Entry 459: How Do You Know the Next One’s Not Early?

There has been a lot of talk in the New York Metro area recently about subway delays. crowded-subway[1]Lately, the causes of such delays have gone beyond the usual “signal problems” and “bodies on the tracks” to more exotic causes like a massive theft of copper cable, people getting sick after visiting a methadone clinic and break dancers holding doors open. That doesn’t even include the Second Avenue line which has been experiencing a few construction delays for about 70 years.

The New York Post reports that subway delays are up “a staggering 45%” because The New York Post does not have the ability to relate any news without adding an excitable adjective like “staggering.”

This increase in delays has caused a great deal of anger among riders or, as we call them here, “straphangers,” because of the quaint tradition of people hanging themselves after waiting two hours for a train. Riders’ fury is heightened by the fact that fares are constantly rising, and are currently, I think, about $58 for a single ride.

But here’s my question: How do you know when a subway train is delayed? Do people actually rush to make the 6:08 D train? And, if a train actually does comes into the station at 6:08, isn’t it much more likely to be the 5:37 arriving 31 minutes late? How would you know?

This isn’t some hoity-toity commuter railroad we’re talking about here, with a bar car and a, you know, schedule. This is the friggin’ NYC subway. We don’t even bother to have some fancy name for it, either. It’s not a Metro, or a Tube, or BART or MARTA or U-Bahn. We subwaysimply call it the subway, because it’s underground, and because, when you’re on it, you feel like you’re squished between two pieces of bread, it smells vaguely of cheese, and the tall guy standing over you is drizzling some sort of oily liquid on your head.

New Yorkers refer to this as “Feelin’ subway.”

Admittedly, I haven’t had occasion to ride the subways much since we moved to the suburbs 29 years ago, and all I remember about the few times I did is how, judging from the ads in the cars, many, many New Yorkers have skin problems and/or are in dire need of cosmetic dentistry.

But I do remember that, when I did ride frequently (back in the days when we had tokens tokeninstead of Metrocards), the trains arrived at one of two times: immediately or eventually. Then you’d civilly shove your way onto the train and turn the volume way up on the Tears for Fears cassette playing on your Walkman and duck as the guy standing next to you attempted to turn the page of the Times.

You knew you were on, say, the Lexington Avenue local, but you didn’t know if it was on time or not because you didn’t know what time it was supposed to come. You just hoped it wouldn’t suddenly turn into the Lexington Avenue express and bypass your stop so that you’d have to get off, go up the stairs, go down the stairs on the other side of the tracks, and wait for a local going back in the other direction.

The only time you ever thought about a subway train being delayed is when you were on it, and it was between stations, and it just stopped, and the lights and air conditioning went out. Fortunately, there were always announcements to tell you exactly what was going on, such as: “The legermondulous locanfry writhing on extraction.” I never figured out if the PA system was faulty or if the Metropolitan Transit Authority only hired people who actually spoke that way. I kind of imaged the person going home after work, and his wife would say, “What do you want for dinner?” and he’d reply, “Stankytoes angry beans.” And she’d say, because they had been together so long, “How do you want your steak?”

Where was I?

Right, subway delays. Back in the day, they had what they called “The Train to the Plane” JFK_Express_brochure[1]which took you from Manhattan to JFK airport in Queens. Actually, it only took you near JFK airport because it was really only an A Train that made just six stops, the last of which happened to be in the vicinity of the airport, and then you were supposed to get a bus from there, which was included in your “Train to the Plane” ticket. My wife and I tried it once when we were going to Florida for a friend’s wedding. We got on the train in Manhattan at around 4 pm for an 8pm plane and missed the flight. That train was delayed.

But that was an extreme case. Usually you just get on whatever train shows up and fight your way off when it gets to where you’re going. I really don’t know what people are complaining about.

I mean, what the hell do you want for $72?*

See you soon.

*The fares went up while I was writing this.

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