Tag Archives: subway

Heat pushes New York over the edge

Walking in New York right now is like stepping into the welcoming heat curtain that greets you in department stores in the winter, only to find that you never make it through to the other side. Shirts are drenched through within seconds, and your only hope of looking vaguely respectable at work is if the laws of evaporation kick into major effect in the sub-zero climes of the air conditioned subway cars and offices.

Of course, in the near 100 degree heat/100% humidity that New York has been experiencing recently, thermometers aren’t the only indication of temperatures are rising. Everybody may be in a good mood in the warmth of the sun on a day off, but when you’re weary after a day at the coalface, the punishing heat can be enough to send people over the edge.

Right now, New Yorkers have approximately 37% less patience than they would on a normal grey day in the city, according to official government studies. That means that they honk their horns at cars that fail to move off from traffic lights within 0.04 seconds of the light turning green, rather than the normal 0.06. The pavementssidewalks are littered with tourists who’ve been skittled out of the way for walking slowly, rather than just being shoulder-barged and sworn at in normal circumstances. And insurance companies are refusing to cover Starbucks baristas, just in case they forget to leave the whipped cream off a customer’s iced soy vanilla macchiato.

But it’s on the subway that tempers flair most, largely due to the fact that the stations are hotter than an out-of-condition Bulgarian weightlifter’s armpit. The subway system is hardly the most convivial place in the first place, but right now it’s how I would imagine the atmosphere to be at the Jerry Springer Show if the whole audience had just been told that each of their mothers had been sleeping with the 17 year old greasemonkey who’d just wandered on stage chewing tobacco.

Last week, as my train pulled into the furnace that they laughingly call a station, a middle aged woman attempted to barge past a younger woman so that she’d be ahead of her when the doors opened. The younger woman gently but firmly reasserted her position, and stepped on to the train first.

Behind her the middle aged woman tutted loudly, and then turned to a seeming stranger, and launches into a vicious fifteen minute tirade about people who only look out for themselves.

“The problem with people is that these days they’re all about themselves. I used to let people on first, but it got me nowhere. Everybody would take all the seats. Now I make sure it’s all about me.”

Clearly I gave her my best ‘you realise that what you’ve said makes no sense, right?’ look, but to no avail. She continued apace.

“You know, it’s not the New York City people who are like that.”

Given that she’d by this point given the coffee cup-toting woman next to her (who happened to be wearing a hijab) a mouthful about not spilling it all over her, I mentally readied myself for the worst.

“No no, New Yorkers have been brought up properly. They know how to behave. No, it’s the people from elsewhere you have to watch.”

Here we go, I thought. Which ethnic group is she going to have a pop at first? My money was on the Indian sub-continent, although you never can rule out the Chinese in circumstances such as this. I braced myself for the xenophobic onslaught.

“You know, like people from Ohio. Or Kansas City.”

She may not have had much of an understanding of the world at large, but the ranting misanthrope had a fairly clear understanding of her future direction of travel when she finally pops off this mortal coil.

“I’m going up. That’s my plan. I’m looking out for myself, because I’m going upstairs.”

Personally I reckon the universe might have something a little warmer in store for her.

An eternity spent on New York City subway platforms would seem to be a good start.

Losing track

Sometimes I long for simplicity. You know, the days when the only thing you had to worry about was how you were going to get away with hiding that pile of liver (with accompanying ventricles) on your plate, so that your mum would let you get down from the table. Or for the Saturday mornings that involved nothing more taxing than reading Whizzer and Chips, and idly pondering whether Bucks Fizz’s Cheryl Baker was prettier than her slightly grubbier cohort Jay Aston.

What you don’t realise when you’re 12 years old is that these truly are the salad days – times to be enjoyed and savoured before you have to start making weightier decisions than ‘should I drop this pile of clothes on my bedroom floor, or is there somewhere more annoying I can leave them?’

When you move countries well into your adult life, it’s not just friends and family you leave behind; you’re also abandoning all the shortcuts through life that makes everything that little bit easier. Like where to locate that difficult-to-find essential ingredient for your world-beating fish pie, or where to get a haircut that doesn’t make you look like Yahoo Serious. On a bad day. Put simply, moving abroad generally robs you of you comforts and your go-to people. You may establish a new set after a while, but it’s never quite the same.

Of course, losing your geographical shortcuts is particularly difficult, especially when you’re in a car with a screaming small person who knows no better. And if driving with The Special One wasn’t tough enough, we now have a baby daughter to travel with as well. Every saved metremeter is a leap forward in averting Crymaggedon*, so knowing that you can avoid traffic meltdown by taking a quick right turn is invaluable knowledge. Or rather it would be, but for the fact I have as much spatial awareness in New York as a half-blind cockroach with an alcohol problem.

Nowhere is my lack of locational understanding more telling than on the New York subway. In London, I knew every shortcut, every sign to ignore, and every tactic in the book for navigating around the inevitable engineering overruns or closed stations. In New York, even after two and a half years of daily commuting, I’m often lucky to get home.

I used to think that the issue was my rank idiocy. But now, my dear friend New York, I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem’s not me – it’s you.

See, the good thing about the London Underground is that the tunnels are essentially separate. I mean, sure, there are occasional spurs off the main line if for some inexplicable reason, say, you want to go to Totteridge & Whetstone. But basically any given train can go down one tunnel, and come back up the other side. You know where you are. Even if ‘where you are’ is ‘on the way to Totteridge & Sodding Whetstone’.

In New York, it seems that every train has access to every tunnel. And while that’s great for avoiding the results of some unfortunate driver’s latest magic trick (“Roll up, roll up, watch the incredible Martino turn one body into 872 largely unrecognizable parts with just one leap!”), it’s less good when you don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of the train system. Three times this week I’ve got on a train only to be told that it’s actually running on another line. Intense discussion raged between various passengers each time about the ramifications for various journeys, and the tortuous alternative routes that could be used instead. And I just sat there like a wide-eyed mole who’s just been electrocuted, wondering if The Special One would lose respect for me if I went above ground and phoned her for help.

Simple is as simple does, it would appear.

* Coincidentally, Crymageddon is a small town in South Wales. The Little One’s version is less welcoming to coachloads of tourists though.

Two years and counting

I often tell people how easy it is to forget that I live in New York. I mean, when your morning consists of getting drenched by torrential rain, squeezing up into somebody’s slightly musty armpit on the subway, and getting delayed exactly seventeen minutes more than is strictly necessary, it’s difficult to believe that you’re not actually in London.

Infact, the cities are so eerily similar at times that the recent second anniversary of me being a Brit living out of water passed without comment – or without me even noticing, to be honest.

Like a petulant child that feels it is being ignored or underappreciated, New York has spent the last two weeks trying to get my attention. After all, no sprawling metropolitan area likes to be taken for granted. As a result, the city employed three agents to provide me with a vivid reminder that New York’s like no other place on earth:

1) The deathwish biker
As I think I’ve mentioned, I don’t drive. I’m also pretty environmentally conscious, although my refusal to drive is more to do with a casual unwillingness to kill people than it is with a distaste for excessive emissions. But even as a non-driving eco-warrior, people on bikes can irritate the living bejeesus out of me. Don’t get me wrong, some of my closest friends ride bikes, and I preach transportational tolerance at all times. But come on, let’s be honest, there are some people who get on bicycles and turn into idiots. That doesn’t excuse the time that I opened a car door, and accidentally twanged a speeding biker into a brick wall, but it does maybe explain it.

Cyclists in cities the world over are bound by a common code to give the v’sflip the bird to at least twenty pedestrians a day, and to use pavementssidewalks to scatter passers by in their path. Nothing unusual there. But most of them at least have a vague desire to stay alive.

Not the New York cyclist that I spotted recently though. Waiting to cross a busy avenue, I stood patiently at the junctionintersection as uptown traffic slowed to a halt, before I stepped out into the road. I casually glanced up to see a cyclist approach the head of the stopped line of cars at speed, shout something along the lines of “parp, parp”, and plunge headlong into the traffic heading across town at high speed. Screaming “wheeeeeeeeee!” as he swerved through the cars as they screeched to a halt around him. With a triumphant wave over his shoulder to stunned onlookers, he carried on with his journey.

2) Shouty Bagel Guy
The bagels in our local bagel place are without doubt the best that I’ve ever had in New York. And trust me, I’ve spent many hours and piled on many pounds to check the veracity of that assertion. As a result, I’m more than happy to queuewait on line for five or ten minutes over the weekend in order to get my hands on some.

Last weekend, loaded up with bags of fruit and vegetables, I stopped by to pick up breakfast. Ahead of me in the line stood a heavy set man with his stunningly indecisive girlfriend, who took around five minutes to decide she only wanted a small coffee. Having reminded myself that I’m not a New Yorker and can therefore have a modicum of patience, I bit my lip, waited my turn, ordered my bagels, and turned to walk to the till to pay. As I turned, my bags knocked with all the force of a particularly venomous feather into the leg of the guy ahead of me. He turned, and sneered at me using his top lip in a way that would have made Elvis look like an amateur, and turned to his girlfriend while shaking his head.

In a voice that almost certainly made me sound like a kid that was beaten up at Eton for “sounding too posh”, I looked at the guy and said “I’m sorry, but it was an accident you know.” And in a thick Brooklyn accent that could probably have been heard in New Orleans, he responded with “Yeah, well you got your bags right up my ass, haven’t you?”

Obviously I retorted with “that’s because your ass is so big that it’s practically impossible for anybody to walk into the store without hitting it.” In my head, that is. In real-life, I went red, paid for my bagels, and walked out of the shop in fury.

3) The Seat Snatcher
Nobody likes standing on the subway, but frankly it’s a fact of life in New York. I swear that some people train daily at home so that they’re able to race into a carriagecar and seize any empty seat before someone else sits in it. Even if they get in a good ten metresmeters away. Frankly there are few lengths that some commuters won’t go to in a bid to find a temporary home for their rear.

On one not-so-packed journey home, a man on the train I was on took the art of grabbing a seat to new lows. A small child vacated her seat temporarily to talk to a member of her family a yard or two away, and the lure of the bright orange plastic proved too much for the guy, who promptly sat down in it. The girl returned a few seconds later, looked the man directly in the eyes and burst into tears.

In my defence, I didn’t know she was coming back to the seat, and the tears were a slightly excessive reaction. I even offered her the seat back, but the damage had been done.

Still, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

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?

Understanding New York’s unique formula

If you ask me – and I know you didn’t – New Yorkers must be the most accomplished numbers-oriented populace in the world. For a start, they know the price of every single slice of pizza in the city, and can calculate the cheese per cent ratio of each one by smell alone. They can generally tell you the cost of a cab journey between any two points in the city, texting you regular updates to take into account rising fares caused by minor traffic problems. And they always know exactly how many inches each person is allotted for the placement of their posterior on a subway seat, and if you exceed it, they can deliver precisely the percentage death stare necessary to ensure that you never even think about doing it again.

They are also the only group of people I’ve ever come across who can accurately time one-hundredth of a second in their own heads. That is, after all, the only way that they can manage to hit the car horn so quickly after a traffic light has turned green and the car infront of them has failed to move on within the aforementioned time period.

What has been frustrating me over the last few days is that I think natural-born New Yorkers have access to a secret mathematical formula that I just can’t quite work out. They are able to take a combination of a number of factors and combine them in such a way as to calculate whether the action they take will save them time without getting them physically assaulted or ‘accidentally’ bumped off by the people that they annoy in the process. Such factors include (but may not be limited to):

– the size of the gap that they want to squeeze into, whether as a car attempting to use every lane possible in an attempt to gain ground, or a person defying the oncoming group of fourteen people getting off a subway as he or she gets on. Note that whatever the mode of transport, the size of the gap will always be at least 50% smaller than that used by any reasonable human being.

– the amount of time that is saved by performing such a manouevremaneuver, whether three seconds by pushing ahead in a queueline for a subway turnstile, or three minutes by taking the cafe latte that was actually intended for the person who turned their back for three milliseconds. Note that any time saved will be used for swearing and cursing at random strangers.

– the irritation level of the person slighted by the action of the New Yorker, on a scale of one to ten. Level one might involve a small ‘tut’ or a roll of the eyes, while level six involves verbal intervention and a knowing look to those around them. Level ten has been responsible for at least 59 deaths in the tri-state area already this year.

– the smugness of the person carrying out the act, again on a scale of one to ten. Level one sees the perpetrator almost imperceptibly lick their lips as they perform the act, while level eight (generally reached only by men) features a visible turn towards the victim and a full-on game show host-style wink. Surely no court in the land could ever convict somebody for stabbing such an inveterate winker?

What amazes me is that New Yorkers can gauge all the variables, and work out the formula in a matter of seconds. Such speed allows them to decide against the procedure if they think they really can’t get away with it, or to reduce the smugness of their reaction in the case of the most irritating actions in order to avoid defenestration or a similar fate.

I can only assume that they’re taught it at school, and then practice it religiously for the next eighty years. We outsiders can only look on with an equal mix of horror and amazement. 

And serve our time in jail with grace and remorse.

The one where A Brit Out Of Water becomes a criminal

Having been brought up on a TV diet that included regular feedings of ‘Cagney & Lacey’, I have to say that I was pretty nervous on my first trip to New York City. Not because there was a possibility of being forced to spend an evening in the company of Tyne Daly and her long-suffering Harvey, you understand. But for this sheltered youth who had spent most of his formative years in a small town in North Wales, it seemed that the streets of New York were paved with people whose sole mission was to relieve me of my cash. Or my life.

To be fair, New York wasn’t exactly a sleepy little village fifteen years ago. Giuliani had only taken control of the city the year before, and the area around Times Square was still a den of pornographic iniquity. Not that that was necessarily a bad thing for a hormone-heavy youngster, obviously. But while crime rates were beginning to fall across the country, New York still had plenty of hoodlums and gangsters to call its own.

As it was, the only criminal I came across was me, convincing a barman to serve me a beer or three despite the fact that I was only 20. Nonetheless, my perception of New York as a city where crime never sleeps lived on for many a year.

After last night’s commute home, I wonder if that feeling will ever truly go away.

Stepping onto a train at West 4th Street, a tall woman pushed me out of the way as she narrowly avoided the train’s closing door. No crime there, obviously – barging people around is practically a legal requirement in this city, after all. But it did mean that I least noticed her, particularly as she quickly gave me an evil stare as if to question how I had dared to get in the way of her aggressive shoulder charge a few seconds earlier.

The good thing about the New York subway is that if you happen to find yourself in the same carriage as someone slightly irritating, it’s a fair bet that they’ll be getting off in a few minutes. Not this woman though. In fact, she stayed on board for a full thirty minutes, finally getting off at the same stop as me. Still, there are plenty of trains coming through that particular station, and as I stood waiting for my connecting train, I thought no more of her.

Until she stepped through the same door onto the same train as me a few minutes later, that is. And then got off the train at the same station as me about six stops later. And turned the same direction as me once she reached street level. And proceeded right exactly like I did at the first junction. And crossed the road in the same direction as me across the nearest avenue.

Given that I was following her this whole time, I suddenly became convinced that she was going to think that I was stalking her. After all, I had effectively followed her all the way from Manhattan, following her merciless bashing of me in her attempt to get on a train. Now she could easily be thinking that I was tracking her down to exact my revenge as soon as my opportunity came.

Unfortunately for me, my ‘target’ then proceeded to walk directly down the street that leads past my house. Despite being frozen to my core, my paranoid New York crime-aware self kicked in, and I forced myself to take a long detour just to prove to everyone around me that I was no criminal. I almost felt like taking out a loudspeaker and broadcasting “I am not following this woman” in order to clear up any confusion.

Just to be on the safe side though, if anyone sees Sharon Gless in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn over the next few days, do me a favour and drop me an email. They’ll never take me alive, I tell you.

There’s honour among thieves

As a great philosopher once wrote, “we had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun.” Well to be honest, it was the Belgian songwriter Jacques Brel, but he sounds like a philosopher so that’s close enough for me. My suspicion – based admittedly on one trip to Antwerp nearly ten years ago – is that the Belgians know precious little about the sun, but being a Brit I’m probably in no position to argue.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, seasons. Seasons are one of those long-abandoned concepts that used to mean something, but have now been consigned to the dustbintrashcan of life, like Spangles, Cremola Foam and John Leslie. Or, if you’re an American, maybe Marathon bars, Shelley Long and ‘the respect of the rest of the world’. Although thankfully at least one of those appears to be making a long overdue comeback.

In terms of food though, seasons sadly seem to have vanished. As a kid, I used to eagerly look forward to the first strawberries of the year, or to the coming of tiny little Jersey Royal potatoes that tasted directly of the earth that they had come so recently from (thinking about it, it have been that taste principle that prevented me from ever eating the rhubarb that grew over the septic tank in the garden of my Little Chef Cousins). Everything had a time of year, and there was nothing you could do but await its arrival with the legendary patience of an 11 year old.

These days, there’s nothing you can’t find all year round, from tomatoes to asparagus. And to be honest, the world is probably a worse place because of it. The Special One and I are trying to do our own little bit to right the world back on its axis by trying to be locavores who only eat things grown within a certain distance of your home. Given that we live in New York and eat the occasional banana, tomato and avocado, we’ve pegged local as roughly “within 3000 miles” for the purpose of our experiment. After all, we’d have no friends left if we only cooked butternut squash and beetroot for five months of every year.

With California having ruined the concept of the plant world’s season, the United States has co-opted the word ‘season’ for many other things that Brits never seem to use. In Britain, the only non-climate related use of the word season is essentially a reference to the eleven and a half month cycle in which footballsoccer is played. In America, you’re never short of seasons, from the collective noun for a series of TV shows to the period of time when the Oscars, Golden Globes and Grammys take place (‘awards season’, obviously). Although in sports, it’s less about the season and all about the post-season (if you’re a Liverpool fan reading this, the post-season is the point during the year at which you look back and realise you haven’t won the league again).

Walking into the subway the other day, I noticed an LCD sign urging me to keep my jewellery safe. Having quickly taken off all my bling and stashed it in my bag, I read on. Apparently this time of year is “chain snatching season” and people need to be more aware of the risk of having your necklace snatched from around your neck while travelling on the subway system.

Criminals are clearly so much more civilised in America. To provide the best possible service to victims everywhere, they have obviously created a season system in which particular consumer products are targeted at specific times of the year. You always know where you are that way. It’s my guess that chain snatching season ends in a few weeks, to be replaced by the umbrella grabbing season. And by the time the sun is out, we’ll all be able to sit back and bask in the joy of plain old honest-to-goodness purse stealing season.

I can only hope that criminals who don’t stick to the season system are thrown out of the Thieves Union. After all, nobody wants their iPod targeted when portable music device nicking season has just finished, and the briefcase purloining season has just begun, do they?

City transport in “not very good” shock

If there’s one thing that unites Londoners and New Yorkers more than anything else, it’s their enthusiasm for (and indeed, full-blown devotion to) complaining about their respective subterranean rail systems. In the transportational equivalent of the playgroundschoolyard mantra of “my dad could beat up your dad”, the inhabitants of each city is convinced that their mass transit network is worse than anyone else’s, and will bitch and moan about it to anyone who will listen. As well as a good few who won’t.

In London, the legends of the Northern Line and its problems are more fantastical than anything that JK Rowling or Terry Pratchett could come up with. With trains that were apparently manufactured by contemporaries of Pliny The Elder, and a commitment to cancellation that suggests scheduling is done by an untrained monkey working flexi-time, the Northern Line is officially Far From Perfect.

Here in New York, trains run with the regularity of, say. Halley’s Comet or a Knicks NBA championship. If you ran trains with such huge gaps between them in the UK, they’d issue a timetable so that everybody could turn up at the allotted moment rather than making everyone peer into the gloom of the tunnel (more in hope than belief). It’s not just the timings either. I’m writing this from a packed train which is near-pitch black due to dodgy electrics. And if you ever see a peculiarly empty carriage car around rush hour, be aware that somebody has almost certainly thrown up in it, and only those who lost their sense of smell in an abortive ammonia-related chemistry experiment at school will be able to sit in it without retching every five seconds.

To be fair, being away from either system makes you pine for the other one. When I’m in New York, I long for the London Underground, and the knowledge that unless something’s gone badly wrong, you’re never going to have to wait more than five minutes for a train. Unless you’re on the Northern Line, obviously. And while in London, I yearn to be back in the capacious subway cars that can fit more than thirteen people without requiring you to occuipy the armpit of a burly man from Epping.

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (almost as popular as Michael Phelps at a meeting of the Mark Spitz Appreciation Society at the moment, due to proposed fare hikes) actively seeks insultsfeedback with a laughably named Rider Report Card. The card asks you to rate your train according to 22 different criteria, including delays, station announcements, security, cleanliness, lack of graffiti and even “lack of scratchitti”. Sadly there’s no place to grade them on “ability to make up/perpetuate words such as scratchitti”.

While giving everyone the chance to have their say, the surveys don’t go down well with everyone. The woman opposite me on the R train into work this morning took a thick-tipped Sharpie to the report and scrawled on it in massive type “Stop giving me millions of surveys and start giving me more trains instead”. From her writing and evident over-the-top anger, I can only assume that she had left her multi-coloured crayons at home by mistake.

Meanwhile, I’ve got to fill out my report card today. I’m thinking “C+. Must try harder.”

Important pan pipe update

If you read or commented on the post regarding the pan pipe/pan flute man who ‘graces’ the L platform at 14th Street/Union Square, you need to know that the non-performing busker plumbed new creative depths this morning. Nobody – and I mean nobody – needs to hear a pan pipe version of “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” from The Lion King first thing in the morning. And certainly not being mimed to by a recorder-wielding man put on this earth to torture poor unsuspecting commuters. My ears are still bleeding, half an hour later.

Oh, and that rumbling noise you hear in the distance is Elton John and Tim Rice rolling in their graves. Dying first, obviously, then rolling in their graves.

I used to be such a tolerant man

When I’m heading back to the depths of Brooklyn each night, a seat on the N train is as a rare as an Alaskan governor at a meeting of MENSA. Given that the N is an express train, and goes particularly quickly by New York standards (by London standards, it’s faster than the speed of light), I’ve been forced to perfect my balance to allow me to do simple things without falling over. Like breathing, for instance.

Of course, when a seat does become available, the frenetic charge towards it by upwards of ten commuters is enough to have the manufacturers of crutches and support bandages rubbing their hands in glee. I’ve been elbowed in the back, (wo)manfully and forcibly held back and generally been pushed around more times than I care to remember.

Sometimes though, just sometimes, a seat frees up right next to you, and even the Carl Lewis’s of the seat grabbing world are powerless to stop you from making it your own. One glorious orange plastic seat, moulded to fit your capacious buttocks, and only marginally harder than an exam in advanced astrophysics. A place to relax, wind down from the excesses of the day, and dream of the roasted chicken and perfectly chilled white wine that awaits at home. A refuge from the high-speed hurtling through the city that constantly threatens to throw you into the lap of that fat guy holding the kebab featuring dubious meat of uncertain origin.

Yesterday, that seat was all mine.

Needless to say, as soon as I sat down, the Nintendo DS playing numptyteen sat next to me began chewing gum with a ferocity that suggested he’d been informed that the kinetic energy he was producing was being converted to electricity to power the train on its homeward journey. His mouth was open throughout, obviously, making him sound like a cud-munching cow on speed. And we all know what that sounds like.

After five minutes (and a number of furious looks in his direction), I couldn’t stand it any more. Leaving my beautiful seat behind me, I stood up and put myself at the mercy of the train’s violent lurching once more.

I’m sure that the kebab sauce will come off my shirt eventually.