In Taiwan they say,”fan biang.” In America we say “convenient.” It is a way of life for city dwellers and something I got used to while living in Taipei (e.g., 7-Elevens on every corner selling my favorite dumplings and pint-sized Suntory Whisky); and I became even more spoiled in Manhattan.
Even though I live on the outskirts of NYC now, this week, I was reminded how life’s still convenient at my South Orange train station where a minister was offering Ash Wednesday crosses on-the-go for commuters’ foreheads. We’re quite spoiled in my town, which is filled with ex-New Yorkers.
Unfortunately, what’s still not very convenient for some–like tourists–is NYC’s subway system, which is notoriously known for its labyrinthine subway map. I was on the downtown R train with my colleague, Tricia, going to the financial district when a pudgy bald man entered at 14th Street Union Square. Immediately he started yelling questions about the direction of the train.
“DOES THIS GO TO BROOKLYN?” he asked with a strong accent that I couldn’t quite place. Maybe he was Middle Eastern?
Tricia and I both turned to him and said, “Yes,” in unison.
“I NEED TO GO TO BROOKLYN!” he repeated as if he had not heard us. “Where does this go?” he asked to no one in particular it seemed, looking around frantically.
“What stop do you need in Brooklyn?” asked Tricia.
Another male commuter responded, “YES. This is going downtown!”
“Don’t talk to me!” the lost stranger snapped, pointed to Tricia and me, and yelled, “These two girls over here are helping me! I want to go to Manhattan!”
Manhattan!” I yelled. I couldn’t tell if the man was crazy or just really turned around!
Abruptly an announcement came on right before the Fulton Street stop: “Attention everyone. This train will not go to Brooklyn. Brooklyn-bound passengers can get out at Wall Street and walk to the [muffled message] to take the [muffled message] to Brooklyn.”
Uhoh…I didn’t know how to help because I had to get off at Wall Street and the conductor’s message was incomprehensible! Tricia and I jumped off the train and I could hear the lost man still yelling about Brooklyn! Other confused Brooklyn-bound commuters scrambled to exit and figure out a new route.
Despite “recent efforts,” important messages rarely come through the subway PA system clearly. But maybe the 2013 fare hikes will go to improving this. In the meantime, I imagine that the conductor snickers after his muffled “track changes” messages, thinking to himself, ‘Good luck on the slow boat to China! Squirm! We run this citttyyyy!”