Thursday, August 11, 2011

How Rain Conquered the MTA

Life on the Aran Islands, historically and even now to a degree, has been dictated by the weather. Stormy seas, wind, and rain, could seriously impact the lives of the islanders. Over time the islanders had to adapt to their living conditions, and the local mythology (and even ancient Celtic spirituality) expressed the power of the elements.

Rain-streaked window, Inishmaan

View from my room - sliver of sky
It's funny - so much of the time, in this city of New York, on this island of Manhattan, we fool ourselves into thinking that we're more powerful than the elements. When it rains we can take shelter in apartments, coffee shops, restaurants. We can have groceries, take-out, clothing, pretty much anything delivered to our door. I can't tell you how many times I've stepped outside to see glistening pavement, having been completely unaware that it had rained. My window looks out across at a brick wall, and I only see a sliver of sky, so most of the time I don't know it's raining unless I hear the pitter patter of raindrops hitting my air conditioner. In this modern age in this modern city, it is possible to be completely oblivious to the weather.

This past Tuesday proved that New York City hasn't got the weather beat.

I was on my way downtown to see Jerusalem, a play with many Celtic influences (more on that later). I left my apartment with plenty of time to make it to meet my mom, sister, and boyfriend for dinner before the show. In fact, I left enough time so that I'd be ten minutes early (call me obsessive, but I like being early for things). I knew it was raining outside (I'd checked the forecast online, and also I heard the rain on my A/C), so I brought my rain jacket, umbrella, and wore shoes that handle water well.

I scowled at a woman who was walking in front of me and twirling her umbrella, sending water droplets flying into my face. What a jerk, I thought.

I made it to the subway, relatively dry, only having had to walk one block to get to the station. All was going according to plan.

But you know what they say. We plan, and God laughs.

Oh 1 train - why do you hate me?

In between the 103rd st and 96th st stations, the 1 train stopped. This happens from time to time when there's train traffic. Usually nothing to be concerned about. But two minutes turned into five, five into ten, ten into twenty, twenty into forty. Forty minutes stuck underground, in a tight, enclosed space crowded with fifty other people, feels much longer. Not to mention the anxiety of New Yorkers in general. We're all on tight schedules. Forty minutes seriously derails our plans (pun intended). People were beginning to get angry. Kids were whining, babies crying. We weren't being told much by the announcer, just that there was a "signal problem" at the station and they were "working on it" and "we should hopefully be moving soon." All those uncertain terms and the announcer's increasingly unsure tone didn't reassure me. After a few more minutes the announcer squawked - we were all to walk to the rear car of the train - then walk through the tracks to get back to 103rd st. The train was being taken out of service.

Due to water damage - from the rain.

I had to pick my jaw up off the floor.

As we all began to shuffle through a space that looks like this:

but feels like this:

...people were getting angrier and angrier at the situation, rolling their eyes at people walking slowly through the cars, cursing the MTA for their ineptitude. People began taking photos and video on their phones in disbelief. An irate man and an MTA worker got into an argument, and the MTA worker left the car in a huff, muttering some choice words under his breath.

The general feeling on the subway: Zillions of tax dollars to maintain the subway system, enduring fare hikes amidst service cutbacks, and it had been undone by some rain? It was even raining that hard!

Thankfully we didn't have to walk through the tracks. The damage was repaired and the train lurched forward, and everything was okay. Fifty-five minutes later.

The shock and disbelief finally turned into humor. A feeling of camaraderie erupted on the train. People began joking about the situation, how ridiculous the whole thing was. People I'd usually never talk to on the subway became instant friends. We'd all been through this surreal experience together, and now life would continue.

For me it was a reminder that I don't live in New York City - I live on the planet Earth. And weather exists, and weather affects me, and sometimes things break down. We may have lots of services, choices, and conveniences, but we can't make the rain go away.

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