, the man continues, “That cop he’s calling to stop the train, for sure.”
I shrug and casually mosey away to another spot on the platform. Across the way the cop is still on the phone. Probably his wife. The No. 2 train appears and I step toward it, holding my hat against the cold rush of air. I don’t see which car my platform buddy enters.
Mickey Hoffman is author of the mystery novel, School of Lies, published by Second Wind Publishing.