Monday, May 17, 2010

Subway Operator as Therapist

Recently, on a very busy and badly delayed morning on the New York City underground train, the subway operator resorted to the language and terminology of a therapist to keep everyone orderly and calm. Part of the problem, apparently, is that when the subway cars are extremely congested, people end up leaning on the doors, which can, in turn, jam them, making these doors temporarily unusable. This, in part, is what the subway operator that morning was struggling to overcome, as delays lengthened and passengers' nerves also grew increasingly frayed.

After waiting for an inordinately long time for a train, we boarded and heard a surprisingly talkative operator asking us to "be courteous to one another." A moment later, as the train stalled between stations, we heard a softly pleading voice imploring, "work with me, work with each other." When the train did reach its next stop, he begged for us to "let the passengers off first" before boarding and then that he counted on us to ensure that "a smooth transition" occurred. "Work with me," he demanded again, and then more strangely, "Don't worry about seeing the station, just listen for my voice, you can count on my voice." Perhaps people were crowding toward the doors and windows to look for their particular stops and this, too, was causing pushing, congestion, and jamming of the doors. As we pulled in to each station, this gradually became a kind of mantra: "Don't worry about seeing the station, just listen to my voice. I will announce the name of the next station at least twice. Just count on my voice." And then at the next stop: "Let them off first, let them off first, let's have a smooth transition." And then, as the train started up again, as if we didn't know, he would whisper, "Here we go, here we go." And as people fell into a routine that he liked, and as the trains became somewhat less congested, he announced encouragingly, "So far, so good, so far, so good." And "you really are working with me now, that's good, that's good."

When we finally reached the last stop, my stop - the Staten Island Ferry, he seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. "We made it, I told you I would get you here. Everything's fine, be kind to one another. Have a good day, try to at least. Try to at least." All I can say is, I did my best, egged on by my friendly neighborhood subway operator.

1 comment:

  1. One of the greatest frustrations for the traveler, from local to international, is the lack of information. It's amazing how a source of information, whether a voice or digital screen crawl, etc, can be. A lot of the European countries have figured this out and added scrolling signs to the trolley, tram, train, even buses, to ease things for the rider. I often shudder to think what foreign visitors think when trying to ride our public transportation...