Thursday, September 29, 2005


Where I grew up in Oregon, "local" is a pleasant if somewhat bland word; it implies a sense of community and the familiar.

To riders of the A train in Manhattan, "local" is one of the most feared words in the English language.

This morning there was a long wait for the train at my stop at 181st Street in upper Manhattan; though we are only four stops from the start of the line, the entire train was standing-room-only by the time it reached us. I ride to the last stop in Manhattan before Brooklyn, almost an hour away, so standing makes me very grateful for my iPod.

At 168th Street we paused for longer than usual. "Ladies and gentlemen, the train is being held by dispatch, please be patient." If I had a nickel for every time I'd heard that statement, I could close the MTA budget gap. But we waited. And waited. People pushed on to the full-to-bursting train.

"Ladies and gentlemen, due to a signal malfunction, this train will be making all local stops to 125th Street." Collective groan. Not a disaster, but it adds three stops and probably 5 or 6 minutes to the trip...not to mention more stations = more passengers.

At 125th Street, we paused and waited again. The platform was filled with people who could not get on our train. We waited some more. I glanced at my watch. Normally by this time I was already 60 blocks further south.

"Ladies and gentlemen" -- groan -- "this train will be making all local stops to 59th Street." Loud groans, some cursing. "Due to signal malfunctions, all trains will be making all stops to 59th Street." So off we went.

Three stops later, we glanced out the windows to see a fully-packed A train whizzing by on the express track. More cursing, including some from me.

By the time we reached Columbus Circle, it was 8:55. (I left my apartment at 8:02.) I had five minutes to get to work, and I had only just reached the outskirts of civilization. Another A train was waiting on the express track across from us. People began to get off and scurry across the platform toward it.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this train is going express, I repeat, this train is making express stops, next stop 42nd Street."

Then over the general loudspeakers at the Columbus Circle station, a voice can be heard saying, "The Brooklyn-bound A train on the local track will be departing first." So everyone gets off the other train and runs back onto ours. The other train shuts its doors and leaves, while we're still trying to get people on.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is a Brooklyn-bound A express train, next stop, 42nd Street." Finally!

Then we fucking stopped at 50th Street. Another A passed us on the express track while we were in the station. I said "fuck" some more.

We arrived at 42nd Street...on the local track. Penn Station...local track. Grrrr. We stopped at 23rd and yet another A train passed us.

At 14th Street I said "To hell with this!" and got off and waited for a real express train. Now, clearly my frustration was clouding my mind, because between 14th Street and Broadway-Nassau, local trains make just one stop that the express trains don't. I realized that too late.

I then waited twenty fucking minutes for the next A train. I got to work at 9:40.

And now you understand why the word "local" strikes fear into the hearts of New Yorkers.


Luke said...

Andy, I share your pain. I too struggle with the often malicious A train operators. Especially when I decide to skip taking the 1 train altogether (have you seen how nasty the 1 platform is on 168th???) and instead take a short bus ride down Broadway from 225th to the last A train stop (207th, well actually, the entrance is on 211th). Waiting for the bus is made up for by the fact I always get a seat at 207th.

Here's what I do when I hear the A is going local: the D, which I have yet to see go local in Manhattan, connects with the A at 145th. Take it down to W4th and then try getting back on the A. Even with all the transfers it may be quicker than a local A.

PS great pictures!

Jeff said...

Ugh. What a nightmare.

That woman in the second photo looks happy, though. I guess she got on the express.

Anono.Blogger said...


Anthony said...

At the beginning of your post I was thinking pleasant thoughts about the League of Gentlemen's take on the word "local" (which would strike fear into the hearts of anyone who isn't).

Now I'm just glad not to have to deal with public transport. Admittedly it's probably not an option for many New Yorkers, but living in central Edinburgh does have its advantages.

Andy said...

Oh yes, I'm familiar with the 168th Street 1/9 platform. As I went to college at 122nd & Broadway, I would transfer between the A and the 1 every day there. For me, even worse than the platform, with its perpetual flock of subterranean pigeons and perennial homeless colony and the zephyrs of urine that would come wafting at you whenever a train came through, were the Elevators of Death...especially once MTA budget cuts got rid of the operators.

I would have transferred to the D, but the conductor assured us that "all trains are making all local stops due to signal malfunction." To my mind, that included the D.

Jon said...

This is why I suffer in a tiny, shitty apartment from which I can WALK to work...