Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

Service of Encounters on Public Transport

Thursday, April 27th, 2017

Photo: pinterest

Photo: pinterest

Just last week I had two pleasant encounters on the NYC subway. These tend to happen less frequently these days with people’s eyes fixed on messages and games in smartphones or with minds distracted by entertainments coming through ear pods. If they talk it is to others on the phone. Maybe people are increasingly afraid of confrontation with strangers.

Friday Night
I was late to a dinner party waiting for a subway on an unfamiliar line so I asked a man on the platform if the B and D trains stopped at 86th and Central Park West. The 30-something removed his ear bud and said “You want the B or C–don’t take the D or any train that stops on the other side of the platform.” [The crosstown bus driver had told me to look for B and D.]

As time went on, with no train –we were at a station without electronic notification of the timing of the next one’s arrival–he kept the ear bud dangling on his shirt and we began to chat. He worried that he’d be late for his 7 pm restaurant reservation and I said, “You’ll be asked to wait at the bar most likely.” He shrugged and agreed. I went on, “My father threw a fit when asked to do that. He’d point to his watch and he’d repeat the time of his reservation and would demand a table. He was correct; nevertheless those with him wanted to disappear.”

Photo: huffingtonpost.com

Photo: huffingtonpost.com

The young man twisted his face in a grimace, “My mother returns every dish,” he said. “She’ll say, ‘it’s not what I expected–there’s something about it that I don’t like.’” I noted that I miss my father and that I’m glad his mother is still here to do her restaurant thing. He agreed and as he left the car at 81st Street, he waved goodbye and wished me a good evening. I don’t know about him but the distraction was what the doctor ordered as I’d forgotten my anxiety both about being late and the potential confrontations awaiting me at dinner.

Saturday Afternoon
Weekends are the worst time to take a subway in NYC as nothing works but on Saturday, it was pouring when I had to get to the west side so I ducked in a station at Lexington and 51st. A middle aged couple came up to me and a young woman also waiting on the platform. The man, with an English accent, asked if this train was heading downtown. Turned out that we were going to the same part of town. We could have gone directly in one stop had the E train been working.

Photo: Brokelyn

Photo: Brokelyn

They were from London. We named our favorite cities–the wife’s was New York, said her husband, and we named London and Paris, but he didn’t declare his. We got out of the Lexington Avenue train at 42nd Street and on the walk to the Shuttle—the second of three lines we had to take–I mumbled that New York can seem like it’s falling apart sometimes. He snickered and mentioned our President followed briskly and politely by a reference to Brexit. Shrugs all ‘round.

One stop on the 7th Avenue subway took them a block from Radio City, their destination. I was happy I could do for tourists what countless others do for us when we travel.

Do you have any interesting encounters to share during train, plane or bus travels? Have you noticed, in NYC at least, that they happen less frequently than years ago?

Photo: foursquare.com

Photo: foursquare.com

Service of a Wet Blanket–Much Ado About Little: the New Second Avenue Subway

Monday, January 9th, 2017

Second Avenue subway tracks

I finally had a reason to try the new 2nd Avenue subway in NYC. It’s not new, just an extension of the Q train. I got on at 2nd Avenue and 86th Street.

My destination, 51st and Lexington Avenue.

That was my mistake–thinking I could conveniently go anywhere on the East side below 63rd Street using this east side train. Forget it also if you’re hoping to get to Grand Central Station or Union Square in a reasonable amount of time.

I exited at 63rd Street–where I took three long escalators to reach the street–and followed instructions to transfer to the Lexington Avenue subway at 59th street. I could have walked to 51st Street but I wanted to test the system.

It failed.

For one thing, I had to pay another fare. For another, had the weather been stormy, freezing or sweltering or had I been lugging anything, the clumsy four block walk would irk. And the clock was ticking—what a waste of time.

Speaking of time, I waited over 20 ++ minutes for the Lexington Avenue local. OK–it was a Sunday. But really. This is Manhattan for goodness sakes. And last—and this is a frivolous complaint. With all the talk about the new subway I’d expected to travel in a new train. It wasn’t.

The subway extension is super for some:  People coming from Coney Island, Brooklyn to the upper east-east side [as far as 96th Street for now], or for those who live way east and are going to theatre. After 63rd, the train heads west and stops at Times Square on its way south.

There are engineering reasons, no doubt, that the train doesn’t connect to the Lexington Avenue subway, but this is 2017–we can do anything, no? Oops! I forgot: It took almost 100 years to get this far. We don’t want to rush things.

wet blanketI’m more the cheerleader type and dislike being a wet blanket. I love this city. But we haven’t been getting much right of late. Returning home in the snowstorm on Saturday afternoon I heard the welcome scraping noise of a snow plough. Where was it? Not where the cars are on First Avenue but on the bicycle lane. With two inches of frozen slush and more snow coming down, who made that decision? Granted the subway extension is a state project and the city cleanup belongs to the local sanitation department but the impact of poorly thought through decisions hit citizens equally.

Do you love the “new” Second Avenue subway? Can you point to an infrastructure or other major project about which much is made with disappointing impact? Do I have unrealistic expectations?

Much ado about nothing

Service of So Many Vehicles and No Way to Get Anywhere

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

Traffic jam in Paris

The first time I felt stranded in a city swarming with cars was in Teheran long ago. The feeling of frustration, helplessness and dread is always the same. I think: “How will I get where I need to be on time or at all?” We were miles from our hotel, there were no taxis, we spoke not a word of Farsi and had no clue about public transportation.

The next time this happened was in Paris years later and years ago. The trick then was to know the number of a responsible car service. This didn’t always work either even when the concierge of a well regarded hotel placed the call. At least Paris has a superb metro system though it’s not fun taking public transportation very late at night when you’re dressed up and in uncomfortable shoes.

Back in NYC last week we waited 45 minutes for the cross-town bus at traffic jam in nyc49th and First Avenue, a jaunt from a subway. It never came. Everyone at the stop when we arrived eventually gave up. Meanwhile countless busses raced along First Avenue.

We left frantic calls on our friend’s mobile phone to make alternate plans. He held the tickets to Radio City Music Hall‘s Christmas Show and was waiting for us outside. My phone went dead. It needed a charge. We walked to Second Avenue hoping for better luck and mercifully someone hopped out of a cab which we dashed into. The driver charged my phone; we were able to connect with our friend but gosh–the stress to get there dampened our enthusiasm.

Lucky the show was spectacular as that’s what we remember when we think of that evening.

“There are rideshare options in your city!” some readers are yelling at their computer screens. My response: “I don’t have access to apps to hire Uber, Lyft, Gett or Juno car services. Does everyone?” Why don’t I? I need to set aside 3 hours to wait my turn at the Apple Store to acquire a new password/Apple ID in order to download apps. Something happened with my old one. The daunting potential time waste has put me off.

Second avenue subwayThe city is strangled by traffic. In addition to the annual influx of holiday shoppers and tourists eager to see the tree at Rockefeller Center, the stroke in midtown traffic caused by security around the President-elect’s Fifth Avenue midtown office/home will ensure that for blocks we continue to suffer for four years. In addition, the Governor has promised to complete the first stretch of the Second Avenue subway [photo left] by year’s end. To satisfy his ego, he has workers at it 24/7 and the avenue shrinks to one lane around 72nd Street. This subway has been in the works for 70 years at least when the first bond issues were floated. So what’s a few more days?

A sidebar: To feed a MetroCard for access to busses in NYC a person needs access to the subway which is usually up or down flights of stairs. Doesn’t that eliminate people for whom stairs are an issue? Grand Central Station no longer sells the cards on the main floor. Maybe you can buy or feed a card in a convenient spot somewhere else in the city but I don’t know where.

So how should people plan on getting around in cities?

Lyft

Service of Dónde? Où? Woher? Dove? Onde? Nerede? Gdzie? Translation: Where?

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

 Taxi Tv show

I was born in Manhattan and have lived much of my life in New York City. There are miles of neighborhoods in the five boroughs I would have trouble finding in a car, GPS or no GPS. Tell me where you want to go in Russian, Polish, Arabic, Portuguese and most languages, other than French and English, and I’m lost.

Map of NYCSo apart from the fact that English has been the lingua franca in this country since its inception, does it make practical sense that speaking English is no longer a requirement of New York City cab drivers?

  • Should a Greek, Chinese or Arabic driver familiar with a different alphabet be asked to take a passenger to an address on Amsterdam Avenue, Broadway, Houston Street or Columbus Circle, for example, will he/she be able to read the street sign to know that they arrived?
  • What about the crucial direction in Manhattan“East” and “West?”

Stop sign in several languagesShould I invest in a street sign business in anticipation of a lineup of street names on every pole in the most used alphabets in addition to Roman? [I wonder if the English street name will remain at the top?]

No doubt I sound harsh but my dad came to this country in his 30s and had to learn English from scratch, which he did extremely well. He also wrote beautifully. [His charming accent was to die.] Millions of others have done the same. How many generations of newcomers were forced to learn English before they were eligible for certain jobs?

Years ago I met a laborer who lived and worked in New Jersey for 50 years and if he knew 50 English words, that was a lot. He spoke his native language with neighbors and colleagues at work and local shop owners too. But I wouldn’t recommend him for the job of taxi driver.

In order to work as a cab driver or in most jobs wouldn’t you want to learn Italian, French, German, Portuguese or Japanese if you moved to Italy, France, Germany, Brazil, Portugal or Japan?  Or even if you went there to live? What do you think of this new ruling?

 Bi lingual signs in Quimper

 

 

Service of Seeds: What You Admired As a Kid May Be What You Do For a Living

Thursday, August 4th, 2016

seeds

I envied students, when I was one myself, who knew they wanted to be a teacher, nurse, doctor, journalist, artist, dentist or dancer—to name a few careers. In college, I still had no clue, but with the benefit of hindsight, the seeds were there long before.

A casual conversation with strangers on a railroad platform underscored how this might work for people lucky enough to be choosy in how they make a living. In Dover Plains, NY the other evening a crew of electricians was upgrading the lights at the railroad station. David, the team leader, was enthusiastically describing to another passenger and me what to expect when the project was done. He said we’d be getting “circus lights.”

We looked puzzled and he explained, “You remember when you were a kid and wentDover Plains RR Station to the circus? Those lights.” I said I remember piles of clowns squeezing into a small car, the lions and trapeze artists and cotton candy but don’t remember the lights and he laughed and said, “I guess that’s why I became an electrician!” [Once I Googled “circus lights,” I knew what to expect, but the image didn’t immediately come to mind.]

Circus lights

Circus lights

David got me thinking about what caught my attention as a child: attractively decorated apartments and homes, well dressed women and fashion in magazines and stores, hair styles, the way my aunt and a friend’s mother set a table and entertained and how great some stores looked and what fun it was to visit them and finding treasures in less appealing stores, to name a few things. In lower school, with friends during rest period, I put together a “magazine” [currently misplaced or tossed]. With the exception of fashion and beauty industries, I’ve been professionally involved in some or another way with the others and worked for two magazines.

Thinking back, do you see seeds and clues from your youth that translated into the work you do–or did–or did you know all along what you wanted your future to be?

 Student thinking

 

Service of Why

Monday, June 27th, 2016

Why

I ask questions in every post and the question word also appears in a few titles. Today I share some unrelated observations and ask WHY:

  • Do you think a mother pushing a stroller gave her young child a tablet to stare at when there was plenty to look at on the street between the traffic, other pedestrians, store windows and dogs passing by?  The child was so little—around one–and the screen so large that he could hardly hold the device that was crammed in between his legs and the stroler. We weren’t near each other for very long but while we were, not a word passed between them.
  • Inside an elevatorDo I go to the right in some elevators and to the left in others to reach the floor control buttons and inevitably, my instinct sends me the wrong way? Why aren’t these buttons installed universally either left or right?
  • TelemarketerDo telemarketers hire people who mumble? I asked one last week—an American—to repeat what he’d said. The phone volume was fine, I clearly heard the end of his intro—“and how are you today?”—yet totally missed who he represented or the reason for his call. He slurred his words while repeating, at 200 mph, what he’d uttered countless times before. When I couldn’t decipher or isolate a single word on the second go-‘round, I hung up.
  • Do companies require their live operators/receptionists to answer the phone with a ridiculously long greeting—and not because the name of the firm is of the “Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith” variety–thus wasting everyone’s time?
  • 511 travel infoDo some general call-in numbers never work? Take 511. I access it to confirm train schedules and to learn if the railroad is running from upstate NY to NYC, and not a substitute bus. [If a bus, passengers must arrive at the station 40 minutes before scheduled departure time. Miss the bus and you wait two hours for the next one. And the website isn’t always accurate.] From upstate, the electronic voice on the phone announces I’ve reached information for the Hudson/Catskill region. So far, so good. After that, whether I respond to prompts with my voice or by punching numbers on the phone, I end up with Long Island bus or NYC subway schedules and for the life of me, I can’t reach an operator or information about the Harlem Line I take.

Do you have answers to any of these or questions you’d like to pose?

Why 2

Service of Anger II

Monday, March 7th, 2016

anger

When an elderly friend stood up to get off a public bus last week the driver slammed the back door shut and shoved off and out of the bus stop abruptly before he could exit. Fortunately this passenger, who was carrying a heavy package, was holding on and no harm was done except he had to walk four extra blocks to get home. He said drivers are usually nice to him.

I was fuming, having just heard his story, and mentioned the incident to a lovely very young cashier at an office supply store. She responded, “Anger.”

On a crowded subway also last week a slight man in his late teens was balancing an old person on busenormous box with a sheet cake marked “Happy Birthday Boss” on one arm and hand while he stretched his other arm over others to reach the overhead bar. In a voice I hoped would carry I asked him if anyone had offered him a seat. He smiled and said “no.” Nobody budged as the train lurched on and he tried to stabilize his package. At the next stop a few people got off and he asked me if I wanted one of the seats and after I refused politely and thanked him I shepherded him to one of them ensuring that he sat down. Were the other passengers angry too?

I get anger. I have a bad temper. But I don’t accept anger as an excuse for nasty, cruel behavior on the job or an anesthetized approach to what’s going on around you.

Pundits repeat that anger is the fuel driving support of a wacky candidate running for President. As for voting for a clown whose embarrassing performance is dragging the election back to seventh grade, the relationship of such support to anger is lost on me. And you? When you feel anger, how to you quell it?

 School elections

 

Service of Just Because the Light is Green…

Monday, December 14th, 2015

Green light

We see green lights but that doesn’t mean it’s safe to pass or to take the next step or to expect the usual to happen.

I thought of the title and this post as I crossed 45th Street and Second Avenue with the light and was almost run over by a police car that couldn’t go very far after its turn. The street was clearly jammed and traffic was at a standstill. The policeman driving didn’t honk and no lights indicated who he was or that he was rushed.

Nevins Street SubwayI encountered a second example commuting back and forth to Brooklyn from Manhattan on the subway a few times over a weekend recently. Waiting at the Nevins Street station where both East and Westside trains pass by, in the 16-some minutes before my train arrived, three went to the Westside. Did someone at the MTA check the schedule?

Given the delay, my train to Manhattan was jammed on a Saturday night at 6:30 pm. When it reached the city, at every stop, the recorded announcement blared, “This is an express train to Woodlawn,” and yet it stopped at every single local station. Imagine your confusion if you were from out of town?

jammed subway carWhen it reached 42nd Street, I stayed on figuring it would stop at the next local station, 51st street, but it didn’t. It became the express it was supposed to be all along, without notice. There are motormen and women on each train: Were they, like those who maintained the schedule, asleep or busy cashing their paychecks?

Not everyone has a smartphone that works underground nor is everyone linked to apps with the latest subway information. Does MTA management assume we all are?

It’s not just transportation—by foot or by subway—that gives off mixed signals. I might count on something or someone and whatever’s promised falls through or becomes a shadow of its original self, turning a green light into a watery orange or red one. Do you have an inner gauge that accurately reports to you when “Go!” means that and/or other examples of when you’ve proceeded based on a literal or symbolic green light and shouldn’t have or couldn’t?

 Go

Service of Luck III

Thursday, October 8th, 2015

Four leaf clover

I barely caught the Third Avenue express bus back to my office after a visit to Trader Joe yesterday. A wheelchair passenger had just settled and the original line of passengers had dwindled to two. While gathering my packages in one hand to free the other to hold my MetroCard while running, I saw a gray leather or plastic tote leaning against the bus shelter. I asked the driver to alert the passengers over the loudspeaker.  Instead he closed the door, shrugged, mumbled something and drove on. I hope its owner meant to leave the portfolio there for someone else to use. I will never know.

NYC bus shelterThe lost tote resonated with me.

Returning home from work one night recently I was loaded down and stopped by Food Emporium on Second Avenue and 51st Street to pick up one last item—a mistake. At the checkout counter I put down my load to fish out my wallet. I was almost home when I realized that although encumbered more than usual, something was missing: I’d left my laptop at the grocery store, tucked in the space to fill shopping bags.

Food EmporiumAs fast as I could walk—I was closer to home than to 51st Street–I dropped off my bags with the doorman. My husband immediately alerted the store [as soon as my hands and arms were free I called and asked him to do this], as I ran to the store. I entered the checkout line and a young man said, “Here she is!” [Was my hair standing on end? Was the anxious look on my face so obvious?] Sheryl the cashier held up my laptop as a football player might having made a touchdown, enjoying the reunion–I hugged the computer in its black cover as I thanked her profusely. I was SO LUCKY.

When I returned to the apartment the doorman told me he’d forgotten a shopping bag full of wine he’d put on the ground to free his hands to use an ATM machine. The bag was gone when he returned for it.

Have you enjoyed some luck lately? Has someone returned a lost item to you or like the doorman and maybe the owner of the tote at the bus stop, did a moment’s forgetfulness have unhappy results?

Lost found

Service of No News is Not Good News

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

Photo: dot.gov

Photo: dot.gov

In the time it took us to get home on the 7:06 from upstate NY Sunday night [normally 2 hours], we could have been in London. I don’t blame Metro-North for the downed tree on the tracks. It is culpable of having no emergency plan, exhibiting inertia in extremis, and providing neither communications/information nor safety for its passengers. Goodness knows what they would do if they had to deal with injuries.

Photo: ewashtenaw.org

Photo: ewashtenaw.org

We were whisked off two trains with no explanation other than that only one track was in service. The first train we were on was jammed. Most passengers had suitcases, dogs, cats, bicycles, and packages or some combination.

After the first passenger dumping, when a second train arrived, a trainload of disconcerted people piled in the closest doors. We ran on the platform with our suitcases toward the back where the cars were emptier and we could sit. With many still on the platform—us included–the nasal beeping noise warning that the doors are about to close rang out at its standard time. But the numbers of passengers to embark was many times the usual. The warning was the only sound. Where was a conductor to say: “Please move along quickly but don’t worry, we’ll wait for you all to get in.” Nowhere.

Settled in the second train we were soon shocked when a conductor announced that we must all exit the train at Pleasantville and take a bus to North White Plains. Still nobody said why.

yellow school busThere must have been 1,000 people pouring out of the station on to the street. Eventually we saw three traditional yellow school busses. The scene reminded me of exiting the train station in Venice to access water transportation. In Italy it was also crowded and unnerving but we didn’t wait long and soon we, and our suitcases, were on board a vaporetto.

We confronted a very different situation in Pleasantville. Like Cinderella’s sisters—remember they tried to squeeze their huge feet into the diminutive slipper–hundreds surrounded each bus with hopes that they’d be one of the 45 adults to make it inside. It was survival of the fittest, strongest, pushiest and youngest. Friends who exited the station from a different place reported a woman pulled a man off a bus by yanking at his leg. One said, “I can still see a woman pushing her bicycle onto the bus. She was the first on and there was no room for the bike.”

Between our luggage and the ridiculous, frantic crowds we weren’t going near the mobs to try to get on. A vest like this--not this person. Photo: article.wn.com

I approached a man with a florescent orange vest with RR logo [like the vest in the photo from wn.com, at right–not this person] who was texting in the shadows behind the crowd. I asked what the backup plan was as clearly we weren’t fitting on a bus. He said there were four busses [we’d seen only three] and that it takes 25 minutes to drive to North White Plains. Half an hour later a fourth school bus arrived causing another riot scene. That one left with every inch of space filled with people—even in the aisles–which looked dangerous. The other drivers took the maximum permitted and didn’t leave the station until the aisles were empty. The crowd had become more frustrated by this time and this driver didn’t fight it. 

We spoke with the only police officer we saw. He knew—and did—nothing but said: “I’m here to make sure you don’t kill one another,” and then he walked away. He wasn’t near the mobs.

 vintage train setIn all this time not a chirp from Metro-North. We wanted to know if a crew was working to remove the tree, if someone was scouting up grownup busses with room in the belly for suitcases—anything official. Passengers continued to spill out of trains from up north to face scant transportation with us.

After an hour+ our friend John stormed into the station and down the stairs to the platform followed by Bob and us. He said it was clear that the only way we’d get back to the city was by train. Guess what we found: A train with people pouring out of it because it was changing direction and was now heading to Grand Central. There had been no announcement to alert the passengers upstairs.

I’ve enjoyed and depended on the railroad in many countries as well as here. I am fond of many of the conductors who take our tickets on the Harlem Line. Yet I feel ashamed that a major source of transportation in the NY metro area is as backward and unprepared as this line was on Sunday.

Why:

  • Would the RR accept more passengers from other stations when it couldn’t deal with those already waiting for busses in Pleasantville?
  • No megaphone or intercom updates from headquarters or the employee on location?
  • No local authorities to organize the passengers so we’d have a safe, fair way to get on a bus in a civilized manner?

And, how well could this crew handle a derailment with injuries or other emergency?

Photo: iridetheharlemline.com

Photo: iridetheharlemline.com

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