Thursday, July 15, 2010

NYC MTA, a masochist's delight

Odilia Rivera Santos

If you have used a latrine, you know what the 168th Street station on the 1 line smells like. Now, that the olfactory system is activated, I can provide today's evening rush hour experience.
I was waiting for the elevator to go from the A to the 1 train with a group of sweaty, exhausted passengers in various states of undress. I guess taking off your shirt to air out your armpits and allow your bare belly some fresh air is the norm in some countries.

Anyway, we stand like Pavlovian dogs , eyes darting left to right with the sound of what might be an elevator bell. The groups divide in three; the stalwarts who refuse to run anywhere and will patiently wait for the door right in front of them to open, the go-getters who shift their weight left to right as if awaiting the shot signifying the beginning of a race, and my group - the please-don't-touch-me-with-your-bare-skin-loners group. My group believes that even though it's rush hour, there will be an elevator that is underpopulated.

Go getters cram into the elevator on the right; they don't mind not being able to breathe so full of faith as they are that the elevator will quickly beam them up to the 1 train and that powerful first blast of cool air - cool only in comparison to the stifling funk of the elevator.
Stalwarts glance nonchalantly at the go getters and quickly return to staring at the elevator on which they've staked their claim.
My group merges with Stalwarts upon noticing that the middle elevator is out of order.
We don't like to merge, but it can't be avoided.
We slip in together with a comfortable distance between us - I don't have to stare at anyone's curly armpit hair or get hit by anyone's briefcase or listen to the blasting bachata from someone's soon-to-be deaf ears.
A sigh of relief without eye contact. The energy is tame because neither is a mingling kind of group.

The doors begin to close but we know there's no guarantee until they are completely shut.
All of a sudden, the doors slide open again and the go getters run toward the door; some, too anxious to wait for the door's natural movement, push hard, trying to force a fast slide.
The Go Getters jump in with their sense of entitlement and belief that the elevator is the perfect place for a short vertical rave complete with loud music and lots of touching.

The elevator is so crowded that the temperature appears to rise to well over 100 degrees and the international funks of the world whirl around us; the Stalwarts suck their teeth, The go getters bounce trying to make the rave go upstairs faster and the loners avoid eye contact and fight the desire to run out.

Heat, stench, no movement.

"Oh, God. This is horrible," says a male Stalwart to his female equivalent. She nods and fans herself with the metrocard.
And for all this suffering, our reward is to get upstairs, to feel the first blast of cold air, from the trains we just missed while we were stuck on the elevator, so we can watch the rats dart from one side of the tracks to the other, as we inhale the latrine odor and . . .
hey, what's that?
That's new.
It's not just human excrement.
I think I can smell curry and vinegar too.

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