love, Ruth Nineke

Standing In A Metal Box

Post Published: October 30, 2022

A preview from my 2014 novel, Sex Acts And Emotional Problems

Ladies and gentlemen, we are delayed due to train traffic ahead of us. Thank you for your patience, and for riding with MTA – New York City Transit.”

The familiar computerized voice streamed through crowded cars on a stalled Downtown 4 Express train. It was the second time the train had stopped along Lexington Avenue since 59TH street, and it hadn’t even passed 51ST yet.

Commuters were crammed shoulder-to-shoulder and all very nearly out of patience, especially those riding the second car from the front. At eight-fifteen on a Thursday morning in the beginning of November, they were overwhelmed by the body odor of a homeless man stretched and sleeping along the blue-grey seats in the middle of the car. He barely stirred at the automated audio, his swollen and chafed feet only slightly rubbing against one another.

The announcement briefly broke Caitlyn Gregory’s concentration. She held a copy of the previous month’s American Prospect tightly in her right hand, her left wrapped over the metal bar above her head. Caitlyn stared stupidly at the words on the page before her “….finding the role of power hard to ignore.” She was distracted by the MTA’s gratitude for her patience.

I’m standing in a metal box, on an electric track, inside of a tunnel, underneath the ground, she thought.

Her patience barely seemed optional.

It wasn’t patience that Caitlyn or any of the other professionals, students, or parents had exercised for the first twenty seconds, or would for the next two minutes, while they gripped the rails between 59TH and 42ND streets. It was acceptance.

Between the employed, the homeless, the early-rising tourists staying in hotels just outside of Midtown, and the more recently regularly-scheduled bloggers and protestors making their way downtown during morning rush hour in New York City, it seemed ridiculous to Caitlyn that anyone riding the subway be asked, or thanked, for their patience.

The Transit Authority obviously lacked enough trains, tunnel, employees, money, or any other combination of variables necessary to prevent this very common series of delays. And given that truth, it was equally obvious that all 5 million of its daily passengers had no choice but to accept, and concede to, the circumstance.

You’re welcome, MTA, Caitlyn thought. Public transportation in the largest city in America is slow in the morning, and I’m not going to wake up any earlier to beat it. I accept it, and you’re welcome.

Three minutes later they began to move again. Caitlyn returned her attention to Robert Kuttner’s review of Slyvia Nasar’s Grand Pursuit.

At Fulton Street the train was less packed than it had been uptown. This had little impact on passenger comfort though, as Caitlyn was still standing in the same spot below the black and green diagram of station stops.

In the case of an emergency however, passenger safety had definitely been enhanced by at least twenty percent.

The doors opened, and the cars all but emptied as Caitlyn and her work-day neighbors formed a shuffling river of bodies onto the platform, up the stairs, and out of the station. She tucked her magazine into the front pocket of her bag, and walked one and a half blocks to her job on Courtland Street.

The Occupation, which had started last month and grown in the following weeks, made Broadway a nightmare in the morning. The streets surrounding Zucotti Park were a parade of news people, protesters, and those employed in the Financial District, as they bounced off, and hovered, one another like subatomic particles.

Each day office workers like Caitlyn tried in vain to devise swift paths around and through the crowds. And each day no matter which direction they ventured they invariably met with clumps of people simply standing in the way.

“Like the tourists at lunch weren’t bad enough.” A young woman spoke spitefully into her blackberry as she maneuvered past Caitlyn.

“I fucking swear. Nobody down here gives a shit. Some of us have bills to pay. We can’t just sit in a park all day and sweat out our armpits because the system is corrupted. I just want to get to work!”

She clanked up Courtland Street on determined high heels. Caitlyn supposed the ranting bitch had a point. She’d read a few articles on what Occupy Wall Street was supposed to be about, and though she respected some of the ideals it represented she didn’t appreciate the impediment it presented to people who simply wanted to get to work on time, and do their jobs.


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