Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Bright Side of the Strike

After walking about 30 blocks on my way to a holiday party after work tonight, I decided to grab a cab. I had about 30 blocks left to go, and it wasn't getting any warmer out. Nor was my head cold abating.

I was walking because New York City's public transportation workers are on strike, in case you didn't know. I'm not being sarcastic -- I imagine those of you in other cities have too much on your mind to worry about whether or not my transit needs are being handled with appropriate care.

Anyway, because of the strike, cab drivers are advised to pick up as many people as they can fit in their car -- ranging from three to sixteen depending on the dietary habits of the passengers. It's the kind of emergency measure that New Yorkers are urged to view as a charming opportunity to "bond," something we evidently don't get enough of when we're armpit-to-nostril in a rush-hour subway car. My cab driver didn't only seem to not understand the temporary rules (which benefit riders, several million of whom are suddenly competing for a few thousand cabs), I'm not sure he knew there was a strike going on. When I got in to the cab, which was empty at the time, he shook his head and said, "So much traffic. Too much traffic," as if wondering what could possibly explain it.

When two women loaded down with shopping bags wanted to get in just two blocks further south, he rolled down the window, deferentially pointed in my direction, and said, "Someone's already in here." Not to be dissuaded by the cabbie's ignorance of the city's current Mad Max situation and what it required of him, they hopped in the back, and their numerous bags made it a cozy fit. I didn't want to judge, but they seemed straight out of Sex and the City. When they started discussing the men in their office with phrases like "he wasn't cute before he had a girlfriend" and one of them said, "I feel like I'm in an episode of Sex and the City," any guilt I felt for judging exited the cab posthaste.

They told me they work in advertising, and I told them I'm a book editor. "Oh, we send things to editors all the time," the blonde said. "But not editors like you; editors of fashion magazines."

Later on (it took us about 25 minutes to travel 11 blocks, and if you're wondering why we bothered with the cab, join the club), I told them I was headed downtown to a party. "It's the Harper's Magazine holiday party," I said.

The brunette perked up.

"Not Harper's Bazaar," I said, "just Harper's."

"Oh," she said, visibly deflated.

The highlight came in the final moments, though, when the blonde was describing her 11-year-old daughter's newfound desire for independence, and how she couldn't help but think said desire would be more tolerable outside of New York City. "It makes me want to live somewhere else," she said, "where people play sports and things. Where sports doesn't mean getting a credit card."

And though I wasn't sure quite which planet these two women had recently arrived from, it was a blast to hear them talk to each other in my presence as if I was an old friend. New York does provide tableaus like this that would be inconceivable elsewhere, and they can be strangely enlivening as often as irritating. Earlier in the day, the last leg of a three-hour commute required me to walk about 25 blocks from Penn Station to my office, and I couldn't wipe a smile off my face the whole way. The day was brisk and bright, the tourists utterly undeterred by the transit strike, and my fellow residents were energetically griping about the transportation union's demands. ("Like a three or four percent raise a year isn't enough?") And maybe I knew that a few hours later, I'd be sharing a cab with people willing to entertain me like Sarah Jessica Parker without the cost of HBO. Hard to imagine living anywhere else if I'm honest...

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Believe it or not, the NY Transit Workers' strike is national news.

It used to make me angry that every minor story in NY gets days of airplay on the national news, while "Tornado Kills 100 in Nebraska" is gone within a day. But I think it's a combination of the fact that NY is where most of the national news studios are located, along with the fact that NY is indisputably the center of Western Civilization. It's the new Rome. And what effects NY effects us all, if only through ripples.

I'm also interested to hear about the differences between NY and Texas. I would imagine one of those differences is that no one in Texas uses public transportation. I've always imagined that there are just as many freaks and wierdos in Dallas as in NY, but we aren't confronted with them as often because we don't all ride in the same underground car to work.

Sorry, I've started to ramble.

-- The Comish (sic)

6:58 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

Honestly, I knew it was national news, but just didn't know if everyone was paying attention to the news. I'm sure lots of silly things in NY make the national radar, but this one was actually fairly big -- picture seven times the population of Dallas (seven million people use the subway system every day, which is not to mention the buses) having to take to the streets to get to work in freezing weather. If nothing else, it makes for irresistible imagery for news crews. Plus, there were the labor issues raised (and still raised) by the negotiations, which could effect unions nationwide.

That said, I think there's someone in Manhattan with a hangnail today -- could you send a few reporters from the Morning News when you get a chance?

As for weirdos, I don't know -- pure volume means we probably have you beat, but I understand your point. But also, the lack of mass transporation down there is compounded by suburban sprawl, which makes for populations that are highly self-selected and homogenous. I imagine the weirdos are being more and more penned into one square area.

11:04 AM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

It irritates me as well when minor NY stories crowd my news day. New Yorkers are not nearly as important as they think they are. Actually, the entire East Coast is not as important as they think they are. Maybe last century or at the birth of the nation, but the future goes West...

5:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must say... it's taken a transit strike for you to be involved in a SJP-esque conversation about somen's love lives, work, and what it really means to charge it? Honey. Please, hang out with me more. -- tavia.

10:21 PM  

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