Saturday, July 18, 2009

...And the Train You Rode in On


If the train I was riding on Thursday morning had been a horse, I would have put it out of its misery.

But then again, if I had been riding a horse, I probably would have gotten to work a hell of a lot sooner than I did.

I work in Lower Manhattan, and normally it’s not such a bad ride from Bay Ridge Avenue to Rector Street. I get in the first car and usually slide right into the double-seat near the motorman’s cab.

If I get the seat that’s flush against the wall, my morning is made—which should give you an idea of what my life is like.

I get this seat so often I tend to think of it as mine and I get rather peeved when some thoughtless vulgarian decides to plop his or her carcass on my prime spot.

I feel like a co-pilot on an airliner when I'm in that seat, ready to take control of the train just in case the motorman rips off all his clothes, puts on a busby, and skips down the track singing “Pass the Biscuits, Mirandy” at the top of his lungs.

That’s never actually happened, mind you, but I want all the R train riders out there to know that if it ever does, your boy is ready to take the helm…or the switch…or whatever the hell they call that thing.

On Thursday I slipped into my favorite seat and prepared for a journey of reading, napping, and staring blankly at the bourbon ads that lined the car. It seemed like any other day.

We had just reached Union Street—Union Street, damn it, just handful of stops from my office—when the motorman gets out of the cab, locks the door behind him, and leaves the train like he’s got a hot date with Miss Subways.

Hmmm, I reasoned, this can’t be good.

And it wasn’t. In fact, it sucked, big time. The motorman—who was still had his clothes on, by the way—returned to the train, got into the cab and started furiously pumping some kind of lever.


The thing looked so flimsy and useless. Here we are on this massive train, powered by enough electrical energy to light up an Eastern European country and the motorman is fumbling around like he’s trying to crank up a Model T.

The cab quickly filled with static-filled voices as the motorman discussed the situation with the conductor and the MTA’s version of Mission Control.

Back and forth he went, leaving and returning the car like a duck in a shooting gallery. And each time he started cranking, I thought, this time he’s got it, the thing is going to work and we’re going to be on our way. But each time we get nothing.

The R train has recently been dubbed the dirtiest line in the city, which I frankly doubt, but on this morning I didn’t care about the garbage or the filth, I was more concerned with the lack of movement, which can be very bad for a train.

I thought that any minute the motorman was going to turn to us and say “the train is going to die because not enough people believe in fairies. But if all of you clap your hands real hard…” Hell, I would have tried it.

As the minutes passed, I started on my patented "why-today-of-all-days" routine.

I wanted to get to work early. I was filling in for my vacationing boss, I had a gym class I wanted to attend at lunchtime, and most importantly, I was just inches away from actually buying a plane ticket for a trip out west to see my cousin--instead of just talking about it.

Seats in the Upright Position

I had been inches away from doing this for about three days straight, but because I’m terrified of flying, I couldn’t bring myself to press the button and buy the plane tickets.

As always with domestic trips, I go through the ritual of seeing if I can take Amtrak instead of a jet and then I keel over at the expense and the stunning amount of travel time needed to reach my destination by rail. It would have to be the plane, not the train.

I vowed that Thursday morning would be it—either I bought the damn plane tickets or I’d give up on the vacation. No more pussy-footing around.

And now the subway was ruining everything.

My girlfriend was very supportive of my attempts to conquer the air. She lives in a rather funky section of the Bronx and she pointed out that I routinely visit her.

"You can come up to the hood, but you can't get on a plane?" she asked.

But Thursday was also the seventh anniversary of my mother’s death and I flashed back to 1999, when I threatened to visit the Grand Canyon, but kept balking because of the damn flying. Too bad the R train doesn’t go to Arizona.

My mother had very gently encouraged me to go ahead and buy the tickets because she didn’t want me to give in to my flying phobia. When I finally took the plunge, she announced it to the family as if I had just made Eagle Scout.

“Robert has overcome his fear,” she said so proudly.

Now I really wanted to get to the office and make this happen. But the train was still DOA. I overheard the motorman say that there was a sick passenger on board and some yo-yo—apparently trying to help—had pulled the emergency brake.

Now why in God’s name would you do something like that? Did this boob think that by pulling the cord a doctor would drop out of the ceiling like prizes from a piƱata and tend to the ailing rider?
Or maybe the poor victim would vanish from the train and reappear in the ER like a lovely assistant in a David Copperfield trick.

No, numb nuts, all you did by pulling the cord was put the train out of commission…kind of like your brain.

I don’t know what happened to that loser but I suspect a lot of the passengers would have happily stuffed his mouth full of Metrocards and strung him up by that emergency cord.

Time wore on people started trickling out of the train and leaving the station. I kept on going from the platform to the train, fearful that I would decide to leave just as they'd get the thing running again.

I had been prepared to go down with the train, but finally I couldn't take it anymore. It was getting late, the conductor was offering no hope, and I got tired of looking at this lifeless train stretched down the track like a giant string of wieners. I had people to see and places to go.

Now I do complain about the subways a lot, but one thing I can say in their defense is that if there’s something wrong, you can get out and take a look. That doesn't work so well on an airplane.

I climbed out of the station and walked down Fourth Avenue to Pacific Street to get the No. 2 train. I arrived at work a short time later and I was only an hour late. And since I was the boss that day, I didn’t have to make any excuses.

I made it to my gym class, and, yes, I did buy the airplane tickets and I’ll soon be flying out west.

I know my mother would be proud if she could see me boarding that jet and taking my seat.

But if I hear “Pass the Biscuits, Mirandy” coming out of the cockpit, I’m going the hell home.

13 comments:

Calamity Jen said...

Yes, your mother would be proud. I know I am.

Rob K said...

Oh, thanks, Jen. That means the world to me. I've got to get the nerve to take a plane to Toronto sometime. It's only an hour or so. I think I can stand it.

thebookmill said...

The double seats next the motorman's cab are my favorite too. Although I sit next the cab in the middle of train for easy exit at City Hall.

I have countless stories about the R train breakdowns (yet I've only been riding it for a year) my favorite one was when the breaks malfunctioned at Atlantic/Pacific. After waiting in the station for 15 minutes they decided to go slowly to DeKalb and "see what happens" We got there in one piece. Then they went slowly to Lawrence, and so forth, and I guess the brakes just fixed themselves.

I'm terrified of flying as well, I just got back from a trip to Michigan and the flight wasn't bad at all. I went on a tiny plane that could only seat 35 people, I thought I would flip out, but I survived! Take some Tylenol PM, drink a few glasses of wine beforehand, do whatever you have to do to get through it, it will be fine!

thebookmill said...

... and by "breaks" I mean "brakes" obviously...

Rob K said...

See what happens?!? Boy, I hope the pilot of my airplane doesn't say that.

Congrats on the Michigan flight. It scares me just thinking of those small planes. And thanks for the Tylenol tip--I'll give it a try.

PDL said...

Roberto, we discourage the Tylenol PM plus wine trick as we hope you're at least semi-conscious when you get here. :)

Rob K said...

Oh, Cousin Pat, you're no fun!!!

PDL said...

BTW. Emma discovered the old cartoon illustrating the song "Pass the Biscuits, Mirandy," and may now be the only teen on earth who has it on her iPod. Thank you for expanding our cultural horizons.

Rob K said...

Cool! That was one of my dad's tunes.

NEW YORK BRIT said...

I loved this story Rob... an excellent read.

And congrats on, a) getting to work, and, b) buying your air ticket!

Charlie

Rob K said...

Thanks, Charlie!

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Rob K said...

Why, Patrcia, thank you so much. I appreciate your interest.