by Marinka on October 19, 2008

Since my very first subway ride in New York City, when I was 10 years old and I saw a blood stained seat (ok, so it may not have been my very first subway ride, but wouldn’t it make for good blog if it had been?), I’ve had a complicated relationship with the NYC subway system. I am both scared of it and in awe of it. After 9/11, I was terrified to take the subway. Of course, I was also terrified to take the subway before 9/11, so this introductory paragraph already sucks.

I always had a touch of claustraphobia which would spring into action as soon as a train stalled between stations. “We apologize for the inconvenience,” a recording would narrate my panic. “We are experiencing a delay. We will be moving shortly.” This would repeat in a loop as I gathered witnesses within the subway car to sign off on my last will and testament. I, Marinka, hereby leave the Altoids in my purse to that bitch who has a seat across from me and can’t stop doing the fucking word searches and look up and make eye contact with me to acknowledge that Holy fuck! we’re stuck in this death trap. I hope that one of the Altoids gets lodged in her throat.

Once, in the mid-1990s, I got stuck on the train and started going into full-panic mode. “I’m really sorry,” I told the woman stuck next to me, “but I am very panicked and I think that it would help me to talk to you.”

“Ok,” my co-stuckee said, “I am really scared, too.” Which was a fine how-do-you-do, because I prefer to be the panicked one in the relationship. And I believe that by announcing my terror first, I had dibs on it.

“Why are you scared?” I asked. Turns out that she was afraid that after being on a stalled train for a while, they would force us to walk off it on the tracks and we’d all get electrocuted, especially her. Isn’t that ridiculous? I don’t understand why they let these nuts ride on the subway unattended.

“That makes no sense,” I reassured her. “I’ve never ever heard of that happening anywhere. Your fear is dumb.”
“Oh yeah?” she challenged me, somewhat offended, despite my reassurance. “Well, what are you afraid of.”
“My fear is much more grave,” I sighed. I was afraid that we would be stuck there forever, you see. That the rest of the world would forget about our train and we would be there, abandoned, and turning into fossils, curiosities for someone to find centuries from now, remnants of “Lost New York.”
The track walking lady looked at me like I was the crazy one.
“How would that happen? All the other trains going downtown use these tracks, I think they’d notice if something was blocking their way.”

If there is anything that I can’t stand, it’s people who don’t respect other people’s phobias. It could happen! All of Manhattan could suddenly decide to stay put and not use the subway for the next century. People are real homebodies!

Just as I was about to school her on the ways of tolerance, the train started to move. We were free! We were safe! Sorry, achealogists of the future!

It took me weeks after 9/11 to get on the subway. It would have been longer, but the bus that I took instead of the subway took forfuckingever and besides, I got motion sick if I read on the bus. Whereas, I could read on the subway. Sure, I was risking certain death, but I am proud to say that I am more lazy than cautious. It didn’t help that everyone from politicians to psychics picked the subway system as a likely place of the next attack. Good thing I’m not the type to panic easily. One day John and I were going home from work on the subway and the train stalled and there was an inaudible announcement. “What are they saying?” I asked him, panicked. “Oh,” he said, “something about ‘due to terrorist activity at the next station, we are being delayed here.'” I still remember how hard I laughed and how amazing it felt to laugh at my fear, not because it was funny, necessarily, or unwarranted, but because sometimes it’s easier to laugh, even when scared. And certainly more entertaining.

One year ago ...

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Kylie w Warszawie October 19, 2008 at 1:21 pm

I hear you. Why don’t crazy people know they’re crazy?

Why don’t I take my meds? Because I don’t like them. But I’m not crazy. All those other people who don’t take their meds are crazy.

But don’t worry, me being off meds just makes me obsess and want to stay in the house, not a psychotic internet stalker.


Vodka Mom October 19, 2008 at 2:54 pm

I love that you laughed at your fear. love it.


Renée aka Mekhismom October 19, 2008 at 3:52 pm

Now THAT is a story. Strangers swapping fears that are seemingly unwarranted in each others eyes, classic. After 9/11 I didn’t fear the subway. I was more afraid of the bazooka toting national guardsmen in Penn Station and the subways accidentlly discharging their guns. Fun times. Not.


steenky bee October 19, 2008 at 4:32 pm

You know, I’ve taken the subway five times in my entire life. Two times I saw a guy peeing. One time I saw Amy Sedaris. I went back the two other times in hopes of running into her brother. No such luck. 🙂


Manager Mom October 19, 2008 at 6:06 pm

I am with you in the laughing in the face of fear thing. In fact, I myself have been in hysterics for the past few days.

Um…I should probably NOT tell you that when I lived in Chicago, I was in an El train that caught on fire in during of the underground sections, and, well, let’s just say that I can’t discredit Track Lady based on my own personal experiences… but, on the plus side, I stepped lively and certainly did NOT get electrocuted. Nope!


Quart October 19, 2008 at 6:13 pm

Is “John” “John’s” real name?


Mama Ginger Tree October 19, 2008 at 7:18 pm

I am not a fan of underground transportation. I used to ride the underground tube that spans the SF bay. Every time we entered the tube I would freeze in fear until we were on the other side. Can you just imagine if there was an earthquake and the whole thing collapsed!?!?!?!? We would all drown in a BART train under the Bay Bridge. *shudder*

Thanks for freaking me out.


the mama bird diaries October 19, 2008 at 8:08 pm

I try not to think about the subway, especially when I’m taking the subway, but you have definitely added some fresh fears to my list.

I do remember taking the subway and all the lights went out, like between stations, I couldn’t see the people across from me. That FREAKED me out. If I was smart, I would now carry a flashlight but I’ve never been that smart.


anymommy October 19, 2008 at 10:05 pm

You are brilliantly funny and just a little scary. Also, I am going to have a King and I song stuck in my head for days after this post. I’m about to share…I can’t suffer alone.

Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect, and whistle a happy tune, so no one will suspect, I’m afraid….


jon October 20, 2008 at 12:37 am

I am still in awe of the trams that were stuck in mid air for hours a few years ago. I can’t stop trying to figure out all the peeing activities. Did people try to hold it? Was it discreet? or was it just accepted after a few hours that everyone was going to be peeing freely? I guess actually this is no different then an average day on the subway, except everyone is involved.

Aren’t you glad I read more than I comment?


binks October 20, 2008 at 6:18 am

Thanks, the next time I am in NYC, the taxi drivers are going to get rich!


Jess October 20, 2008 at 7:16 am

I rode the subway in Ny one time and, surprisingly, didn’t think it was as scary as people portray it to be. Yeah, there were some strange people aboard but no different than the weirdos who ride the “L” in Chicago


Heinous October 20, 2008 at 8:47 am

Lucky I wasn’t next to you. I would have made up a story about how there are gangs that live under the subway that stop random trains and the riders are never heard from again. Just to be cute 😉


Shelle-BlokThoughts October 20, 2008 at 9:49 am

I always laugh…but especially when I am scared!!! You are so funny…I have been on the Subway’s before…and I was probably that lady sitting across from you…I vow never to place an altoid in my mouth! 🙂


Kristine October 20, 2008 at 10:35 am

Your subway riders are like the bus riders here. Apparently that’s where they recruit people to work for the census. Or at least they did in 2000.


bernthis October 20, 2008 at 11:38 am

I lived in NYC for 11 years and used to travel with a ton of stuff (books, walkman, yes I am old,notebook, pen) anything to keep me busy in case we got stuck. I was terrified when I heard the wheels screech to a halt. and speaking of crazy, you’re in NYC the chances of her being nuts are 2:1.


Maura October 20, 2008 at 8:50 pm

Laughing at your fear was definitely the best part. Stuff like that doesn’t phase me and I don’t tend to worry and obsess about things I have no control over.

As for the nuts on the subway…


Marinka October 21, 2008 at 5:35 am

Kylie–are you supposed to take medication? Because to me, you are the height of sanity. But if you’re supposed to take it, take it! It’s delicious!

Vodka Mom–thanks! Fortunately I have a lot to laugh at!

Renee–I completely agree. Whenever Cheney comes to town, they have these cars driving up the streets with massive weapons pointing out the window and I always think–one pothole and good bye, cruel world!

Steenky Bee–fabulous sightings! I see Amy Sedaris a lot in the local food stores. She always looks pissed off. Which I generally like in a person, but I prefer my celebrities perky.

Manager Mom–lol about the hysterics. I know what you mean. But it is certainly good news that you didn’t get electrocuted. Because I need every blog reader that I can get.

Quart–yes, his real name is John. Although sometimes I call him “Poopsie”.


Z October 21, 2008 at 6:49 am

Subways also make for better people-watching than buses. Because yes, all those crazies. The ones who think they’re going to get electrocuted. Don’t they know that the REAL danger of walking on the tracks is those huge mutant subway rats?!?!


Lish October 24, 2008 at 12:32 pm

One of the things I look forward to when I move to New York is to finally be able to use public transportation! Ah, the hours of reading! No more gas prices or paying car insurance! No more breaking down and calling a tow truck! No more traffic jams!

Why are all of you trying to kill the dream?

And yes, I live in California. And yes, I’ve been on the New York subway.


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