Hell on the 4,5, 6

A rush hour ride on the Lexington Avenue line can ruin your day, and often does!
Take today for instance. 8:30 a.m. and my simple trip from 86th Street to Union Square. On a good day the ride can last as little as 8 or 9 minutes. Not today! It was from the moment I descended that I sensed that this was not going to be a good one. The 80 degree humid air at street level added nearly a degree every other step down the stairs. The station, before the turnstiles, was mobbed by all those poor people that were waiting for metrocards who hadn't thought about when their card would expire (always make sure that it doesn't expire on a Monday-the lines are 3 times as long). Then again, if you forgot when you bought your metrocard or how much is left on it, it is impossible to tell, since all of the swipe machines that tell you what's left on them are broken, and always are. Anyway, every time that you descend to the express platform, you pray that the throngs of people waiting for the train are not Three or Four deep. Well today was 5 or 6 deep with people obviously turning around having given up. At 8:30 nowadays, the chances of this happening are about 1 in 3. Another 1 out of 3 are nearly as bad, and about 1 in 3 days is bearable/humane. These bearable/humane days seem to be dwindling. So what do you do? You squeeze through the agitated crowds along the platform to get to the back of the train where presumably the crowds will be less and the next train may actually have room for you to get on. So, I did that, and a train came. I know where the doors open, so I had a good shot of actually boarding the 4 train. A tough choice it was. It was one of those trains so completely packed that all you see is bodies pressed against the door when the train arrives. When the doors opened, a couple of people disembarked and I was faced with the question of whether or not I was gonna be the guy who saw the ever so slight 5 inches near the door where if I stood up perfectly straight, I may be able to get on this train and avoid having to make the same decision 4or 5 minutes later. After all, there was a hint of cold air rushing from the train, so how could I resist? The first stop was not that bad. Although I counted 31 bodies just from the right door to the front of the train (about 7' x 9'), I was only in body contact with 2 of them. Unfortunately, I had on a short-sleeved Polo Shirt and the gentleman to my left doing the Soduku puzzle under his chin had extremely hairy forearms which he had no problem rubbing against my forearms (which had no place to go). Yick! I thought, ok, this is gross, but at least people usually get off at 59th Street. Well, not really today it would seem. There was no room to jockey for position, just enough room to stand next to the bars next to the door that block you from sitting right on top of the 2 seater at the front of the car. The bad news was that there were rows of people 6 deep looking to get on to the train, and many tried and succeeded. They pushed, shoved, squeezed, cajoled, and next thing you know I was pressed up against the bars flush. I was in full body contact with at least 5 people, uncomfortably so, with at least 5 arms surrounding my body. An arm over my left shoulder, under my left armpit, one across my, let's say my front pants pocket area, and 2 to my right just above and below my shoulder. It was then that I had a true New York moment. I couldn't take it, regardless of my desire to get to work in a timely fashion. Just as the door was about to close, I jumped out of the car, taking perhaps 2 or 3 of the full body contact bodies and a few arms with me. I did say "pardon me", but, if you are out there I owe you an apology. It was an instant, involuntary response. I am sorry if I happened to push 4 or 5 of you, but it had to be done. I felt as if I had no choice. It actually felt strangely liberating and empowering just to say, fuck it, I can't take it and I won't be subject to this bullshit. Well, that didn't last too long. I made my way up the stairs from the platform at 59th and then up the escalator through the muggy, stinky, crowded station and up to the 6 platform where I caught the first crowded train and had contact with only 2 people, but not squishing contact, after boarding. Within a couple of stops I had made it into the center of the train where I actually had the 3 square feet recommended for cattle and a decent amount of a/c. Then the train stopped, and lurched, and stopped again and again. I was on one of those delayed, stuck in the tunnel hell rides that we all love so much. The ride which piques your curiosity as to how long it's actually going to take to travel a simple 4 miles. You wonder, is this going to be one of those trains where you finally get to a station and they tell you that the train is no longer running and you've got to either get out and wait (in bedlam), or escape the experience all together and carry on by foot. You also wonder if there was an accident, or worse, the incident that we all fear the most. Granted, that is only in the very back of your mind, but, it's still there. I usually assume that there was someone, a little older, perhaps, who was having the same experience on a train ahead of me, who's heart gave out and they are just waiting to tag him and bag him, so the rest of us can test this fate. Anyway, about 30 minutes into this journey, just before 28th Street, a seat presented itself, and smartly I took it, since the last 2 stops took better than 15 minutes. At least I got a full read of both free dailies on the way. When I got off there were a fair number of cops posted out along the platform and up the stairs, perhaps 12 in all. This is a little higher than usual which again piqued my curiosity, but again, we never know when they are looking for someone or some thing, and this number was just above average, so I saw no cause for alarm. My 8-10 minute ride clocked in at just over 45 minutes. Such a ride usually ruins my mood for an hour or two afterwards, but, such is life in New York. I go in knowing this can happen.
The real question is why this happens all the time and why we are so tolerant of lousy service that makes our commutes so often miserable? We are all mad as hell, so when do we make the joint decision that we are not going to take it anymore? The Empire State Building was built in 1 year..why can't they move a little quicker on the 2nd Avenue Subway System? 2013? Even that is a prayer at best! And what of this congestion pricing? So we are going to cram more people onto the trains and fix service later? Here is an idea, why don't you make service better, so more people take the train? And the idea that a fare hike is going to improve service is a joke. I have been hearing that line every time that they raised fares since I started riding in the 70's when the fare was 35 cents. Guess what, the trains are more crowded than ever! If a car on the 4 train was a bar or a club, the fire department would shut them down. Not only is such crowding a fire risk, unfortunately, it creates a greater terror risk as well.
Something should and must be done. I invite your comments and a dialogue to see how this most annoying situation can be rectified. This may ruin our day, let's not let it ruin our lives.


  1. Nice rant. And good point about the deluge of riders the congestion pricing will probably bring (if it passes). Ugh...


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