Wonders of Modern Commuting, Part 1:
At around 8:25 every day, Mr. Impatient’s train pulls up to the Greenpoint platform. Mr. Impatient is a G(1) train conductor who is always in a very big hurry to get the train where it’s going. I have yet to get a glimpse of him, but I can hear him, and from the anxiously annoyed tone in his flat-sounding voice and the rapidly issued discourteous commands he fires off, I picture a white guy in his 30’s or 40’s with a perpetually aggravated frown clouding his face, most likely accompanied by a furrowed brow(2)and set jaw.
Mr. Impatient always sounds most frustrated with passengers at our stop (PPP syndrome?(3)) , who can never board fast enough for his urgent schedule, and he seems to derive insatiable pleasure from closing the subway doors on us. Immediately after the train docks, Mr. Impatient makes his agenda known: You, the passenger, are expendable in his mission of getting the train down that line. Matter of fact, he’d just as soon leave you standing on the platform all day. The passenger knows all this from Mr. Impatient’s quickly uttered announcement, issued immediately after the subway doors open, “Please use all available doors, stand clear!” This announcement is both a warning and justification; Mr. Impatient is really saying, “You fucking idiots are bunching up at the same spots again, and it’s driving me crazy! I warn you every single day to spread out, use the other entrances, and get your miserable asses inside quickly, but you never listen. That’s why I’m going to try and catch you damned Polacks between the doors, and hopefully the train will leave with your head hanging out to be smeared against the wall, creating some nice graffiti of my own.” The doors themselves are actually only open for no more than three or four seconds.
Every passenger knows better than to believe his promise that “There’s another G train directly behind us,” since the undependable G seldom frequents platforms in less than ten-minute intervals. When everyone has been squeezed out or in, and the train pulls away from the platform leaving less agile passengers glaring after it with balled fists, Mr. Impatient whips us onward to the next stop like a jockey in a mule race(4).
In my somewhat short experience of riding subways, I’ve found most subway conductors to be even-tempered and laid-back. When arriving at a platform they announce the approaching stop, and when docking their trains they allow ample time for passengers to disembark and board. They indicate where any transfers may be made, and will sometimes even take on the role of tour guides, passing along informational tidbits about various public attractions to be found at particular stops. Not so with our Mr. Impatient. I don’t really think the malicious bastard cares about keeping his train on schedule anymore. After years of frustration, he’s now waging a personal vendetta against all passengers, who he sees as inferior and lowly cattle standing blindly in the path of his accomplishment.
But I beat that dirty fucker on Monday. It was 8:24, and I was jogging down Manhattan Avenue towards the India Street subway entrance, avoiding alcoholic zombies, leaping over leashes of Spaniels and Labradors, and dodging sidewalk poo-poo landmines (or DDDs(5)) . As I tumbled down the stairs with Metrocard in hand, I saw the G rumbling into its dock. “Just in time!” I thought, proudly striding up to the turnstile. But to my horror, my swipe was rejected: INSUFFICIENT FARE.
I panicked, then ran to throw myself at the mercy of the booth worker. “One token please!” I begged, shoving two dollar bills under the glass. With a piteous look in his eye that seemed to say, “You poor, poor sap, you’ll never make it with Him at the controls,” the token clerk issued my fare and change. Plunging my rounded key to freedom into the slot I burst forth onto the platform, only to hear the terrible bong-bong of the doors, and Mr. Impatient’s malicious order, “Stand clear!”
I say you nay, Archdemon! You shall not prevail! Sprinting forward at lightning speed, I weaved in and out of disembarking passengers like an Olympic slalom champion. I reached the doors just as Mr. Impatient brought his finger down on the close button, and with a desperate leap, threw myself at them. By the grace of some miracle, I made it through, but my backpack was held fast between the doors. I was stuck, and felt that I’d now participate in the attainment of Mr. Impatient’s ultimate revenge when my backpack straps would catch on a passing girder, and I’d be sucked outside like an astronaut through an airlock, to be zapped to a crisp on the third rail. But my fellow passengers, comrades in the battle against Mr. Impatient, forced the jaws open and dragged me inside the carriage in the nick of time. Realizing my salvation and victory, I smiled thankfully at my brothers as we moved off down the track. Grinning up at the overhead speaker, the mechanical embodiment of Mr. Impatient, I shook my fist and said under my breath, “Not this time, oh, clever foe. You lose.”
1 The Ghetto train 2 From the Old English: furh 3 Prejudice against Polish People 4 See Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi. 5 Dog-Doo Deployments