Thursday, August 13, 2009

Union Street Dues

There must be something about Union Street.

Twice in the last month I’ve been struck on the R train trying to get to or from my office and both times the fertilizer hit the air-conditioning unit right at the Union Street station.

They got me coming and going--literally.

Is this place haunted or cursed in some way? Did an angry wizard stub his toe on the way down the steps and put a whammy on the whole station? Did some old shaman or witch doctor lose his Metrocard down there and decide to give it the evil eye?

It was probably some old ratbag nun who croaked on the platform while religiously pounding the bejesus out of an emotionally-scarred child and who was then condemned to bollix up my commute until the Rapture sucks all the chosen up to Paradise.

If that’s the case, I’ll gladly perform a citizen’s exorcism and drive the misbegotten battle ax back to the nether regions of hell from whence she came.

Better yet, I’ll send her to the G line. That’s G as in “God, what have I done to deserve this hell ride?”

Five minutes on that nightmare train and the holy spirit of Sister Mary the Merciless will abandon all hope and sob as if she’s been buried neck deep in an onion patch.

Last night’s ride was exceptionally bad. It took me 90 minutes, yes, 90-freaking-oh-my-God-you-can’t-be-serious-minutes, to get from my office near Wall Street to 86th Street in Bay Ridge. I could’ve been halfway to Montauk in that time. And I'm not sure why I wasn't.

I had a feeling something was wrong when I got on at Rector Street and saw a mob of people craning their necks and staring down the tracks like they could eyeball the train into making an appearance.

When the train finally did arrive it crept and crawled, dropping anchor at nearly every stop and sitting there with the doors open. God forbid the conductor should actually tell us what’s going on. Hell, we’re just the passengers. Why should we be informed?

And, oh, yeah, I forget to mention I had a 7 pm appointment with an acupuncturist. I’ve been doing this for a while and I find it so incredibly relaxing, quite unlike being stranded on a packed subway car. (I was going to make a “pins and needles” crack, but even I have some standards.)

On and on it went, like a slow motion replay of a normal subway ride. The train would stop dead in the tunnel or inch along so slowly it was an insult to the word “motion.”

Catch That Train

Meanwhile, on the express line, trains were flying by at warp speed. I could see the faces of contented commuters, relaxed, even happy, as they were actually getting somewhere while I fumed, cursed, and gnashed my teeth.

“Who needs Abu Ghraib?” I muttered quite loudly.

I was dying. My watchband broke a while ago and, rather than get it fixed, I’ve been using my cell phone to tell time.

But I turned the phone off earlier in the day and when I turned it back on in the subway the thing couldn’t tell me the time. I was reduced to cranking my head to check out nearby wristwatches.

It seemed like nobody else on the car was in any hurry at all. They all acted like this agony was perfectly normal. They screwed around with their Blackberries, read the New York Post or jabbered away about the most inane topics.

I wanted to jump out of my seat and scream “am I the only one in this goddamn city who actually has to be somewhere tonight?”

One young couple spoke in a language I couldn’t identify and when I heard them laughing I was half-convinced that they were mocking me. I don’t know why they would do this, but who needs proof when you’ve got paranoia?

There was one older gentleman who talked with some co-workers about living in Breezy Point and actually had some interesting things to say. His family had been out there for years, he said, and he had an old photograph of his grandfather in an early 20th Century Army uniform, complete with campaign hat and jodhpurs.

“He was in Mexico looking for Pancho Villa,” the man said, “but then they sent him overseas to fight in World War I.”

This was fascinating and had it been any other night I might have joined in on the conversation. But I was tired, late, and angry as all hell, so by the time this man started talking about his son the doctor, I was happy to see him get off at DeKalb Avenue.

Then we hit Union Street and my train turned into an eight-car planter. I went from thinking that I just might be on time, to I’ll be a little late, to there’s no goddamn way I’ll make it, to somebody please fire me out of a cannon. Maybe the cops were looking for Pancho Villa on the train tracks.

As I raged, a young man in camouflage pants sitting next to me started to doze off and came close to dropping the book he had in his hands. I badly wanted to wake him up for having the nerve to be so relaxed while I was so miserable.

When I checked out his book, I nearly heaved: One Hundred Years of Solitude—sort of like this train ride.

The trouble is that in addition to screwing up my evening and ratcheting my blood pressure up to the stratosphere, this rotten evening made me think about an upcoming plane trip I have to take.

I’m scared hell of flying and if this simple subway ride was any sign of my luck with transportation, maybe I should just put a beach chair in my backyard and pretend to do the Times crossword puzzles for a week.

We finally limped into 86th Street like an old battleship. I was going to call the acupuncturist but I was a few blocks away, so I decided to just get there rather than talk about it.

And get there I did—only to find the lights were off and the door was locked. My guy had cleared out, which irritated me a bit. I was only a half-hour late, dude. I really need my needles.

But he hadn’t heard from me and if I were him, I’d be tempted to pull the pin, so to speak, and go home.

I know there’s a lesson in all this grief. I should be more patient. I should learn to let go of things and make the best of a bad situation. I should stop taking the subways.

Of course I can’t do that last one. And to be honest, as much as I complain about the trains, I don’t think I’d like driving to work everyday. At least on the train, we’re all in the same boat.

There are many Union Streets in this life—not just physical places, but things that get in the way of we want to do. How you react to these events tells a lot about what kind of person you are.

I have to do a better job of roping in my anger and pumping up my patience. I’m going to ride an emotional express to peace and contentment.

But I still don’t like Union Street.


Dinged Corners said...

You're getting all your bad travel karma out of the way now. Planewise, this is good!

Word verification: fucle

Calamity Jen said...

Hopefully, the more flights you take, the more accustomed you will become to flying. It beats the subway, at least; the plane won't be stuck in tunnels or inching along slowly.

Rob K said...

Good point, Jen!

Anonymous said...

Oh man this post had me cracking up laughing. When I used to communte to my job downtown from Westchester, I had to take 4 or 5 two stops from Grand Central to City Hall. I can't tell you how many times that "express" train would inch a long the tunnel, barely moving at all, while the "local" breezed through its stops. I swear some days it would take me 30 minutes to go two stops.

I've never driven to work a day in my life. I would take the train over a car anytime.

Rob K said...

That's our subways. But you're right about driving--that's a brutal commute--at least it is for me.