Monday, February 8, 2010

Passing the Time on the Subway

One of the things that savvy subway riders learn over time is when it is wise to board the express and when it is better or just as well anyway to get on the local. My ride to the Staten Island Ferry from 72nd Street has been pretty much a no-brainer in this regard. Take the express to Chambers (which involves only 4 stops) and then the local to the Ferry (another two stops), versus the local all the way (requiring something like 16 stops by the time you reach the Ferry). Of course, one of the things that has to be taken into account in these calculations of time efficiency is the additional time it takes to transfer from an express to a local and wait for the next train to arrive. And it goes without saying that on the return trip, from the Ferry to 72nd Street, the same calculations have to be made. Is it worth it to leave the local for the express, knowing that it may take a few minutes for the next express to arrive, while, in the meantime, if you had stayed on the local, you would have been making slow but steady northward progress all along?

Well, when it comes to comparing the two routes using real time there is really not much of a comparison. It almost always makes sense to take the express whenever you can, unless there are unanticipated delays, and, unfortunately, you won't know about them in any case, as communication on the subway system is so poor, or least so inconsistent.

But here's the thing that I've been starting to discover. Real time is one thing but psychological time is quite another. And when you add in the fact that your chance of getting a seat on the local is significantly better than getting one on the express, the situation is further problematized. So here's what I mean. If you are standing on the express and so cramped that you can't even take out something to read, the amount of time that seems to pass is large. A 12 minute ride, say, can seem pretty long. But, if you're sitting reading a good book or a good magazine article, or even if you're standing while perusing something interesting, the time goes by with often shocking rapidity. Indeed, I have found that as I monitor my reactions in both situations more closely, (to the extent one can, as I'm supposed to be engrossed in my reading in the case of the local), I learn that if I'm not very careful, I will miss my stop when I'm reading because the time goes by so quickly.

Consequently, I am finding, particularly in the evening (when both express and local trains are less frequent), that once I'm on an often sparsely populated local, ensconced in a corner somewhere and focused on some good read, I would rather just stay where I am, even if it does take me an additional 10 minutes of real time (at most) to arrive at my destination. It is worth it in terms of comfort and reducing stress, and it definitely helps in getting more reading done. So I guess I'm surprised. Maybe I'm not a savvy New Yorker, but I thought by now I'd be looking for every opportunity to grab the express. Now, more and more, I'm thinking that the steady local, which is rather slow in reality but SEEMS awfully fast, is usually the way to go, at least for this subway rider who always seems to have still another interesting text to pull out of his bag to get lost in, a realm where having more time is invariably a good thing.

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