Tag Archives: iPod

Ten things you can learn about New York City from the subway

Newton’s little-known fourth law of motion states that all city dwellers shall complain about the transport system that gets them to work in the morning. Londoners have more reason than most to moan, with a Northern Line that resembles Calcutta on a bad day, and weekend engineering work that means any trip from Leicester Square to Covent Garden has to go via Cardiff.

But when it comes down to it, underground systems are a microcosm of the city above, and if you ask me, there’s plenty we can learn about the city above by taking a look at the teeming humanity below. Just one week on the subway in New York is enough to glean some valuable lessons about New York and its itinerant population:

1. New Yorkers have an attention span that is only marginally longer than the average gnat. As a result, the majority of the city’s residents believe that there is a danger of spontaneous combustion unless they are constantly stimulated. People used to prepare for their work day by reading a newspaper; now they watch Gossip Girl on their iPod.

2. The majority of New Yorkers take up at least 47% more space than they think they do. As a result, most commuters never believe that a train is full, even after seeing documented evidence that Norris McWhirter and his fellow Guinness Book of World Records cronies have declared the train the current holder of the award for most people crammed into a confined space in a subterranean environment.

3. Most New Yorkers are hard of hearing, and have to play music at volumes only previously heard in military noise torture tests, in camps that make the Guantanamo Bay experience seem like a day out in Disneyland.

4. At least one third of all the city’s residents are homeless, and are forced to carry around all their worldly possessions in rucksacksbackpacks the size of, say, Mongolia.

5. Aggravated bodily harm is not illegal once you are thirty feet underground. If you need to use an umbrella, a fist or a good old fashioned honest-to-goodness shoulder barge to get past people, that is perfectly acceptable. If you leave your victim cowering on the floor, all the better.

6. The credit crunch means that a lot of people can no longer afford paper. All notes have to be scratched onto the subway windows as a result.

7. 95% of New York men have never seen a pregnant woman. At least that’s why I assume no-one ever seems to give up their seat when they see a gestating female clinging grimly onto a subway pole. It’s either that, or every New York man has had their fingers burned offering their seat to a woman who turned out to be less pregnant, more a big fan of cakes.

8. In Salem, they identified witches by the onset of mysterious convulsions; in New York, the outsiders are the people you see on the subway who aren’t wearing a coat manufactured by The North Face. If you are not wearing a black coat at the very least, you will be chased out of town by men brandishing pitchforks. North Face-branded pitchforks, obviously.

9. The lack of public toilets in New York was made possible by the 1932 Subway Conveniences Act, which stated that at least one subway carriagecar on every train will be required to stink of piss. Any train found to be lacking such a stench is forced to find a homeless guy with a collection of four thousand shopping bags (none of which contain soap) and place him in a carriage as a deterrent to commuters.

10. From the age of 2, all New Yorkers are trained to seek out vacant subway seats by smell alone. It is physically impossible to beat a seasoned New Yorker to a seat, even if you are given a 10 yard start. And your opponent is on crutches.

Still, these sardine cans get me to work, so I can’t really complain. I mean, obviously I will complain. But until someone coughs up for a personal chauffeur for me, it looks like I’m stuck with it so I may as well make the most of it. Now, where’s my umbrella?

My name’s A Brit Out Of Water, and I’m a cheese addict

Having been plugged into my iPod each morning on the way to work this week, I’ve realised just how many guilty pleasures I have when it comes to music. Everybody has their own guilty pleasure – that song that you know you really shouldn’t like, but somehow you can’t just help yourself. Admitting to it loses you all credibility, but – let’s be honest – having been a member of the T’Pau fan club as a youngster, I never really had much of that in the first place.

From Barry Manilow’s “Mandy” to “I Want To Know What Love Is” by Foreigner, my collection is packed to the gills with the kind of songs I would have taken out of my CD stacks and hidden if any serious music fan had come to visit. Now they sit safely within the shadowy lair of my hard drive, safely out of harm’s way but still accessible to me on the long and winding road into the office.

Of course, the problem with this is like any addict who is successfully able to hide his dependency from friends and family, consumption of said addiction goes up because you think you can get away with it. So while The Special One thinks that I’m constantly listening to the latest hot young things from Brooklyn or Sheffield on my headphones, I’m actually singing along internally to “Mr Blue SKy” by ELO, or “Wind of Change” by The Scorpions.

My stealthy cheese habit extends to the dairy version too. While I love cheese in all its artisanal forms, nasty American cheese (or even the stuff they laughingly call cheddar here) definitely has its time and place. But only when nobody is looking. A good hot everything bagel with melted cheese and ham for breakfast is no substitute for a bacon butty, but it cures most known ills. And pepper jack (a heritage-less cheese if ever there was one) definitely has its place in my heart.

However, the worst sin of all – the Barbra Streisand of the cheese world, if you will – is the clandestine love affair I have with Wispride cheese balls. They look like something that you’d see on a Sky One programme entitled “America’s Worst Inventions,” but for some reason I just can’t get enough of it. Maybe it’s the fact that they’re not available in the UK (and so still have novelty value), or perhaps it’s because they’re a subconscious reaction against my adoration of lovingly crafted and aged cheeses of the world, but whatever the case, these things are like crack in dairy form. Give me some Jacob’s cream crackersTriscuits, an extra sharp cheddar cheese ball and maybe an episode of The Wire or 24, and I’m happier than a pig wallowing around in his own excrement. The only way I could be happier would be to put some love songs by Chicago on the stereo at the same time.

Actually, I really shouldn’t have put that thought in my head. I guess I know what I’ll be doing this weekend. Just don’t tell the neighbours, eh?

A tale of two vending machines

The Special One and I spent the holiday weekend back in the UK, engaging in a whirlwind tour of friends and family. I think most of them are starting to ask questions about whether I’ve actually left the country given how much I seem to be back there. Maybe I should change the name of the blog to “Brit Mostly Out Of Water”?

A weekend spent 3458 miles away from New York inevitably necessitates spending a fair amount of time in airports, particularly following the British Airways crash landing in London – not to mention apparent 150mph headwinds awaiting us on the way back.

Time in airports these days seems less about interminable waiting and more about interminable shopping. And if ever you needed a powerful demonstration of the difference between New York and London, maybe these two pictures of airport vending machines could provide it. Firstly, a machine found at London’s Heathrow:

Heathrow Airport

These machines first started appearing a year or so ago, offering travellers the chance to buy a book to occupy their minds when there’s only The Bourne Ultimatum on the inflight movie channels. Admittedly Russell Brand’s ‘My Booky Wook’ isn’t necessarily Shakespeare, but it’s got to be better than seven hours of sudoku.

Now the vending machine at JFK:

JFK Airport

When I was a kid, vending machines had bubble gum in them and you put 2p in to get something out. Now it seems that you use them to part with $250 in order to pick up cutting edge music players. Have we reached the point where iPods are considered spur-of-the-moment impulse purchases, to rank alongside a Coke, a packet of Doritos or a Mars bar?

Obviously, you’re not actually going to be able to use the iPod on your flight unless you’ve brought a computer and your music collection with you, and you’re able to find somewhere to charge the battery.

Of course, if you really can’t find a power source to charge your brand new device, you can just unplug the iPod vending machine and use that outlet instead. Other travellers will just have to content themselves with that book after all.

It’s the freakiest show

When you own an iPod (NB: other MP3 players are available), any time spent plugged into it can make you feel like a music advisor on “Life: The Movie”. On the occasions when you catch a glimpse of the cityscape, some piece of incredible architecture or just a strange interlude on the streets, music simply has the incredible power to be the soundtrack to your life.

Take my journey to work today, for instance. At Broadway-Nassau station, a man dragged a tired looking suitcase onto the train, looking for all the world like a dodgy perfume seller or fake Prada bag vendor. Until he opened his mouth that is, at which point it became apparent that he had to use the bag to carry all his bigotry with him. Having spouted off in no particular direction about AIDS, homosexuality and hatred, he then locked his eyes one by one on fellow passengers with a faintly maniacal stare.

And the song that’s playing during this episode? With its attack on the madness of the US (“it’s on America’s tortured brow, Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow”) and its more pertinent suggestion that life is “the freakiest show”, David Bowie’s “Life On Mars” couldn’t really have hit the nail any more firmly on the head.

From ethereal chillout to contrast the madness of the rush hour rat race, to The Smiths’ “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” as the rain pours down, I sometimes think that my iPod has some kind of mood sensor attached. Although why “Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats was playing as I entered the office, I have no idea. Thinking about it, a better question might be why it’s even on my iPod in the first place…

Still, at least listening to my own music collection is better than the torture that The Special One and I are having inflicted on us night after night by a neighbour in an adjacent building. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” as much as the next man (even when the next man is wearing a neon pink t-shirt saying “I love ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ by The Beatles”), but I don’t need to hear it played on repeat for half an hour or so as I’m trying to get to sleep.

One explanation could be that the perpetrator of such JohnPaulGeorgeandRingo-ular torture has recently been involved in a bitter love split, and is drowning her sorrows in music. Sadly, if that is the case, her partner has recently been round to collect his or her CDs, as last night the original version was replaced by her own far-from-delicate cover version. The lesson for me obviously being that after a week of wanting the hell to end, I should be careful what I wish for.

If it happens again tonight, I’m putting on my iPod. Sweet dreams are, indeed, made of this.