Wednesday, March 18, 2009

NYC09: Trapped in the Two Train

The morning started later than I would have liked. With St. Patrick's day in the past, but remnants of the previous night still evident I dragged myself to my feet – the sun already shining in the sky.

It was Wednesday, and the best thing to do – I'm told – for a tourist in New York City on a Wednesday is to head uptown; head way uptown to the Bronx for a lovely day at the zoo. However, this is not a simple journey. It is no quick jump from midtown to the top of the 2 line.

At 11:00 in the morning I boarded the train, at 1:10 I finally disembarked.

Sure, one could assume that this was just a slow train, or the journey was longer than the map made it seem to be. But that was not the case. For those that were on the 2 Train this afternoon, they will remember emerging from the underground, around 149th – the daylight replacing the gloom of the underground.

Those riders will recall the brief sense of freedom that always accompanies the transition from darkness to daylight. This was a short lived feeling. A moment later, while the light outside persisted, the lights inside were down. The train was stopped. The power was down.

Passengers sat calmly for one minute; passengers sat calmly for two minutes. At three minutes the lack of air conditioning became overwhelming. Even in mid-March the car started to heat up, and as is often the case people became short tempered. Cell phones started to ring. Passengers started to complain to those on the other end of the line. Reprieve came when one elderly gentleman opened the doors at the end of the car. A transitory moment later the car began to cool. Voices lowered. People on phones became much more relaxed with the situation.

As fifteen minutes passed there was still no notice from the driver. The man who had opened the door though he had an idea. A fantastic, mischievous, killer idea.

“You know,” he said, “I bet that we could jump this fence. I bet everyone on board could jump this fence.”

People looked over – they were, after all, outside. Why couldn't they hop out and then make a quick run for the fence? Within three minutes they'd be on the street ready to catch a bus, or take a different train. This was New York – there are backups for all routes, provided you're not stuck on one.

The man quietly mused to himself, “Stupid driver probably jumped his lights... Now we're stuck here. Should just hop out.”

While no one seemed to pay too much attention to him, caught up in their own dramas, when he unclipped the chain between cars, and hopped down, everyone ran to the window to watch him run down the tracks.

“Oh no! Look at him go! That guy's crazy – he's gonna die! The tracks are electric, man.”

Dozens of cries blossomed from all around. Apparently it wasn't only us that noticed this disruption. The driver, after twenty five minutes of nothing, finally had something to say to us: “We are trying to fix the problem. The track is broken in front. Please remain in the cars – we can not move forward or backward, as the power to the track is currently down.”

Was there a worse thing to say? Hard to say. No riot was instigated, but all those people who watched the one man run to freedom suddenly began to think differently. With the assurance that there was no juice running through the third rail, freedom was literally a short hop skip and jump away.

One woman on her cellphone took over the running commentary from this point. I'll just let her words take you through the experience.

Another man jumps off the train.

“Oh Lordy no! Would you look at that damn fool? He is running as fast as he can go. You need to see this boy. Look at him! He gonna get himself killed out there.”

But he didn't. And when he cleared the fence to the freedom of the parking lot two others followed.

“You should see these boys run. It's almost funny now – you need to see how they run. They is running from their slave master. I tell you, it looks like they're running from the slave train! That's what we're on right now trapped here – and they're running s fast from it!”

Two women, about fifty years old look at each other, shrug and take the plunge.

“Oh now you need to be seeing this! Two old ladies just jumped off. They were carrying huge bags too. Old ladies jumping off a train and running as if they lives depended on it! That's how you know you're in the Bronx! Oh look there they go over the fence! Well now I guess we know who would jump off the bridge.”

Another hops off and then another.

“What you mean what bridge? Remember in high school them teachers would always say 'if he jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?' Well now we know who would jump!”

Another girl chimes in.

“Oh man. Teachers? I hope we're not on the news or nothing. I'm skipping class!”

Just as a dialogue was forming about the merits of skipping class, and how it's always best to keep your back to any camera, whenever you are the conductors voice rang over the speakers again.

This time he told us, “please remain on the train. We are doing everything we can to fix the break in the track. It is very dangerous to leave the train. Stay on board.”

Well that warning came too late, but it did keep people restrained.

Forty minutes had passed. We still had not moved. But the lights started to flicker and the air conditioning returned. MTA employees began walking through the cars, reminding us that we would be underway very soon.

Very soon, as it was, came fifteen minutes later. But it only lasted long enough to move the train to the next station, where it would rest for some time to come. Hopping onto the next, it was not much of a trip up to the zoo. Though a good part of the way was over, there would still be more than enough time for everything that was to come.

And hey, I got a good glimpse of the Bronx, the people, and the lifestyle north of 148th.

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