Riding the subways of New York, I’m sure every commuter has experienced the terror of being trapped in a car with somebody crazy. I remember the first time that happened to me–maybe a month after I moved to the city–a tall, burly white guy with a full beard and wild corkscrewed hair started banging on the roof of the subway car, yelling about how he should get a seat on the train. I moved down the car away from him and was glad because just a few minutes later the train got stuck in the tube between Bedford Avenue and First Avenue, a common occurrence on the L train. The scary guy’s yelling turned to raving and I was shaken for hours after I arrived to work.
This weekend Kristi and I decided to ride on the Nostalgia Train, a subway made up of vintage cars that went from Grand Central Terminal to Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. On the way to the city while riding the L train, I looked out the subway window after hearing the train’s sharp horn blasting, warning workers in the tunnel. I watched the grimy walls of the tunnel slip by and was surprised to see an MTA guy in reflective vest and helmet pressed against the wall of the tube. It scared me how quickly he reared up when I wasn’t expecting a person in that narrow space. After about a hundred meters, I saw a clutch of MTA guys outside the window leaning up against the walls. There’s only about a foot and a half of space between the train and the tunnel wall, and these guys seemed just fine with that.
Once we arrived at Grand Central and found the right platform, I was surprised by who was riding the train with us. Most of the riders were crazy guys all tricked out in MTA paraphernalia–engineer caps pierced with pins representing the different subway lines, MTA T-shirts and bags. Kristi and I rode in the last car of the subway–the oldest car of the train (1950s) with wicker seats, fans, and ads on the walls for Lifebuoy soap and against the Communists. Of course, all the crazies went for that car as well and we had to deal with a tall guy with eyes so light and milky they seemed to have cataracts–he talked the whole time about the different makes of subway cars, when they were rolled out, and what their original features were. Nobody asked for this commentary–he just preached it. I accidentally made eye contact once and he started drilling me about Brooklyn and bridges that were unstable. There was also a pervy beer-bellied guy wearing an F train T-shirt who kept taking pictures of me and Kristi. He took pictures of Kristi’s feet and other body parts while pretending that he was snapping the train. I shudder to think of the shrine he’s made to my poor sister.