MTA tip


Hey, for my fellow New Yorkers: Ever been bugged by a bunch of extra subway cards that you can’t do anything with because they have some odd amount of change on them, or because they are expired? They seem to pile up and are wasted money, because the MTA vending machines don’t allow you to combine the money on several cards. They only allow you to add money to your existing card, which in many cases may be on its last legs or damaged (unlike BART machines, which allows you to combine and issue new cards). The MTA sort of counts on this inconvenience I suppose, because they raise many millions of dollars every year from unused fares.

Fortunately, I discovered recently that you can get old cards combined at any manned booth. You still have the risk of dealing with a surly booth person whose tv watching, phone calls or newspaper reading you are surely interrupting with your petty service needs, but it can be done. They will, however, only combine four cards at a time, requiring you to go to another booth to combine more. (At least that was the story I got from the ill tempered man at the booth at 16th street the other day) So at the end, I had recovered about 30 bucks from expired or small change cards, not bad at all.

What to do in an emergency


As luck would have it, I caught an earlier flight at the airport, getting me into San Francisco 2 hours ahead of schedule. As planned, I called my friend Marites to pick me up from the North Berkeley BART station. The train was fairly crowded and as we moved between the last two stations on the way to my destination, I noticed a somewhat heavyset 50 something guy about three seats over start to breath in a funny way. Then I noticed his eyes were kinda out of it and his breathing was really odd, sort of rhythmically gasping and shaking. I looked around and people saw him, I was sure, but didn’t seem to want to get involved. I dropped my bag and went over to him and asked if he was ok, but he couldn’t hear me, he just kept shaking and gasping and foaming at the mouth a little. I yelled for someone to call 911, then pushed the emergency call button on the train and spoke to a somewhat incredulous conductor, screaming at him that a guy in our car was having a heart attack or something and to call 911. “What are his symptoms?”, the conductor asked, to which I simply screamed back, flustered, “Just call 911, he is dying!”. I was totally freaked out. They stopped the train at the next station, which happened to be my station, and by that time others in the car had gathered around as they held the train and waited for an ambulance. Not seeing what else there was to do, I walked out to meet Marites upstairs where she was waiting. It occurs to me that I have no idea what the proper medical response would be in a situation like this. I hope he is ok.

Yesterday, in the subway


– On a downtown train, a woman dressed all in black with long jet black hair and dominatrix boots walks onto the train with a military-march like gait. She looks around the car with disgust and finally finds a seat. She squints angrily at everyone in the car, then frowning, covers her eyes with her right hand and bows her head. She stays that way through 9 stops and then leaves the car in the same manner in which she arrived.

– On this same train a sweet yet slightly goofy looking man in his 30s walks into the train with his guitar and starts playing and singing the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun”. His rendition is not all that great, his voice cracking and uneven. Still, there is something charming about it, and I and just about everyone else give him money.

– Running to catch a late train, I mistakenly went down on the wrong side. I hurriedly went up, across the street and down the other side, and miraculously the train was still there. But when I tried to swipe my card, it said “just used” (because I had gone in the other side and exited) and it wouldn’t let me through. With only a few seconds to spare, I told the MTA booth worker and she motioned for me to go on through. I jumped the turnstile and just made it into the car, relieved, when a subway cop angrily dragged me out. While he went to verify my story, the train departed. He returned to yell at me to “never jump the turnstile”, and then walked off in a huff, leaving me to wait 20 minutes for the next train.

– Heading uptown and home, I enter a car where most of the people are to one side, as a bag woman with a strong odor is at the end of the car. A couple of stops in, a scruffy (and, one assumes) homeless man comes into the car at the other end. Standing a bit wobbly but smiling, an even worse smell starts to issue from him and I realize he is defecating in his pants. At the next stop everyone except the bag woman changes car.

Metro Mystery


Scheduling to do work on the subway system must be quite a logistics nightmare. I get it, I really do. But is it really necessary to have almost every single line in the system under some kind of closure or detour AT THE SAME TIME? One of the advantages of a vast system is that if one line is closed there are always others than should be running normally. Of course the problems multiply the farther you have to go with this kind of massive upheaval. It was a bit of a mess getting to and from upper Manhattan tonight. Are there improvements being made to these tracks or lines? Repairs? Staffing problems at these segments? A master sadist behind it all making ice cold commuters jump through hoops for his (or her) sick amusement? I haven’t lived in NYC in many years, but I don’t remember ever having such a large number of train route service advisories in all the time I lived here or during my many visits. Is it my imagination or is this excessive? Is this (gasp) normal?