Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

Subway Etiquette

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The Times did another soft piece about a yuppie with crutches that basically made a blog with a witty name concerning his tribulations on the subway. I think a better name for it might be “whiny dude with a blog dot com,” but that’s just me.

Premise: He’s “too soft-spoken” to ask for a seat, so takes pics of strangers with his iPhone to e-shame them into volunteering them.

Irony: Law says you have to ask if you want the seat, and if that’s too much of a social faux pas in the mean city, then what, pray tell, is unsolicited photographing?

But this reminds me of a city planning thought about what makes cities sociable. I say this as someone who’s grown up in a wild and wooly neighborhood, but a hood that really does embody the word “neighborhood.” That is to say, I know my neighbors. A large city is a den of anonymity – if but for the sanity of those in it, as evidenced by the passive-aggression of this yuppie here – but it’s still an incredible bevy of interpersonal connection and assumed protocol.

Neighborhoods change people all the time but require an outside force to change character: New laws, new money, a new dynamic imposed on the order. Redlining, gentrification, etc. I mention this because I think the underlying problem with crutchboy here is something of a citywide gentrification thing. The new buildings going up on the Far West Side, Long Island City, our guy’s “East Williamsburg*,” condos abound; they all have two common elements. One, they’re in the middle of nowhere. Two, they have no connection with anything.

Doormen lobbies and drive-in parking garages – the sidewalks are as empty when the buildings are full as they are when they’re still being built. Along with this is their downmarket cousins, the Hipster colonies where young whites play in neighborhoods where they assiduously avoid the locals – and oftentimes each other. The Bush boom heralded iPods on the subways and an inflated sense of self. The irony, of course, is that were he not the one in crutches, he’d probably ignore those who were.

Summed up with a nice exchange outside my window from the opposing co-op one Saturday night to the street:

“It’s 1am! Could you stop playing that fucking music!”

“I’ve been here 40 years! Eat shit!”

I guess what I’m thinking is that his views – overcrowded trains, all-pervasive asininity – are an inference of the breakdown of a social bubble (yuppiedom) in a contracting economy. NYC is taking itself back.

*You’re in Bushwick, asshole.

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