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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Going Underground

In the middle of my trip around North America, I was able to spend a weekend sightseeing. Top of the list was of course, the Big Apple. Only a short train journey away from where I was staying, I spent a full saturday doing all of the usual - the Empire State Building, the American Natural History Museum (not nearly as good as the London NHM, I hasten to add) finishing up with a couple of very pleasant hours in the spectacular Central Park.

The best way to get around NYC, as any native will tell you, is of course the subway. For the princely sum of $7 I bought an all day "fun pass", which gave me complete access to one of the world's busiest underground systems.

It's a lot different to the London underground for sure.

First, it isn't as intuitive as the London underground system. The map that I had integrated overground landmarks with the rail system - a good thing - but had very little in the way of explanatory notes. Most importantly, no mention that certain lines are "Express" lines that don't stop at every stop on weekends. Thus, my first foray on to the system resulted in me overshooting my intended designation by 15 blocks. The kind help of a friendly local soon got me back on track however, and I got to the NHM only 20 minutes later than planned.

The second niggle is that the stations aren't very well signposted. Unlike the London Underground, with its iconic circular signs, NY tends to have non-descript regular signposts that blend seamlessly into the visual cacophony of busy NewYork streets. This caused me particular problems when it was time to go home. I found myself looking for the massive underground station on 34th Pennsylvania, which combines both the subway and Amtrack stations. I stood on the corner and simply could not see it. Eventually I asked a hotdog seller, who pointed to Madison Square Gardens across the road. Sure enough, when I walked over, the sign for Penn station was hidden behind a large bush about a foot off the sidewalk (see, I've got the lingo down - that's 30cm above the pavement to the less well-travelled of you), entirely overshadowed by the Madison Sq Garden sign.

Of course, no good underground (or indeed Tube or Metro) tale is complete without at least one encounter with a nutter. And NYC currently holds the record for the most scary/amusing/weird nutter to date.

As I waited for my train at 42nd street (near the Empire State Building), I noticed a young man of about twenty. He was dressed in full basketball gear plus bandana, classic "gang" uniform if American cop shows are to be believed. Being a typical Brit, my first thought was "I wonder how he's getting a mobile phone signal so far underground" since he was animatedly talking away on what I assumed was a handsfree kit. As we both got into our carriage, I realised that there was no handsfree kit. Rather he was involved in a deep discussion with his imaginery friend. I didn't want to eavesdrop, in case the conversation was private, but he was talking rather loudly. I soon realised my mistake. He was talking to an imaginary group of friends. And it would seem that there had been an unfortunate incident. One of the friends (I didn't catch his name) had dissed his Mum and because of that he was a motherfucka. At some point his bitch had also become involved and that just wasn't right. I wasn't clear who's bitch it was. Nevertheless, there seemed to be a general lack of love and respec'. Anyways, the conversation continued for sometime with lots of Motherfucka's and Ho's until finally, it seems that the guilty party apologised. This seemed to placate the young man, who called him his bro, offered him respec' and shook hands with him before bumping shoulders. That's an interesting sight to be sure.

Well, he jumped off at the next stop. As he vacated his seat I noticed the sign on the seat "Reserved for Disabled Passengers".
I turned to the man who had helped me with my map
"Well he seemed to have a disability, I'd say".
"Yeah, it's called crack".



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