By Robert Beck
New Yorkers have many rituals that they practice separately and shared, some of them in the subway. Such as stairway and car-door protocols, which require things to happen a certain way to happen at all. And sometimes they don’t. Like when you swipe your card, and the turnstile doesn’t move. Your physical and mental momentum (which in New York City is currency) gets interrupted, and you often take a shot in the gut. Everyone behind you pulls up short and snarls before baling to another gate. Your train leaves while you are sawing at the slot, and you have to wait another four minutes, which is an egregious delay in Manhattan.
The last time I took the 1 back from Columbia Presbyterian, an upstanding citizen drove his motorcycle into the subway car (as in inside). Not a scooter—a motorcycle. It took all of us by surprise, but then again, it’s New York. Everybody gave him a glance but kept to their own business, as this was a man with no qualms. No sooner had he joggled his way through the door and wedged between us pedestrians when an express pulled in across the platform, and he backed his way out with little push-steps—fighting the door, which was trying to close—to take advantage of the more expedient opportunity. I’ve done the same thing but without 200 lbs. of motor vehicle between my legs.
There are so many questions that hover around that. How did he get there, and how does he get back up to the street? Why is he taking a train if he has a motorcycle? Why isn’t he in a hospital for the stupidly self-serving? And the first question everybody asks: where were the cops?
At the next station, a guy came on the train and played a mariachi-like guitar for a couple of stops, but nearly everybody was lost in their cell phones. I gave him a good tip. I’ve had some lean years myself. There also was a guy with a cello case strapped to his back, and I wondered what was going through his mind as the mariachi guy worked the car.
Despite the entertainment inside, I spent most of my time looking out the windows as we snaked our way downtown under Broadway. The cars ahead and behind swayed and swerved as if barely attached. And when we ran beside another train, their glowing windows floated through the dark slower or faster—sometimes one, then the other—those riders encased in another time just a few feet away.
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