In Bill Bryson’s book, In a Sunburned Country, he describes the harsh landscape of Australia’s outback. “It’s almost not possible to exaggerate the punishing nature of Australia’s interior. It’s an environment that wants you dead.” To illustrate his point, he describes an incident involving a young Austrian couple. They had rented a four-by-four vehicle to explore off the beaten path (as if the entire outback wasn’t already off the beaten path). Soon they were hopelessly sunk to their axles in sand. The nearest trafficked road was about 40 miles away. I imagine they weighed every option, every possible choice before the woman decided to take nine of their twelve liters of water and set off into the punishing 140F heat, leaving the man to wait with the car.
Bryson notes that at temperatures that high “it is actually possible to begin to cook, rather as you would in a microwave oven, from the inside out.” Sad to say, the woman only covered 18 miles in two days before she expired. The man, who had the availability of shade, was rescued and survived.
So it is with the same longing, if not the same torturous conditions, that I sit on the 2 train at Hoyt Street pondering the vaguest of all subway announcements: the dreaded “police incident.”
There are three options given that the incident is at Chambers Street in Manhattan, each riddled with its own problems:
1. Wait it out
2. Since there are no transfers to another train line at Hoyt, backtrack one stop to Nevins Street to try to catch one of the 2/3 trains now going express past Hoyt.
3. Exit the train and walk one stop to Borough Hall, pick up the R train to DeKalb, transfer to the B to West 4th Street and walk about 10 minutes to my office.
And it’s already 8:55 a.m.
Then the conductor seems to eliminate option # 1. “This train is out of service. Everyone out! No passengers.”
We all move to the platform as the train speeds away empty and simultaneously stare down the tracks hoping to see a set of headlights through the dark tunnel. Nothing.
Another 2 train rumbles by on the express track, so I make my move – option 2. I have to go upstairs to the street and cross the road to get to the Brooklyn bound platform. I have a gaggle of people with me, so I feel good about my decision. That is, until I reach the platform just in time to see a train pull in on the Manhattan-bound tracks, watch the people board and get whisked away while I wait to go in the opposite direction.
At Nevins, I make my way to the correct platform and jump aboard a waiting train to find one of my co-workers already aboard. (This is one of those inexplicable things about NYC – how, of all the subway cars on all the tracks in all the city, if you’ll excuse my borrowing from Casablanca, I can walk onto a train and run into the person who sits two feet away from me at work.)
We get underway to Hoyt, where the whole ordeal began, and move smoothly to Borough Hall. I’ve just finished regaling her with my poor decision to double-back when the conductor makes an important announcement: “There is a sick passenger on this train. We are holding in the station.” What the hell!?!
It is now 9:20 a.m. and I’m not out of Brooklyn. We have three options:
1. Wait it out.
2. Transfer to the R train to DeKalb, transfer to the B to West 4th Street and walk about 10 minutes to my office.
3. Transfer to the 4/5 train to Fulton Street to transfer back to the 2/3.
My friend says, “Option 1.” So we wait.
The conductor appears in our car. “The lady is refusing to be moved. We are here until EMS arrives.” I’m going to sound like a brash New Yorker when I say, unless you’re comatose or have some kind of spinal cord injury, please give the 1,000 people in the 10 cars on this train a break. This isn’t a crime scene. If you’d kindly move the five feet to the platform, we’ll all be on our way. Chop, chop.
Through a series of rock, paper, scissor wars, we go with option 3. After a decent walk underground, we hop on the 4 train and get to Fulton Street. My friend notes wistfully that now that we’re in the city, if all else fails, we can walk to the office. Outer borough residents will understand that through blackouts, employee strikes and terrorist attacks, the overriding feeling in situations like this is “just get me to the point where I can walk the rest of the way,” i.e. over the East River.
As we’re walking underground to the 2/3, which should be mighty crowded, we pass the platform for the A/C. It’s now 9:35.
We have 2 options:
1. Wait for the C train to Spring Street.
2. Continue to the 2/3 to Chambers Street and transfer to the 1. Then it’s a shorter walk to the office.
I think I’m done walking and transferring. “Let’s just wait for the C,” I say. My friend balks, but agrees. The A express train pulls in and leaves. Then another A train pulls in and leaves. She points out that we could probably be on the 2 by now. I’m sure she’s right. I’m exhausted and second-guessing myself and I haven’t even gotten to work yet.
Then the C arrives. It’s now 9:50. We exit at Spring Street and walk halfway down the block before we are turned around. Cranes are blocking the road and sidewalk to add something to the Trump Soho high rise.
So many choices, not a right one among them.