Every day, I exit the downtown 6 Train on the North end for work. Technically, it's the 51st Street station for the E, M and 6, but the E and M Trains are on the lower level. Leaving on the North end, the rear of the train, I am able to exit on 53rd and walk directly into my office building. To do so, however, I have to navigate down a very narrow set of stairs with a bunch of other commuters. This path was an inspiration for this blog, as coming into work every day is not unlike a combat zone. The stairs I descend run alongside an escalator going UP, which some enterprising people decide to ignore so they can barrel up the steps like a tank and run head on into a steady stream of commuters such as myself.
The reason I decided to recognize this subway station for Thumbs Up / Thumbs Down is because there is something here that makes me smile, followed by something that makes me grind my teeth, and they appear in rapid succession:
There are two people handing out the free commuter paper, AM New York, that crack me up every single day. One of them is at the bottom of the stairs. He has long dreadlocks and is always smiling. He announces his paper to other people and says things like, "THERE'S the smile I was looking for! Hold onto that all day long or I might steal it for myself!"
Shortly afterward, as you're walking up your final stairway, you can hear another AMNY distributor hawking her paper to people repeating the line, "AM New York! Get all the news you need right here! Stay safe, stay warm, stay focused!"
I love them.
At the same time as you encounter the second AMNY passer-outer, you realize she's yelling over music. Now, let's be clear: I am one of the rare people who likes buskers - normally. I will turn off my iPod in order to hear the guys on the subway itself, trying to squeeze in a song between stations, or the people on the platforms who are making a living doing what they love for anyone who'll listen. I can't imagine what that must be like for them, so I always try to listen, at least a little.
But this particular "musician" is... I honestly don't know the words to describe the infection that are his songs.
First, please note that it is one guy playing a Peruvian Pipe Flute. This would be fine in and of itself, but he plays along with a CD that has, apparently, the rest of his bandmates playing the other tracks of the song. So it's instrumental karaoke.
Secondly, THE CD ONLY HAS TWO SONGS. I don't know if this is 100% true, or if Peruvian Pipe Flute music is a genre where all the songs sound the same to me, but I'm fairly certain that if you walk by at any given moment, he will be piping one song from the following list:
1. Unchained Melody
2. Our God is an Awesome God
The first is a wedding standard, and also appeared in the movie "Ghost" with Jim Cunningham, the nun from "Sister Act", and Ashton Kutcher's mom, Demi Moore. The second is a contemporary Christian song I happen to know exists because I was forced to listen to it in Sunday School in Michigan when I was growing up. Neither is an exceptional piece of music, and BOTH qualify as songs you DON'T want stuck in your head for the day.
So, many mornings I start my day smiling at the funny AMNY people, and then immediately wanting to scream, "Hey, Peruvian! If your God is so awesome, how come He hasn't taught you any other songs?"
(A woman just can't find the subway card in her big purse. People are bumping into her as she becomes increasingly frustrated )
(A woman just can't find the subway card in her big purse. People are bumping into her as she becomes increasingly frustrated )
Tired of standing in front of that busy turnstyle, fumbling around for a fare card you can never seem to find? Too busy texting and playing with your important handheld device to realize how close to the entrace gates you actually are?
(Jib into spokesman standing over display)
I'm here to show you a revolutionary new product. The MetroCard Belt Buckle™. The MetroCard Belt Buckle™ has been mathematically proven to save you valuable time at the subway entrance, far more than traditional belt buckles, and when you're done swiping, you wear it! How does the revolutionary MetroCard Belt Buckle™ work?
(Cut to a still closeup of a MetroCard Belt Buckle)
Just look the patented 'hipster blacksmith technology': 2 stylish plates scientifically proven to provide a metal case for your card!
GRAPHIC: Now with EXTRA RIVETS!
(Spokesman sets it down on the countertop. Divide screen to see ordinary subway card versus subway card and belt buckle)
Just look at this seemlingly ordinary belt buckle encase a metrocard!
(A man watching the subway pass by as he furiously balances his coffee and newspaper and looks through his backpack)
Oh, no! Did John miss his train again? No problem with the MetroCard Belt Buckle™! And after you're done swiping, you have a fashion-forward accessory you're already wearing! Wow!
(Same man taking card out of belt buckle and swiping effortlessly)
Now, we realize your time is valuable, and so is the time of those around you. "But how can I save time AND look like the Brooklyn hipster/Upper West Side widow/Bronx MS-13 member I am?" We have the solution for you!
(Show belt buckle on display prominently with a stamp that says 'all natural')
It benefits children too! Your kids will LOVE spending the time you've saved with you.
(Show three kids smile, cast multi-ethnic if possible)
“I have no idea how I ever went anywhere before I found The MetroCard Belt Buckle™!”
“It's so easy and fun, it doesn't even feel like I'm wearing a belt! And the metallic coloring is sublime.”
(Back to spokesman)
But that's not all. Order your The MetroCard Belt Buckle™ now, and get complimentary full access to the rest of the products on our website! We're have no doubt that once you try this first purchase, you'll be back again and again!
Just go to the website below and order today!
From: Kevin B.
To: Jordan Knol
Date: Thu, Feb 17, 2011 at 11:59 AM
Subject: Nice blog
A couple things I wanted to chime in on just because...
* in Chicago people don't stand to the right on escalators. It just doesn't happen. It's a HUGE noticeable difference that I think stems partly from the Midwest vs EastCoast. People on the East Coast are wound tighter and therefore are anxious to get to where they are going, so you have more "fast walkers" who will enforce the rule to stand to the right on the escalator.
[[I appreciate receiving this insight. It's been a long time since I was on the "El", so it's nice to know I should wait a little longer until people in the Windy City get their shit together. It should be noted, however, that this "stand on the right on an escalator" rule ONLY applies on public transportation escalators. Once you're on a private one, all bets are off. Sometimes, in Port Authority or at a movie theater, I'll stand on the left just to watch people behind me get confused.]]
* my biggest pet peeve happens almost every time I go to Union Station in Chicago to catch my train back home. People that STOP right when they get off the escalator. Are you kidding me? The next 10 people behind them have to stumble by while they make a decision about deciding where they think they are. Most of the time this happens in high-touristy areas for obvious reasons.
[[I love your line: "people have to stumble by while they make a decision about deciding where they think they are." This is EXACTLY what's happening:
--At first, the escalator is a novelty (Every. Damn. Time.), "Holy shit, dude! These stairs MOVE! It's like... it's like they're CARRYING me!"
--Followed by complacency, "Hum-de-dummmm... this moving-stair ride is freeeeeee... and I'm on iiiiiiit!"
--Then, you would think the leveling off of the "stairs" would be an indication the "ride" was about to end, but NO - these rubes are always taken aback by the end of the escalator, like their equilibrium was so jostled in the last 30 seconds that they need a minute to gather their bearings. (You will notice this jackassery on the sidewalks, too - as people exit storefronts, but I think the importance of pedestrian merging and not ever stopping will be posts of their own, so we'll save that for another time.)
Thanks for writing, Kev!]]
In the race car movie Days of Thunder, Tom Cruise's character illustrates how to pass a guy by racing directly behind him, thereby minimizing his own wind resistance. He conveyed his message by moving sugar packets up the thigh of Nicole Kidman's character. At least, I THINK this is what he was illustrating. All I could focus on was Nicole Kidman's thigh. You see, this is BEFORE she got all the work done on her face. NOW she looks like Heath Ledger's version of The Joker... only more scary.
My point is that it's sometimes okay to bide your time before passing someone who's walking in front of you. Please take a look at the illustration below. It is an approximation of the Ditmars Blvd. stop on the N/Q train. Like any good commuter, I always try to know which door to enter in which train car so I have easy access to the stairs/escalator/exit upon arrival at my destination.
This is the subway stop at which I live, and I have knowing-which-door-to-exit-from down to a science. As illustrated above, many people (represented by the purple "X's") think the door from which to exit the subway car is the first one, Door #1. On the contrary, it's actually Door #2. You see, if you can be the first one out of Door #2, you can cover the distance between the train and the LEFT staircase in a few strides, whereas if you exit from Door #1, there are a. generally slower people in front of you, and b. all of them are going to go for the nearest staircase, slowing your exit from the station.
So I (the little happy face in the picture above) always try to leave from Door #2.
But what's that you say? There are people coming UP the stairs? As it turns out from the epic illustration above, there is indeed a child and it's parent walking ascending the righthand stairway, and one lone soul ascending the left. So the strategy here is simple: Ride the Wake.
The large "X" exiting Door #1 is likely to be a fast walker: like me, he knows which door to exit and has been itching to do so ever since 30th Avenue. When you see HIM make a beeline to the LEFTHAND staircase, that's when you make your move. Get in stride directly behind him. He will mow down (or at least force aside) the one knucklehead coming up the stairs, which will allow you to pass him at the turnstiles below.
Under NO circumstances take the righthand stairs. The presence of the child and it's parent indicates that they are people who will be traveling abreast, not single file and hugging the rail as is appropriate.
I was going to add red arrows to the illustration to show what I was talking about, à la the whiteboard of an NFL coach, but all I could hear in my head was John Madden's voice doing a play-by-play of the whole thing, and, quite frankly, there are enough voices in my head to ignore without the appearance of his drunk, rambling ass.
Riding the wake is like using a human shield. The person in front of you takes the hits, while you match pace and get where you're going bruise-free. Obviously, if they are a Slow Walker, this is a problem. When that becomes an issue, please direct them to Rule #1, so at least you can still progress in your journey, even with some bumps and scrapes along the way.
I don't think I've gotten enough credit for NOT making fun of Scientology in this post. I mentioned Tom Cruise at the beginning, and didn't so much as giggle. The Voices and I are making real progress.
While I understand there is no way to close your eyes while reading this (have someone read it to you, maybe?), I would like you to try your best to imagine something for me:
Imagine you are a good looking, professional women, who has been so career-focused you haven't had much time to date. Financially, you do well; not so well you have a permanent driver 24/7, but well enough that you can afford the stilettoes and fur coat you're wearing. Imagine you finally found someone who could be the man of your dreams. The first three dates have gone very well, and your taxi just dropped you off across the street from the restaurant where Date #4 is to occur. As you begin to cross the avenue, the "Don't Walk" sign starts flashing. What do you do?
Need some time to think it over? Okay, here's another:
Imagine you're a young guy who just got his driver's license. A buddy of yours wanted to go to this party way the hell out in Queens, and since you knew that there'd be drinking there, you made the difficult decision to "borrow" your parent's car so you could make sure your friend got to and from the party safely. Now it's late. You're got a little turned around on the way home, and your buddy is no help as he is drunk in the passenger seat, yelling loudly about how this chick from his Chemistry class spent the whole party ignoring him and making out with a varsity athlete. You aren't a very good driver, but you're fairly certain you can get back home before your parents notice you (or their car) were ever gone. The problem is, you're not QUITE sure where you are. As you approach an intersection with a stop sign, you are unsure of whether or not you should turn. There's traffic on both sides, but as you roll past the sign, it dawns on you that perhaps you wanted to turn right at that stop because you're pretty sure the sign in front of the diner down the block looked familiar. So you basically stop in the middle of the road, unsure of what to do, as the drivers in both of the lanes you're blocking begin to approach from both sides. Now there is also a car behind you, and someone trying to cross the street at the crosswalk you're approaching, and people are starting to honk, and your buddy looks like he might vomit in your parent's car. What do you do?
Still not with me?
Okay, one last one, and then I promise I'll get to the point:
Imagine that your mother lives by herself in Queens, and doesn't get around as well as she used to. Sure, last summer, you were able to go feed the ducks at the park with her, but lately you've been concerned that she doesn't like the stairs to her apartment so she makes up excuses not to go out. You mean to call her more, but you've been so busy at work, and your partner is driving you crazy, and your siblings keep texting you pictures of THEIR kids at insane hours of the morning. Today, the day you're imagining, you haven't heard from your mother in some time, and your brothers and sisters haven't, either. She won't answer her phone, and none of the neighbors have heard from her nor seen her in a few days. You had planned on watching "Dexter" on Netflix that night, because you are midway through Season 2 and, let's face it, that show is insanely good, but you ended up being the Lucky Family Member to go check in on Mother, who you're sure is fine, that perhaps she had just accidentally turned the ringer off her phone because that sort of thing had happened before. But that feeling of dread and fear that something is just not quite right begins to settle itself in your gut as you approach her block. It has been snowing this winter, and the crosswalks are only cleared wide enough for one person to cross the street at a time. You know these weather conditions can't be good for your mother. A block away from her condo, you notice an ambulance out front with its lights flashing. You begin to run towards your mother's building, fearing the worst as you start to cross the street. You notice in the deep recesses of your mind that, about a half block away, a car is coming towards you and has a green light. It is not speeding, and you have plenty of time to get to the other side. What do you do?
The answer, to all three examples is simple: COMMIT.
To the lady in the fur coat and heels, commit to crossing. You'll be fine. Odds are good that any driver coming has already seen the light is red and, while it will SOON change to green, you'll be at LEAST halfway across the street by the time that happens, and there's no way he's going to hit someone who looks like she could sue him for everything he's got.
For the kid, commit to going straight. New York is composed of small blocks, and chances are good if you made the wrong call, you can circle back within about 90 seconds and be back on the right track.
For the person worried about their mother, COMMIT. Who CARES that there's a car coming? You're already starting to speed up, and who knows? That ambulance could be for HER!
It should also be noted that in the the case of the kid with his folk's car, I'm the guy who's trying to cross the street, wondering if you're going to go, or what. For the person going for their mom's, I'm actually behind you, wondering why the hell you're so concerned about a car that's WAY THE HELL DOWN THERE when all I want to do is get out of this freezing weather. And to the woman in the heels, I'm the guy waiting for you at the restaurant. But I'm going to take this opportunity to break up with you in person. I just can't COMMIT to someone who wears fur. You look like an idiot.
From: Jordan Knol
To: AM New York
Date: Fri, Jul 9, 2010 at 9:50 AM
Subject: We need some time apart.
Dear AM New York,
It's funny - as I type this, and can almost hear Homer Simpson's voice reading it out loud as he complains about some inane thing ("Dear Die Hard..."). Perhaps that should be my cue to stop writing. I should. I should stop writing this and go outside and enjoy my day, recognizing the things in my life I can't control.
However, I feel like our relationship has faltered of late, AMNY, and, as communication and honesty are the cornerstones of any good relationship, I think we need to have a talk.
When we first met, I had moved from Washington DC where I was seeing the daily circular there called "The Express". We had experienced a passionate relationship and I looked forward to our daily visits. At first, upon arriving to the Big Apple, you were an adequate replacement. You had a similar sense of humor, and offered a more "Human" touch than your buddy, NY Metro (who, understandably, I think we both sort of view as your slutty cousin). We had many fine mornings, you and I... you would make me laugh, inform me about important news, and offer me puzzles to get my mind off my commute or whatever was happening to me that day. Let's face it: New York is not always an easy city in which to live... you offered me some respite, and for that, I say thank you.
But you've changed. Slowly, over time, your puzzles and news got dumbed down, as if created for someone else. The photo captions and entertainment sections have become mean-spirited and snarky, as if written by a half dozen Brooklyn hipsters, each smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and wearing skinnier jeans than the one next to him. The new weather captions, while at times funny, are also critical and mean, and make you look like you're trying a little too hard to be "cool", like my parents. You've begun to sport a "new look" which, as far as I can tell, was meant only to get people to pay more to advertise in you. Now when I spread you open it's no longer the lovely individual attention I used to feel.... it's this numb, stupid version of you. You've become like the worst kind of sorority girl, the kind who doesn't need to say much but dresses in bright colors and stays stupid and sometimes mean and still gets whatever she wants. She is also never wrong, which is a big part of the problem we're having lately.
I understand your most recent makeover, I think. Everyone should do something nice for themselves. But you took away KenKen, something I thought we enjoyed doing together. When I complained, you mentioned the few other people that did and offered me a tiny version of our puzzle, far away from it's old home, accompanied by the comment, "Next time ask for something bigger". Well, okay, I'm asking for something bigger. I'm asking for it the way it was (literally "bigger").
Another example of how you've changed lately: You repeat yourself! I don't mind when it's an on-going news item that bears repeating, or some background to put whatever today's events were in context, but this is just boastful. Let me ask you: is Judah Friedlander a reader of AMNY? I bet he is - you've reminded me of that a half dozen times in the last month. I'm happy that a C-List celebrity likes you, but please stop bringing it up just to puff yourself up and feel more important. Many celebrities share a lovely relationship with you, I'm sure. But you used to be demure about it, as opposed to thinking it made you look more "cool" by dropping a name. (Side note: Really? Judah Friedlander? Guys - he's ok, not great. Because you're on the fringe of what's considered "hip", you should know this by now.)
Lastly, we need to talk about your website. You need to start representing yourself more professionally. The way it is now, you look like a blog. While I'm sure this cuts down on Web costs, it also makes you appear low-rent, and it's tough to get through to you. This only hinders our communication as opposed to enhancing it, and I'm sure many of your other companions feel the same way.
Look, Sweetheart, I know you see other people. Lots of other people. But you used to have this unique way of making it SOUND like sometimes it was only me and you. Lately, you've been sterile, inaffectionate, and, at times, dimwitted. Do I think this conversation will change you? I do not. I know from experience I cannot change others, and I won't try. All I can do is express to you my disappointment, and let you know that if I occasionally visit your "cousin", Metro, from here on in, it isn't because I don't love you. It's simply because sometimes I need to take a step back and observe who you've become from afar for awhile. It pains me to say this, but you are no longer impressive.
I hope you understand. I hope this message has been able to sink in on some level. I know that one day you will evolve into something great, and everyone experiences "growing pains". I can only pray that this is a phase you're going through, and one day you'll be able to look back at yourself and go, "Hey - I so young and stupid then... I've come a long way."
Until then, I'm going to start keeping my distance probably won't visit you as often. Again, I hope you understand. I can only change MY behaviours, and that's what I have to do.
This is the most basic rule of subway/sidewalk/biking/driving etiquette, and seeing people break it makes me want to rip the bedazzled cellphone out of the offender's hand and hurl it on the third rail in the hopes that they will dive for it headfirst. It breaks down like this:
Just as if we were driving on the highway, slow traffic stays to the right, and people pass on the left. The people on the right are staying over as far as possible, close to the shoulder, and are therefore doing what I like to call "Hugging the Rail".
(I think it comes from when I used to go to skating parties in middle school, but, being someone who did not skate that well, I usually had to spend the first 90 minutes or so scooting myself along, hand-over-hand, pulling myself around the rink using that little waist-high wall that separates the smooth wood floor of the rink from the cheap, thin carpeting near the arcade games, skate rental area, and nacho counter. You know who was a good skater? Josh McGraw. I remember him getting all the girls, too, as he was athletically gifted in every way. I realize NOW, of course, looking back, that he had red hair and freckles, which means he had no soul. I bet this is why he was such a good rollerskater.)
This is the natural order of things, and is even mimicked on escalators for the subway systems of both Washington, DC and New York (is this true on any others, besides Chicago as well?); you stand on the right, and walk on the left. Slow people keep right. Hug the rail.
This should also be true on sidewalks, subway stairs, and for bicyclists. All too often, however, that is sadly not the case. Instead, I can't tell you the number of times I get off the train and head down the stairs to go home, and I have to kick the person in front of me in the small of their back because they're busy sauntering along, deliberately slowly so as to not lose their balance while they're TEXTING and walking down the center of the stairs at the same time.
Another example would be a woman with a MASSIVE PURSE sticking out behind her, situated on the subway platform in such a way that she is equidistant from both the front edge of the bench behind her, and the tracks in front. The problem being, of course, no one can get by her. A simple, "Excuse me" will usually suffice - until you get close enough to hear that she has her ipod on full volume. And have you noticed it's almost NEVER any good music? It's always either that horribly generic Latin beat that blasts out of taxicab windows passing my apartment in the middle of the night, or some shitty Euro-techno that is probably only appropriate for someone still rolling on Ecstasy from the night before. In that case, the "Excuse me" is no longer an option. Your only recourse is to avoid bumping into her MASSIVE PURSE as you attempt to sidestep behind her, likely whacking your shin or calf on the bench, thereby creating a resentment for the rest of the day against the MTA, the purse designer and Latin musicians (to be honest - I generally have a resentment against that latter group, anyway).
The last fine example, and there are many, is the person who stands with their back to the open subway door, but has no intention of leaving at the next stop. The way I see it, there are three types of ways the human body can end up, when fully extended: 1. Horizontally, like a carpet or a pizza; 2. Upright, but profiled, like a book on a shelf; and 3. Vertically, but head on, like a picture on a wall or, appropriately, a wall. Too often, people are standing in subway doors like #3, while they SHOULD be standing in the doors like #2: sideways, with plenty of room to get by (hugging the rail). Instead, I have to push up against them and try gain a valuable few inches of floorspace, while THEY'RE probably thinking I would like to take them out to dinner and a movie so we can get nice and cozy at my place after, but minus the dinner, movie and my place bits.
All of these instances, and the myriad of other examples, would easily be avoided if people would just HUG THE RAIL. Move to the side. Go at your own pace, but please leave room for people to get by. People who, while not necessarily LATE, are people who have decided that, if walking counts as exercise, then dammit I'm going to be the best, fastest walker ever, especially because, in NYC, walking is sometimes the only way to get from Point A to Point B, and often there are hot dogs at point A and ice cream at Point B, so step aside, asshole. Hug the Goddamn rail.