Monday, July 3, 2017

Where Commute Is a Four-Letter Word

Hieronymus Bosch painted a torture chamber where mutant beasts snacked on human flesh. Dante conjured fire, ice and a devil with three faces. If either man lived in New York City today, he’d know better. Hell is the subway at rush hour.

Or Penn Station almost anytime. If you’re really cursed, the subway disgorges you there, into a constipated labyrinth where all beauty, civility and dreams of punctuality go to die. It’s the designated site of the “summer of hell,” to begin on July 10, when several tracks shut down for repair and New Jersey Transit and Amtrak won’t be able to live up to their current standard of wretchedness. I can’t for the life of me imagine what worse looks like. Will conductors line us up behind the cabooses and have us push our trains to their destinations?

I’m losing faith in New York. I’m losing patience. Last week we got an especially vivid reminder of what an overwhelmed, creaky menace the city’s infrastructure has become: Two cars on an A train in Upper Manhattan derailed, injuring about three dozen people.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo subsequently declared a state of emergency for the subway system, pledged $1 billion for improvements and demanded a detailed action plan. I have just one question. What took him so long? Actually, I have another. How much of his sudden zest reflects a possible presidential bid and the need to pretty up an ugly blot on his record?

But it’s not just the subway. On so many days in so many ways, I see evidence of a city in the grip of a communal panic attack.

True story: Some weeks ago, I emerged, downtrodden, from my latest debasement on the subway to encounter a traffic jam near the street where I live. Pointlessly and obnoxiously, a driver in one car honked and honked at the cars ahead. This prompted a passing pedestrian to screech at him to stop. Then someone else began to scream at her for adding to the din. And you wonder why more people are wearing bulky headphones over their ears.

Yeah, yeah, I know: No one’s making us live here. And New York isn’t America. It’s a one-off.

But is that really so? Right now the Big Muddle — I’m sorry, Apple — strikes me as a proxy for the country and a cautionary tale. (...)

Popularity-wise, American cities are thriving. Millennials want to live in them. So do many retirees. But New York raises the question of how prepared these ever-denser hubs are. It’s dirtier than it should be. Smellier, too, especially in July and August. Its schools struggle. Even its jails are broken, as the plan to close Rikers Island affirms.

Many of us New Yorkers feared that one of our biggest headaches this year would be frequent, disruptive visits from President Trump, but he has chosen to go elsewhere on weekends. Maybe that should tell us something.

by Frank Bruni, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Daniel Zender