Sunday, April 4, 2010

This is the Way the World Ends...

... Not with a bang, but with budget cuts.

I've lived in New York City for a long time.

And -- though I've seen it through some pretty dark days -- when it comes to the subway, I'm a True Believer.

Even through the days of graffiti-riddled, screeching cars of the 70s, the stalls, break-downs and surprise reroutings of the 80s, and let's not forget the days of waiting forever on a freezing outdoor platform, with no signs or announcements, only to learn -- by asking the guy in the token booth -- that no train was coming ... through all of that I always felt New York had -- or could have -- the best subway system in the world.

For a century it has tied the diverse neighborhoods of the city together. And, let's face it, when it's working properly, the subway really is the fastest way to get around.

And over this past decade, the MTA has really stepped up.

Schedules have been available, and many trains have actually managed to stick to them. When service is diverted, there have been signs, announcements -- paper and electronic -- even shuttle buses that actually appear within five minutes!

Yes, for a brief shining moment, we have really had The Greatest Subway System in the World.

And now we have budget cuts.

What does that mean? Fewer people running the trains, managing stations, hanging signs. And those that remain? Barely competent -- if we're lucky. And surly on top of it, because the system is screwing them too.

Some signs of the MTApocalypse?

A downtown V pulls into 42nd Street in the middle of the day, pauses for the requisite 30 seconds -- and then pulls out again! Doors don't open; no one gets on or off the train.

I and a bunch of other passengers run to the conductor at the next stop. He tells us to screw ourselves.

Trains are rerouted for trackwork, but there are no signs, no announcements on the platform. If we're lucky there will be one sign posted -- but on a wall on the other side of the turnstiles -- like people stop to look at the walls when they're running for a train.

A Manhattan-bound Q at DeKalb pulls in on the local track. There are no signs on the platform, of course. I run to the motorman and ask if all trains are rerouted. "Yes," he says -- just as the conductor, who never once poked his head out of the window to check the platform, closes the doors.

The motorman laughs at me and pulls out of the station.

An uptown C pauses at each station for nearly a minute after the doors have closed, while the signal is green.

I peer into the engineer's booth -- she is reading a paperback! So I bang on her door. "Green means go!" I bark.

"Shut up!" she yells back.

A lovely New York moment to amuse the tourists.

Well, there was one bright spot in all of this.

A few weeks ago on my way to work, an expensive bracelet fell into the tracks at Times Square.

An orange vest near the Shuttle platform told me to "let the booth know." I dashed to the booth and gave the attendant a description of the item and location and ran back to the platform -- hoping against hope that someone would arrive quickly.

Minutes later, I saw two track workers walking near where the bracelet fell. I ran up to them and asked if they had been sent to help.

They had no idea what I was talking about (of course). But they were extremely kind and got the bracelet for me anyway.

And what about the person(s) dispatched to help me?

They are probably just getting there now.....