Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Don't Sleep In The Subway, Darling

Because, say the Straphangers, New York's subway avengers, the cars are covered with schmutz--their word, not mine. They've released a report claiming that subway cars are dirtier than ever, the E and J/Z trains being the dirtiest of them all. They say that 66% of all cars were clean in 2003, 61% were clean in 2005, but only 47% were in 2006. Why the precipitous decline? The MTA says that it's because ridership is at an all time high--according to the MTA, in March, the number of passengers on an average weekday was the highest it's been since 1970, when the MTA started tracking that. They also say that they're concentrating on station cleaning and keeping trash off tracks, cluttered tracks being a fire hazard. Which I guess explains why none of the great subway short-outs of the last year or so had anything to do with a Blimpie cup going up in flames on the third rail. Good work, guys!

To give them credit, I do feel like I'm always seeing transit workers bleaching the station pavement.

Per the Times, New York City Transit, the wing of the MTA that runs the subways, said in a statement that "These figures defy both logic and common sense."

It's always been my feeling that Transit and the MTA are run in ways that defy both logic and common sense. And they're blind. Said Gene Russianoff, the cantakerous head of the Straphangers, in response: "We think you know schmutz when you see it." Riding the E and associated blue line trains lately, and this isn't just the rape-scene lighting in the A/C/E cars giving me that impression, I've thought, is this car totally covered in food and periodical refuse, or is it just me?

And I wonder, at the risk of sounding a conspiracy theory, whether the lines whose cars were the cleanest--the 4, the 6, and the 1, and that seems true from my layperson's eye--are clean because those lines travel through moneyed neighborhoods? The 4 going up the Upper East Side and dropping much of its freight, destined for the Connecticut suburbs, at Grand Central Station. The 1 going up the Upper West Side, which seems to me the tract of Manhattan that most closely resembles and sounds like the suburbs, and through the exceedingly well-heeled West Village.

I'll end this on a positive note. The other day I saw something I'd never seen in my nearly ten (good Lord) years of riding the subway. I was on the R train going into Manhattan and for most of my ride into the city, a man in his fifties, probably from the West Indies, dressed cleanly in jeans, sneakers and a button-down, was preaching at us. Loudly. Sonorously. Carefully. It was impressive, in its way. But I didn't have an iPod, of course, so I couldn't drown it out. And I couldn't read the novel I'd brought along because his voice filled the car. People moved away from him. The Orthodox Jewish guy across from me I swear started his own prayer in incantory retaliation. Each time this happens to me, I sit there for a good while wondering if I should get up and politely, and firmly, inform the preacher that if they're intending to win souls over to Jesus, they're probably doing the opposite. There's a violence in the preaching that I abhor. Anyway, about fifteen minutes into his spiel, when the car had stopped at a station, the conductor, a stout African-American woman probably in her forties, wearing those goggles that serve as glasses, said, politely, and firmly, "Sir, you're going to have to calm it down because the customers are complaining. They want you off the train. " He said something in response which I couldn't hear. She replied, "I understand that. But when the customers complain, as a Transit worker I have to take action." He said something else I couldn't hear, and she said, "I'm not against anything that you're saying. But again, if they complain, my job is to take action." And he got off at the next stop.