Tag Archives: N train

Rudeness with a smile on its face

I’ve said before that New Yorkers have a reputation for being rude and surly. The idea is not without some small justification. After all, in just 17 months of living here, I’ve been bashed out of the way with an umbrella, been screamed at in a supermarketgrocery store by an old lady, and been given death stares by everyone from ten year old kids to grumpy old waiters.

In reality, most locals are actually no more rude than the residents of any other city. And indeed, many are among the most friendly people you could hope to meet. It’s almost enough to make you forget about the man ranting at staff in the coffee shop for using whole milk instead of skim milk. 

After last night though, I’m wondering if this general air of new-found politeness could actually just be part of an elaborate sham. A plot, if you will, to lull me into thinking that New York is a blissful Disney-style paradise where everybody is kind to each other.

Having walked up the steps from the L train to the N train platform, the scene at the top suggested that Manhattan was under attack and everybody was being evacuated to Bay Ridge. People thronged everywhere as they attempted to get off or on trains coming into the station, and the ten yard walk to the N train that had just pulled into the platform seemed to take forever.

All of this posed a problem for the middle-aged mustachioed man on the far side of the platform. Of course, he desperately wanted to get on the train, but at the same time, he needed to adhere to New York’s nascent “let’s be polite” policy. But the two things were mutually exclusive – honorably edge his way through pedestrian traffic and he’d miss the train.

His solution was breathtaking, and I swear that however long I stay in New York, I will never see this again. First he put his arms in the air and clasped his hands together. An unusual move in rush hour, I think you’ll appreciate, and one that didn’t go unnoticed by fellow travellers. Then swiftly he brought down his still clasped arms/hands at 90 degrees to the rest of his body, taking a pose last seen on the starting blocks for the 50 metresmeters men’s freestyle final at the Olympic swimming pool in Beijing. Having got everybody’s attention, he simply jet propelled himself through the crowd to the door of the train, using his arms to part the Red Sea of people ahead of him.

So far, so rude. Or at least, it would have been had he not been shouting at the top of his voice as he did it, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am trying to get on this train, thank you very much.” He may have skittled all commuters in his path, but at least he did it politely, right?

Sadly for him, the doors weren’t open when he got to the train, and he had to spend a good thirty seconds staring into space and trying to ignore the looks of the astonished fellow passengers that he’d belted out of the way. I’m guessing that the anger they vented in his general direction wasn’t quite so well-mannered…

Now that’s what I call autumn. Or fall.

I always loved autumnfall when I was a kid. Little Sis, The Cousins and I would regularly get taken to Delamere Forest by our grandparents to pick up chestnuts and pine cones from the forest floor, and tear about like loons to run off excess energy. More importantly, we got to eat our grandmother’s chicken soup, the taste of which still lingers to this day, regularly infuriating me that I can’t recreate it. I can only assume that the secret ingredient was nicotine or, say, crack cocaine, such was the soup’s addictive qualities.

Part of the joy of autumnfall was the low strong seasonal sun, and the crisp but not too cold weather that always alerted me to the fact that my birthday and the festive season were just around the corner. Don’t get me wrong, I loved spending time with my grandparents, but the fact that I might soon be getting some new Lego or a new music compilation cassette was far more important at the stage in my life.

But ever since those early days, I’ve always loved that in-between weather – the times when it’s not too cold and not too hot, and everything’s changing from green to brown or vice-versa. I may not be able to have the chicken soup any more, but I’ll take a British autumn day over Now That’s What I Call Music 74 any time.

Last week, as I headed home on the subway, the N train on which I was travelling emerged from a tunnel out onto the Manhattan Bridge, giving me a striking view of the Brooklyn Bridge and the stretch of water down towards the Statue of Liberty. The low sun shone majestically off the East River, casting an ethereal glow over South Street Seaport and the bridge. The particular shade of light could mean only one thing – autumnfall had arrived at last.

Instead, this weekend, we turned the heating on and pulled out the thick coats. It seems that in the north east of the United States, two or three days is plenty enough of autumnfall, and it’s time to get ready for winter. Sure, there might be the occasional balmy day to look forward to, but other than that, it’s snow, ice and soul-chilling winds all the way.

Whatever happened to traditional seasons that lasted for a few months rather than a few days? I can only assume that the credit crunch has hit New York so hard that it can no longer afford to pay its bills, and we’ve duly had our sun taken away by bailiffs. Maybe if we all club together we can have it turned on again by February?

In the meantime, I’m getting the blankets out of the attic.

Wherever I lay my hat

Everybody has a place where they feel most comfortable. A place that’s as soothing and becalming as your presence in the womb itself, providing you with a moment of sanity away from the world around you. An oasis of blessed relief, which at any given point would be the place you would instantly choose to be teleported. If it weren’t for the fact that teleporting isn’t actually currently humanly possible, obviously.

For some people, that place can be utterly specific. A particular table at a quaint little restaurant off the beaten track in a French market town, maybe. Or drunkenly falling comatose in the car park behind the Dog & Bucket in Trowbridge after one Smirnoff Ice too many. You know the kind of thing.

For others, the vision is a little less precise. Inhaling the unmistakable odour of the first mown grass of spring. Holding a loved one’s hand as you trudge through newly fallen snow. Or gazing wistfully over the Virginian plains as eagles and kestrels soar overhead. To be honest, I’m not particularly sure that Virginia has plains, let alone eagles and kestrels, but I think you know what I mean.

As for me, it’s gazing out over a vast expanse of water. Preferably with The Special One beside me. Only then do I feel calm and at one with the world. With the sea infront of me, a feeling hits me that makes me know that there truly is no place on earth I’d rather be.

For a remarkable number of New Yorkers, it seems, the place that gives them the same sensation is “the exact position that would cause maximum annoyance to commuters”. Whether it’s on the third step up a long staircase on the subway, or in the doorway to an office building, some residents of the city find a curious zen descend upon them at the moment of maximum inconvenience. A zen that roots them to the spot, oblivious to the muffled effing and blinding of all those around them. And only when everybody has taken a long detour/bodycharged/crawled under their legs to get past does reality re-emerge to allow the (now thoroughly relaxed) person to go on their way.

Still, I’m not going to forgive the woman on the N train who ran ten yards and practically wrestled me to the ground in order to get a seat that had suddenly become available right next to me. I wouldn’t have minded, but for the fact that I wasn’t even trying to sit in it in the first place, and was simply trying to make space for the seat’s current occupant to vacate it.

Everybody has their place, and who can deny them that? This person was just lucky that her place wasn’t her local A&EER, given the dagger looks I shot her for the rest of the journey.

Where’s the sea when you need it most, eh?

Speed bumps

Everything goes so fast in New York. An official city decree in 1967 removed three seconds from every New York minute, meaning that the pace of life is actually 5% quicker than anywhere else in the world (and around 500% quicker than Newark Airport in New Jersey, where every minute spent feels like an eternity). Whether you’re ordering food or having a chat in the corridor, everything seems to be done at breakneck speed. Either that or everybody’s desperate to be in my presence for as little time as possible.

It’s not as if everything in London is slow either. Compared to my upbringing in sleepy Chester (and even sleepier North Wales), London was a veritable Formula OneNASCAR race. After all, even the lunchtime sandwiches are pre-packaged that morning to ensure that you don’t even have to wait for your cheese and pickle sarnie to be made. But nothing can really prepare you for the look of contempt you get from someone in New York if you dare to dawdle over an important life choice. Such as whether to have brown rice or white rice, for instance.

The pace of life in New York means that impatience is an overriding characteristic of a large number of residents of the city. The car horn must be more utiliszed in this city than most places on earth, with a quick blast being all it takes to ensure that drivers get to their eventual destination approximately 0.5 seconds before they would otherwise have done. Such impatience even affects The Special One, who could walk into an empty Starbucks and still be annoyed that the ‘barista’ had the audacity to blink before taking her order.

The need for speed translates onto the subway, as well. Don’t get me wrong, waiting for a train can be more painful than having your wisdom teeth extracted with only a non-alcoholic beer for anaesthetic. But once you’re on an express train, you get the distinct impression that the driver has just remembered that he’s left the iron on at home, and his favourite TV show is about to start. In particular, the run from Union Square to Canal Street on the N train is vaguely reminiscent of Marty McFly’s De Lorean-powered race against time on the streets of Hill Valley. Certainly, I’ve never been at the back of the train, but I assume that fire tracks are left in our wake.

Of course, the problem when you’re a 6ft 2 bloke with about as much balance as a gin-soaked flamingo, standing on a train that’s racing around the bumps and bends of the transport system can be dangerous. Not so much for myself, but for those standing in the immediate vicinity of my size elevens.

Sadly, there’s a dainty open-toe shoe-wearing young lady in the New York metropolitan area who’s almost certainly walking with a pronounced limp this morning.

‘Sorry’ may seem to be the hardest word, but it’s definitely never felt quite so inadequate.