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On trains that never come

By Hannah Selinger | RAW STORY COLUMNIST

The expression is red-tape, but in New York, it might as well be pink-tape. As in, “I can’t believe the Mass Transit Authority has, once again, demarked my train’s nonexistent weekend schedule with a thread of pink tape.” I live on the train line that, for two years in a row, has been nominated by the Straphanger’s Society as New York City’s worst.


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 Story.


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