Your reporter first started riding the New York City Subways at the age of four or five. There was no fare if you could pass under the turnstile without duck-walking.
There is a website, https://www.quora.com/ where readers pose questions and other readers respond. A recent question was “What is the craziest thing you ever saw on a New York Subway?”
Until I retired, I was a regular NYC subway rider for more than 60 years, steady for more than 40 of them so I hardly know where to begin.
There was the conductor on the E train who had married two ex-nuns in succession. (The first one passed away.)
The coke machine that returned $20 in dimes and a coke in return for two nickels. There was the cop who helped me after I fell on a platform chasing and missing a train, cutting myself badly, bleeding profusely from a head wound. He asked me if I knew where I was. I did. And I asked him to take out his ticket book. Why? “Because, officer, I’m going to light up right in front of that no smoking sign.” He asked me if I had a spare while his partner called the Emergency Medical Service.
“Homeless” panhandlers who had a better apartment than I. Kids selling M&Ms to support their fake basketball team or their fake anti-drug programs. A guy who imitated Al Jolson and credibly. My boss, a billionaire and the city’s mayor hugging a pole so a pregnant woman could have his seat. The guy with a boom box playing the overture from “Carmen,” The straw covered seats on what’s now called the “7 Train” that would puncture your pants and scratch you. The rats that laughed when the Transit Authority put up signs that warned against going on the tracks because they’d just spread rat poison.
Man, I loved every minute of it. Glorious entertainment at the price of a nickel, then a dime, then a token and then a not ready for prime time MetroCard.
But there was far more than that.
The emergency light bulbs with reverse threads so you couldn’t use them at home if you stole them… the ads for Dr. Zizmor the acne-battling dermatologist and Dr. MD Tusch who catered to gay men with backside problems. The loudspeaker announcements made in no known language but when you heard them, you knew you were going to be late.
In later years there were street musicians many of whom were better than anything you could buy in a record store:
An Asian guy who played some kind of bowed string instrument and could do more with four notes than the violin section of the New York Philharmonic… a lovely red-haired soprano with a name you either never knew or easily forgot, but a voice you couldn’t… Doowop quartets and quintets that sang circles around The Penguins and The Coasters and The Moonglows… a security guard turned classical guitarist who sounded like a young Segovia.
All this happening as rush hour filled platforms with herds of home bound riders who knew exactly where to stand on the platform to line up with a door when the train stopped. At least most of the time.
For a time, some of the cars were rolling art museums. Graffiti, yes. But but graffiti that stunned with form and color.
Full trains that pulled in, opened up and no one got off except the 85 year old guy who was nowhere near a door and carried four full shopping bags. And no room to squeeze in, but we did anyway.
Somehow we always got home. Maybe a little late. Maybe a lot late. But we made it.
Some call the New York subway a mess. I call it a near-miracle.
I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2016