On Subways: Or A Series of Tubes

photo (15)Perhaps this blogger will take a break for a moment from creating grand lyrical pastiches and odes to travel across the American Landscape and focus for a moment on the smaller aspects of the flowed lands and floating cities of this Nation.
Now that the cool damp miasma of Spring will soon boil up as the God’s Anvil of Summer, soon the lingering smells and dank promises frozen in the air will at once melt in totality and bring their bouquet to full bloom, and the enjoyment of people unable to hold their breath for extended periods of time. To this, we should extend some charity in thought to those who indeed experience the change in season the greatest, those of us who use “public transportation” especially the tubes underground or what we call the “subway” on this side of the pond.
To this subject this blogger brings some experience in having been in various metros. From the great and complex systems of Paris and London to the opulent treasure vaults of Moscow and St. Leningradburg to the smaller systems of Bucharest, Budapest, and Boston. There are DARTS and MARTAs and STMs all over the North American Nations but none so steeped in lore and some amount of revulsion as that system found beneath Gothem as a thousand vermin holes and just about as many commuters at 72nd Street on the 2/3 line of any platform on the L prior to Broadway Junction. It is the thaw that impacts these tunnels and passages so that the ripe smell and sticky air come to rest in so many halls only to then be sucked in by a passing train and used in the air conditioner system, distilled into frozen toilet water then sprayed out in miniscule particulates. Ah, Summer in Gothem. So many things happen but once and unplanned, while a great many are as structured and described than any gesture found even in the highest Byzantine Mass. The archetypes and common sights found in these conveyances of transition are both obvious and subtle depending on the viewer’s eye or intellectual quotient of the beholder. Some of the greater have been expanded on in other publications and posts and with far greater philippics and citations of fact and I will not attempt to recreate those entries. Perhaps for a moment, Dear Reader, we will elucidate the lesser known common occurrences as well as perhaps coin a new meme or two in naming several for the first time, perhaps we will get a note in Urban Dictionary.
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Door Dogs
The common Door Dog is often a person of some sold matter or girth. As you can assume by the name, the Door Dog stands on each side of the opening doors of the subway. No matter the size of the crowd this individual does not move. Perhaps they even produce a package or other large object to further obstruct movement.
Thighland
Frequently there are large individuals in the city. This is not a city of skinny Mindys and Dannys living on a diet of Tab, reds, and cocaine, there are also some healthy individuals of some mass and matter and like others when seating take up physical space, but for them it is more of it. As two of these people sit apart with the one seat in the middle, as the train fills up, passenger after passengers looks longingly at Thighland, that space between fat leg A and thunder thigh B where perhaps a supermodel could balance one butt cheek and were it not for those extra inches a full seat would be open.
Stair Stoppers
As it sounds. People who stop abruptly on the stairs. They seem to do this in order to check their phones, check for keys, have a think, consider the rich pageant of life. There also those who halt at the top of the stairs. These people are usually checking their phones to see how many calories they have burned going up the stairs or are checking The Googles for some factoid they could not verify as part of an argument they had before they got down into the Subway system.
Bike Chainers
There is always some large thing on a subway car, especially at the peak hours of commuting. These are frequently the ever growing stroller, what has become the SUV of aggressive urban mothers as they push about their fat little baby or twins that magically appeared after a few visits to Dr. Watson. Of these objects the most annoying is the bicycle. First off, because a bicycle is to be its own form of transportation and then because it is usually owned by some militant bike rider who as the Fuck Cars stickers all over it or has taken a $2000 bike and covered it in duct tape in order to make it unappealing to thieves which since it is a fixed gear there is little chance it will be stolen. And just in case it is asking to be absconded, the bike owner chains it to the pole that is intended to passengers to hang on to for dear life as the cars lurch and bump down the antique tracks.
Pole Dancers
This leads me to other issues with these vertical poles. The clusters of short people who fight to steady themselves form a barrier for which it is often difficult to exit or enter the train car. Pole dancers hang on whether the train is moving or not. Often one has to push through the pole dancers – it is all part of the erotic experience of ridding the subway.
Pole Leaners
The Pole Leaner is more odious than the dancers. This is an individual, usually male, who decides that the best way to remain righted is to have as much back support as possible. The Leaner dares others to challenge his domination of the pole, but the best way to reposition a Leaner is not to face this champion of self interest head on, but to creep up behind and place a hand on the pole, perhaps at the small of his back perhaps about the neck area, and then as the train lurches, make a little contact with this individual – just a brush… a creepy little brush of his hair…. and he will, indeed he will move at once.
That Drip
Those who have been to Gothem in the summer know this drip. We get it outside on the sidewalks. A drop of rain held in stasis until just that moment? Did someone spit off of a roof above? A little drop of pee? Inside the train car these choices narrow. We know it is the air conditioner, but the questions still come up…. how long has that water been up there? Did it mix with rat pee? Is it pee? Who peed in the air conditioner?
Ear Bud Mixers
In today’s world of inexpensive devices and the need to constantly be entertained, it is no surprise that each individual plugs into their individual collection of music. Each with a unique style, rhythm, form and selection of artists. These individuals then play the music loud enough to drown out the thoughts one may have commuting as well as perhaps cover the noise from similar users and similar devices. This leads to quite an interesting smashup for those not plugged in. This could be perhaps a source of new musical forms to come as youngers are exposed to various forms and formulas all blended together. Usually it just sounds like shit and is totally distracting. I swear this one dude listened to the same song for 25 minutes. It was torture.
The Best Bums
It seems that the Golden Age of Bums is over. In the late 1970s and early to middle 1980s the Powers That Be decided AIDS and Crack was not interesting enough for Gothem, they had to empty the madhouses and other institutions of the mentally feeble or insane. This was an age where anything could happen. I remember the guy on Park Avenue who would just repeat “Damn Bastards” again and again in a wonderful base voice, an almost operatic performance… and most people on Park Ave are indeed bastards. Speaking of the opera, there was a man who wandered around Carnegie hall when that area was still a toilet singing opera… or more like croaking it out. There was the man dressed as Uncle Sam who sold bird callers. A man by the 57th Street Deli who played some instrument with a back up band of toy monkeys playing drums or clashing the cymbals. In later years, when I moved to Gothem, there was a trace of these characters. The Smile People woman on the L train who always reminded us that we at least had homes to go to. The musician on the F train who just played Lay Lady Lay as well as the New York Times Published Poet had yet to disintegrate into a filthy pile of papers and discarded food and still sat on a small folding chair with a small folding table in an old but distinguished gray suit. There was the Bucket Woman who stomped out a song of her own making about life on the streets. The blind accordion player who had poles with wheels on them front and back to guide him or trip others… it was difficult to tell the rationale for the design. There was also the no legs on the wheeled pallet and the guy with one arm selling free newspapers. For the most part these unique people have all vanished. I hope to better situations. They have been replaced by run-of-the-mill beggars undistinguished and forgettable as the police have cracked down on public anything, especially anything done by the poor and destitute.
Subway Entertainment
Another lost art, especially since the police have started cracking down on those who try to make some smash by putting on a show. The straw that broke the public’s back was the It’s Showtime People people. Usually young men, that is always young men, who put out a boom box and then performed acrobatic stunts. It was impressive the first few times. Then looked dangerous. Then was dangerous and annoying. I enjoyed the older acts. The Andean bands with their wind pipe thingys like was in that one Paul Simon song. The Mexican bandas. The magic show, complete with a dove that was freed from a hat. That always freaked someone out. The man dressed up as if he were ridding a horse who I was told sung a very perverted but traditionally so song from Central America. There was the man with the horn and wore a cape and claimed to be from outer space and then blew the worst Acid Jazz imaginable. As if there is any good Acid Jazz. There were various singing groups. The very tall very African-looking young man dressed in hip hop gear and playing a violin who ran the upper West and East side runs. I’m sure I have parted with hundreds of dollars in change as my contribution to the underground arts.

The subway ride is always an adventure. I have been on the Chicago system and that too has its moments as does Boston in interest and intrigue and the ability of so many people of different social, communal, and economic backgrounds to sit together in peace. In other systems such as Baltimore, Detroit, and Washington D.C. there exists but small system used by all and a larger system used only by the poor and those downwardly mobile we call the “working classes.” Most of the other cities I have been to there is a limited bus network that replaced whatever trollies that had existed and this system is strictly for poor people to the extent that anyone of any means defends their total lack of knowledge of the system such as when I was in the San Antonio airport and they had to find a janitor to see if indeed there was a bus from the airport to the downtown. Spoiler alert. There is, and it costs a buck fifty rather than thirty dollars for the taxi. Gothem has a system that keeps growing, they keep attempting to beautify but deep down we like it as it is, an ugly series of platforms next to an open pit electrified with high voltage and where once can stand right next to a speeding train as it zooms in or out of the station. I will say, the system has moved me about. Where else can one go from the tar beach to the actual beach for a few bucks and be entertained along the way?
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