I’ve become something of a transit snob lately.
After years of suffering through the roar and the filth of the subways, I decided that riding the express bus is the only way to commute.
Instead being shoved and abused by the crush of humanity for a grueling subterranean trip, I now travel above ground, sit in a comfortable chair and watch the world roll by my window.
It’s more expensive, but I’ve decided that I’m worth it; and, more importantly I’ve grown accustomed to riding to work in relative comfort, while avoiding the subway’s vermin, religious psychos, and panoply of plagues that would make a germ warfare specialist scream.
Riding the bus is civilized, comfortable, and you don’t have to deal with all that railroad riff-raff. I’ve gotten such an attitude that I can easily picture myself wearing a top hat and monocle as I cruise through town. Oh, I say, Dudley, try not to hit too many potholes!
I had a doctor’s appointment on Friday near Union Square, which was only a short distance from my office in lower Manhattan. However, in order to get there I would have to travel by--eww!—subway.
I wasn’t sure if I could do this. The subway is dark and noisy and it’s filled with rats and bedbugs and freaks, oh my!
I descended the steps at the Cortland Street station and tried to blend in with the crowd. I wondered if people would be able to tell that I was slumming and confront me right there on the platform. So you thought you were too good for us, eh?
No one seemed to notice me and as I got on the uptown R train I realized that there’s one thing the subways have that you can’t get on the express bus: entertainment. And I got a full revue on Friday, like the Ed Sullivan Show on wheels.
The show started with the conductor making an ominous announcement over the PA system.
“Ladies and gentleman,” he intone, “there are two groups of people on this train who want your money…”
Really? And who exactly wants my money? Are we talking about aluminum siding salesmen or Jesse James-style bandits with kerchiefs over their faces?
Right Here On Our Stage...
Whoever they were, they’d have to line up behind the IRS and the cable company to get the remaining crumbs of my paycheck.
While the conductor was giving his spiel, a trio of break-dancers entered the car.
“He makes us sound like criminals,” said a young woman who seemed be the group’s leader.
“We don’t care about money, we just want to perform and bridge the gap between cultures. If you want to give us money, fine.”
The group proceeded to put on a spirited, athletic show in this tight little spot right in front of me. They spun around on the floor, popped their limbs in robotic movements, and the young woman finished off with a twirling finale on the pole inches from my head.
I understand the conductor’s concern, but young dancers are the least of my worries when I ride the subway. Aggressive panhandlers, yes, but these people were actually doing something as opposed to just putting their hands out or shaking a cup under my nose.
I threw a dollar into their bucket and as they walked by the conductor announced that Union Square—my stop—was coming up next.
That’s strange, I thought, I could’ve sworn we just left Prince Street, and even I still remember that the next stop is--
“I’m sorry,” the conductor quickly corrected himself. “Eighth Street will be the next stop. My bad.”
“Did you hear him?” the young woman crowed to one of her partners. “He said ‘my bad’!”
“He should pay attention to his job.”
The break-dancers moved on, but the show wasn’t over. The second they exited from one end of the car, a group of older African American men came in through the opposite end and started singing “My Girl.”
I’ve seen their guys before and they’re pretty good, certainly worth another dollar.
This was quite a ride. Break-dancing, Motown singers-- perhaps a ventriloquist or a few animal acts would be coming my way. But my stop came up and I had to get off the train, which was just as well, since I running out of singles.
I got through the doctor’s appointment and grabbed the express bus at 13th Street. It must’ve been the start of the driver’s run because there were no other people on board. I had the entire bus to myself, or at least until the next stop.
I took a seat by the window and resumed my superior attitude. Imaginary top hat and monocle firmly in place, I looked out at the teeming masses as they muddled through the streets. Home, Dudley, and be quick about it!