Big Smoke

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

Lord, Just Get Me Through the Day


You just can’t phase New Yorkers; their Somebody Else’s Problem mantra is too strong for even terrorists to punch through. Any oddity, sufficiently repeated, can become routine. Take my commute, amidst the pleas to help the homeless, the Mariachi men and the breakdancers:

3 train local coming inbound from central Brooklyn, the conductor wouldn’t open the doors at each stop until he had warned the straphangers not to enter his car but choose another. Those with headphones or resolutely irresponsive were soon met with a woman going through a rather violent episode, accosting and harassing them off her car while she methodically trashed it, to the bemused stares of onlookers smirking at the spectacle.

Not one to let crazies stop the system, tho, this continued stop by stop until we had reached Atlantic Avem whereupon two bored and distracted-looking officers cajoled her off the train as the conductor cited the ever-euphemistic chant that the “train was being held in the station for a police investigation.”

“So that’s what a ‘police investigation’ is,” says I.

“Who knew?” replies a man a dead ringer for of Black Eyed Peas. “It’s always causing delays right about now.” For good measure, the next three stops were skipped – to keep on time, of course.

The sixth car on the uptown A train had a small blue Jansport bag, unowned as it were and unclaimed, flanked by two hoods – a white guy with spiky hair and black t-shirt and a large, rotund Latino guy – traded jokes about what could be in it – a bomb? Drugs? Drug money? – until the white guy promised upon leaving the train at 34th to notify the conductor; after all, If You See Something, Say Something. Just not before your stop.

The conductor came over and the latino guy, now cracking jokes with the midwestern tourists sitting next to him, moved to hand the bag to her. “I don’t want that shit!” she exclaimed, before barking into her comm unit for cops to remove the bag. None immediately forthcoming, she returned to her cab and the train doors closed. The latino guy shrugged. His civic duty was done! And now they got his fingerprints all over it. Watch it be drugs; just watch.

The tourists got off at 42nd, thanking our intrepid citizen, and ever more straphangers got on. One woman spied the empty seat and suggested to us onlookers that, bomb threat notwithstanding, ain’t nothing in that bag more important than a seat during rush hour or more dangerous than what’s been sitting in that seat (or touching the poles) all day. We concurred. She stuffed the bag under the seat.

At 59th a cop came on to collect the bag, duly handed over by the Latino guy. He looked at it. Spoke into his comm unit, “children’s bag.” Left with the bag. If it was a bomb, it’d have had the opportunity to detonate in at least three major transfer stops. But who’s counting?

Safety Measures

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The one thing that struck me upon hearing about the DC Metro collision was how much of the NYC subway system’s safety measures were designed for the specific purpose of ensuring that couldn’t possibly occur.

In NYC, any train that goes beyond its allotted section of track is automatically stopped: You can see this in action by checking under the signals on the track after a train goes by. The second the train leaves that section, a small metal bar rises under the signal that literally trips the next train’s emergency brakes should the train run the red signal.

Thus, the track is split up into sections that can only be used by one train at a time, and the trains automatically leave a trail of red signals behind them as they fill up the sections. DC has a similar system, but the difference between the two is that NYC’s system does it analog via the tracks. DC does it digital via the trains. Thus, NYC has old trains from the fifties which are as safe as any other, and DC has the ignoble task of upgrading trains in order to keep such a safety level.

The only way for an NYC train to collide with another is for the train to speed fast enough that when it trips the red signal the brakes are unable to stop it within the next section of track, and this doesn’t usually occur because the block of track before the red signal is yellow, which trips the emergency brake if the train runs it going faster than 20.

There are places where it’s possible to collide two trains – namely, places where the signals are too close together, and thus the sections are smaller – and several minor collisions have occurred over the years, but not at all compared to derailings and other aspects of bad train handling. The last time NYC saw a major train collision was in 1918 – the Malbone Street Wreck – which is what fomented the system in use today.

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.

Good God

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Forgive the time gap between posts.

Unions have a mixed history in NYC as of late. They’re practically the last bastions of real power for the rank and file left in the country (I think the UFT is the only part of the AFL-CIO that isn’t currently being gutted through a complete destruction of its parent industry), but they’re victims of their own success. Read the rest of this entry »

This Looks Familiar

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The state government is deadlocked because suburbanites don’t like taxes (but certainly like their road and utility subsidies, don’t they?), the MTA is cutting service and raising fares to ridiculous lengths (and the comments on that article hurt my faith in humanity), and people are again antsy about violent crime.

For my part, the mood is prevailing on spring student aggression and teacher dispair. Fights have been breaking out on a daily basis in high traffic hallways, two computers were stolen today by students who managed to get their hands on a master key which, along with other petty thefts, foments a possible crime wave a la about this time last year, where teacher laptops and school equipment were being snatched left and right for two weeks of insanity.

I was in a hardware store picking up padlocks so I could secure my equipment now that the door locks were compromised, and when giving the rundown to answer the cashier’s inquiries, the lady next to me broke out in laughter.

“I’m glad I’m not sending my kid to your school!” said this Asian yuppie in high heels.

That’s okay. No other white or Asian mother does. Not one. There’s a reason they call it a ghetto: Nobody who has a choice stays. It’s beginning to feel like the 70s or the 90s in sense that yuppies are having misgivings about the city again and locals are hunkering down.

The thing I hope for at least in the NYCDoE, given the frustrating nature of the current crop and the limited prospects they’re looking at is the promise that we’re only holding the fort until the Bloomberg generation – ie, the generation of students that grew up entirely within the agency that is known as Dead On Education as compared to Bored Of Education – is old enough for high school. Big hope.

Authorities, Saving the Public From Itself

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From the Metro section,

“I think it’s unfair to tax drivers to pay for those using public transportation,” Serena Burch, 37, said as she waited on a recent afternoon for a bus near Brooklyn College, where she is a full-time student. “Why should the bridge commuters pay for the subway commuters in Brooklyn?”

Because each train full of passengers is a thousand fewer cars between you and Manhattan, dipshit.

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