Monday, July 12, 2004


Subway's Greatest Hits, Part 2

There are eight million residents within the city limits. Combine that with throngs that flock to work here from the suburbs, along with tens of thousands of tourists and business travelers on any given day. All of them are riding the subway car that I’m on at this very moment.

Most of these people are just trying to get someplace, doing the best they can to create a bubble around themselves, shutting out the outside world by the use of iPods, CD and cassette players, books, newspapers or magazines.

People can become very good at minding their own business on the subway. I recall a scene in the movie version of Jules Feiffer’s “Little Murders.” Elliot Gould and Marcia Rodd are locked in an embrace. She is shot and killed by a sniper. Spattered with her blood and in shock, Gould’s character stumbles on autopilot into the subway and goes to his in-laws’ apartment. He sits on one of the plastic benches that line the sides of the subway car. The man sitting next to him looks at Gould briefly and pulls his jacket away from Gould so that the blood won’t get on his clothes. That is the level of minding one’s own business that can be achieved by the hard-bitten long time residents of the Big Apple.
Some riders just stare off into space or shut their eyes, viewers of their own dream theaters. Still others are walking from car to car and selling toys, batteries and candy. Even more are panhandling or collecting for charities that may or may not exist.

I do not fall into any of these categories. I look. I listen. I even talk to people.

The subway does have its own special scenery. Ad posters for hair care products, beer or flavored malt beverages, English as a second language schools, the Bronx zoo, and clinics that promise easy payment plans for skin disorders and tattoo removal line the space above the subway car windows. In the boroughs where the subway is not a subway, but an elevated train (reminding me of my hometown of Chicago), I look at classic residential architecture along with buildings in various states of construction or disrepair. Graffiti of various nature is everywhere. It runs the gamut from high quality art to gang symbols, street poetry, political statements, and annoying repetitive tagging by morons who need to see their names scrawled on any free square foot.

The rest of the scenery is made up of my fellow passengers. As I have said in the past, for two bucks they let anyone get on. This is why it’s called “public transportation.”

Earlier this year while on my way to Richmond Hill High School in Queens, late again, I was kicking myself for not getting out of my apartment five or ten minutes earlier. Looking repeatedly at my watch (as if that would help make the train get the hint that I was late and go faster) I noticed that sitting directly across from me a woman was staring intently at herself in a hand mirror, trying to steady herself by leaning against a vertical post next to her, and shaving her eyebrows. I couldn’t stop myself from laughing out loud. I leaned to a woman sitting next to me, a pretty secretary on her way to her mid-town office, and said: “I was just kicking myself in the ass for being late, but now that I’ve seen someone shave their eyebrows on the subway, I know I took the right train.” She joined in the laughter.

In the same vein I have seen some major make-up errors due to a sudden shift or braking maneuver. Eye shadow and eyebrow pencil racing stripes that run to the ear or the hairline are my personal favorites. I’m honestly surprised that I haven’t seen paramedics come on board to remove tiny colored brushes from nasal cavities.

One February day I saw a man in a wetsuit carrying a surfboard, apparently on his way to hang ten on the famous curls of that famous surfing Mecca, the East River.

I won’t even go into the screaming religious fanatics or conspiracy theorists. Too many to mention or give any special attention to.

As I said, two bucks entry. It’s one of the cheapest shows in town.

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