In Manhattan, the train
is called the N/R/W. In Queens, the train is called,
“the train that never comes.” For those
of us relegated to the boroughs, getting home after
a night out can be an adventure in and of itself.
It’s not like me to complain about something
so banal. Okay, it is like me to complain
about something so banal, but I think I have good
reason. During my two-year stint in Boston, I was
quick to explain to all of my Beantown-enthusiast
friends that New York was superior because a.) it
was, like, culturally better and b.) because the public
transit system was more reliable than Boston’s
silly T system.
Boston’s transit system, after all, stopped
operating trains after midnight and often experienced
strange interruptions in service. One January morning
last year, I waited on an outdoor platform for an
hour while the Orange Line decided whether or not
to make an appearance. I was wearing a wool coat,
leather gloves, and hiking boots, but by the time
the train chugged to the platform, provoking a near-stampede,
I could feel none of my appendages.
There was only one glitch in the system. Another
morning, I arrived at the train station to learn that
a toxic waste spill had damaged the train tracks one
stop behind mine, making it necessary for us commuters
to brave the buses through rush-hour traffic.
None of which is precisely the point, but it makes
for good storytelling.
When I moved back to New York, I was confident that
these transit-related afflictions would no longer
befall me. New York is a more diverse city, I thought.
Living in a borough is irrelevant. Transit is transit.
Ahh, hubris. I was quick to learn that living in
Queens is not the same thing as living in Manhattan,
at least not to the Mass Transit Authority. These
days, I leave my apartment a half-hour earlier on
Saturdays and Sundays, expecting that pink tape to
block my entrance to Manhattan-bound trains. That
means getting on a Queens-bound train, switching platforms,
and getting back on a Manhattan-bound one five additional
stops away from the city.
I can’t help but feel that we borough-dwellers
are the target of some Republican plot to keep the
lower classes from getting to work on time. There
are transit interruptions in Manhattan, too, but they
don’t occur with the same frequency. The 1 train,
which runs down Manhattan’s west side, always
comes, even at night. My friends who take the A, C,
and E trains never complain about having to wait forty-five
minutes for a train at four o’clock in the morning.
I live with the Greeks, the Bengalis, the Egyptians,
and the Mexicans, in a borough that makes people wrinkle
their noses when I tell them about it. “You
live in Queens?” they ask. “Alone?”
My stepmother implores me not to take the subway home
alone late at night. My cousin in Murray Hill constantly
reminds me that I can stay with her if I don’t
feel like “going all the way back to Queens.”
But Queens isn’t that far. I am five stops
from Manhattan, when the train is semi-operational.
Five stops is twenty minutes, approximately the same
amount of time it would take my Murray-Hill-adoring
cousin to get from her apartment to the East Village,
which is probably where I would be living if I wanted
to give up space and parking availability.
I like to imagine what would happen if the 6 train,
Manhattan’s east-side line, started operating
as ineffectively as the N/R/W. I like to imagine wealthy
Westchester-bound business men wearing Hermes and
Armani, clutching briefcases and the Wall Street Journal,
tipping their heads to look down the long, vacant
subway tunnel, looking for lights that will never
come. I like to imagine them staring at the tracks,
instead of me, waiting for some glimmer of light that
grows longer against the metal. I like to imagine
the white fraternity boys looking at their Tag Heuers,
calculating how much time has passed. Finally, I like
to imagine the President standing on the platform,
perplexed by the inefficiency of it all, holding out
for something that will never come.
But that would never happen. Not even in New York.
Hannah Selinger is a weekly contributor to Raw