Monday, March 05, 2007

Commuting the City

The subway is one of my favourite bits about the city. The most amazing things happen on it. Depending on which stations you're using you can find bongos, steel drums, a team of breakdancers, a choir, cellos, pan pipes, and the ubiquitous guitars and saxophones. There's even an old guy at West 4th who plays the synth, as in it's spouting noises and hes poking at a key a minute, surrounded by battery-powered dancing dolls - a G.I, a barbie-type thing, something with God Bless America on it.

Then there are the see the light jesus will save you types. There are the Good evening ladies and gennlemen, my name is XYZ and I am homeless speeches from people who walk the cars looking for money and food. Then there are the Good evening ladies and gennlemen I work for a corporation that makes up food packages for the homeless, etc.

Once there was this highly entertaining guy who came in and said:
Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I am from another planet. My spaceship crashed on Earth a few years ago and I need money to buy the spare parts. I need to get back to the mother ship as soon as possible so I would really appreciate it if you would make any donation you feel like.
The car rolled its eyes collectively.
He continued: I would also like to inform you that when I leave I will be taking with me the most most wanted criminal of my home world - George W. Bush.
The car burst out laughing and produced $1 bills.

Then there are the days when I feel like India is haunting me. Last Tuesday, I was running downtown to meet a friend and as I leapt into the sbway car I heard the Mallu-est of Mallu voices [much like the priest at my friend the Bryde's wedding, who kept saying donkey, only it sounded like lungi] say, next shtop, 79th street. sadly phonetic transcription is impossible. Later that night, I leapt into a cab, rattled off my address and sat back only to realise the cabbie, apart from driving much like the BPO cabs in dear old Hyderabad, was jabbering endlessly on his phone, in Punjabi! At the end of the ride, by which time I knew a lot about his daughter and her school, I asked him where he was from. Pakistan he said. Unable to stop myself, or the wine, I babbled at him in Hindi and we had a little chat about where I was from and howcome I spoke Hindi so well.

One of the most interesting things is how people react to discovering they have sat down next to someone undesirable as a seat partner; in PC NYC you can't just get up and leave. Or so one would think. Last night, there was a smelly and definitely mentally unbalanced homeless man in my car. He was slumped down on the row of seats laughing and talking to himself. In jumped an elderly couple, who promply squished themselves into the first 2 empty seats they saw. If they had taken a second they would have seen how many more empty seats there were NOT sandwiched between the homeless guy and the door. Of course the woman then smushed between her husband and the homeless man was ina quandary, should she get up and be rude in indicating that she perceived a difference between the dirty unstable man and her clean middleclass self, or should she stay there. She stuck it out for a while but then evenutally got up and went to the other end of the car where she cooed over someone's baby. Not a bad reaction all told. Shocking however, was the clean-cut young man who got on at 79th street, sat far from the homeless man, twitched and fidgeted a bit before leaping off at 86th, to run the length of 2 cars and change cars. This I know cos I got off at 86th and saw him run.

Its funny how there are different types of commuters. There are the Starers, who just stand and stare into space; the Gadgeters, who fidget with blackberrys, iPods, DVD players and occasionally laptops; the Entertainers, who play music so loud its obviously for the entertainment of the entire train; the Readers, who well, read; the Eaters, and the people who combine any or all of the above. [In case you want to know, I'm a Reader and a Gadgeter, I can't commute without iPodito.] Of course the main purpose of all these distraction is not so much to pass time as to avoid making eye-contact with or acknowledging the existence of other commuters. Which is why, when an old professor-like gent hopped on the train, sat next to me and bent over to peer at the title of the book I was reading, I grinned and showed it to him. I can't count the number of times I've wanted to talk to someone about a book they were reading in the train. Anyway, soon after, a black teenager comes by, selling candy. Mr. Professor says, young man, I'll buy your candy if you can tell me who this man is, pointing to the book he was reading - a biography of W. E. B. DuBois. Let us call him the Lala Lajpat Rai of the Black movement. Actually I don't know an appropriate equivalent, but he was the first black man to get a PhD, and from Harvard no less; he was a leader of the PanAfrican movement; wrote extensively on black issues, and the identity of African-Americans; etc. So the kid had no clue, and Mr. Professor gave him a short lecture and the kid promised to go look him up. Mr. Prof then said, do you know the Schomberg library? [Arturo Schomberg, another shining light of the black mvt] No sir I don't. Do you live in Harlem? No sir, the Bronx. Well you should go to Harlem to the Schomberg Library. Yes sir, I will, tomorrow. Hopefully, the kid grinned, thinking I've been so good maybe he'll buy some candy. But nope. It made me think about Indian kids and their awareness of people in the struggle. Maybe I shld read up on the Dalit sorry my Ancient Witch, the braincell is taking over again.

That same train ride, a bunch of Brazilians got on the train, carrying bags and suitcases and obivously dressed up to go out. Two of the women stood near a pole and started unzipping suitcases and pulling out makeup, and one proceeded to make the other one up like a harlot [:D] with bright red eyeshadow and huge amounts of glitter. In a moving subway train. Huh.

And lastly, I realised last weekend that I seem to have acquired the Angry Newyorker walking attitude. Head down, much like a bull, and charge onward, refusing to apologise to anyone who moves out of their original trajectory and thus gets run into. Ok, I'm not that bad, I do look around and apologise to people I run into. I have however found myself, especially when in the area of Times Square, gritting my teeth and growling to myself: move move MOVE DAMMIT!!! Fucking tourists, SOME OF US HAVE PLACE TO GO!! If you must walk like children on a ramble, DO IT IN SINGLE FILE!! ARGH! ARGH! MOVE!! STICK TO ONE PATH!! DECIDE WHICH WAY TO TURN BEFORE THE CROSSING! THE LIGHT IS TURNING RED, MOVE MOVE MOVE DAMMIT MOVEEEEEEEEEE!


Also, annoying couples who must sway all over the sidewalk, I mean come on! It's bad enough you're rubbing my singledom in my face, but do you HAVE to make me late for class as well?


  1. Although I only live in a small town in the middle of nowhere, I have the same trouble with tourists in the summer, who will saunter casually, blocking my pavements.

    I'm not really a city person. Not sure why I'm going to Rome next week, really.

  2. gods! Given where I used to live, the sight of out of town drivers and gawkers still ahs the power to make me hyperventilate. Minkie, everybody here drives like they walk in NY! And commutes the same way :)

    Nice, very evocative.

  3. ooo minkie! i like that! hee.

    well dave im guessing cos it has soemthing to do with being a lucky sod? i want to go rome! god you europeans dont know how lucky you are.

    thunku scoo.

  4. Liked your post. Its interesting to see that people use humor and not sympathy (like they do in Bombay) to get some money.

    On another note, people in Bombay walk fast, too, but they don't barge into others. They "snake" their bodies through the crowd.

  5. wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
    welcome sachinnnnnnn

    i dunno...crowds are very scary here. i mean this is me an indian and all but when theres crowds in times sq im scared. most bizarre. they mke me nervous in a way that they dont in inida. i guess cos its ok to run into people in india! hehehe. also, they use sympathy a LOT here...its only that one guy. that ive seen.

  6. i like slow. edinburgh let's me be slow. nothing called a commute, unless you consider two road crossings one :) hmmm. there is nearly always a ciggy in someone's hands in that small walk...inevitably co-incides with the days i decide to wash my hair. damn murphy. hmm. i miss you. *huuuuuuuuuuuuuuug*

  7. Heeheehee

    the metro here is pretty cool too. but you cant make any cool observations, cos whenver im on it there are so many people that all i can really observe are the noses of the few close to me.

    There hairy nose and trying to hide it. There pierced nose and proud of it. Theres young nose and sniffing at whatever. Exciting really.

  8. hahaha mish you sound like you're channeling spin!!!

    gai i bet it is. but summer in full tourist season? huuuugggg back atya!