The subterranean and sometimes superterranean New York City Subway provides a practically practical urban travel solution.
It has a long history - started just after the introduction of Buddhism to Thailand, just before the fall of the T'ang Dynasty in China, and twenty three hours after Charlemagne hit puberty, the New York Subway system recently celebrated its 1,250th anniversary.
The Metropolitan Transit Authority, or MTA, marked the occasion with a series of antique trains and cabooses on some subway lines, in some cases so antique that men with red flags were commissioned to walk in front of a few trains, improving punctuality and speed of service considerably, despite worker complaints of sleeplessness and high blood pressure caused by sustained coffee breaks waiting for trains to catch up.
In the beginning, back when Manhattan was covered with swamp, forest, and a pair of small but tenacious glaciers whose visas had expired after the last Ice Age, the Subway system was entirely above ground. Work gangs of Manhatto Indians, supervised by deposed members of the T'ang Dynasty, erected four and a half miles of elevated railway, using open carriages and horses for locomotion, which might seem an unusual choice until you learn that diesel engines back then were nearly four times as expensive as they are now. This first line ran between the docks downtown with the popular adult entertainment region around Times Square, thus securing the financial future of New York by relieving visitors of any glass beads they might have about their person as soon as possible.
Due to the proliferation and continued popularity of constructing buildings for business and habitation on the earth's surface, and, in 1921, after a politely worded letter of complaint from Mrs. E. Stenowitz of No. 17, 12th Street about excessive noise during her afternoon nap on the preceding Thursday, the entire New York Subway system was moved underground. All, that is, except in the outer boroughs, from where it was deemed unlikely that Mrs. Stenowitz would be disturbed.
This ushered in a new age in urban transportation. The MTA, who had upgraded from horse to steam the year before, proudly threw an enormous launch party for the inauguration of their tunnel system, which was attended by many of the city's dignitaries and assorted scientific luminaries of the age. The tunnels appeared so popular with these first travellers that the MTA smilingly waved that first underground train past the starting station three times before a sharp-eyed intern noticed that the mayor's wife had fallen off her seat and it was found that the entire two carriages-worth of VIPs had died of smoke inhalation.
The MTA reluctantly invested in covered carriages, and the steam locomotives of the MTA ran until 1989, when the network was again upgraded, this time to electricity. The smoke from those old engines is what gives today's subway tunnels that stylish matte black look.
And so the modern New York subway was born.
There are several different types of train on the New York subway, casually classified by their seat type or running line.
So named because of their orange and yellow individual shaped seats, these trains combine the maximum of colour impact with attempted innovation with seat layout. Intead of long rows of uniform seating with space between for standing during busy periods, these feature a promontory of four back-to-back seats with only enough legroom for people with growth hormone deficiency. Strangely, these seats are not marked for use solely by the vertically impaired, meaning that New York has a constant annual shortfall of knee doctors.
These trains are named for their long benches of smooth grey plastic, coated with TeflonŽ to promote a sense of closeness and intimacy amongst fellow passengers.
Trains on the 1,2,3,9 Line
These trains have been genetically modified (yes, you read that right) to be narrower than the rest of the trains on the NY subway, as a multi-million dollar study carried out before the conception of the line showed that people who lived in the Bronx and worked Downtown, and vice versa, were 27.6% thinner than people living and working in the rest of the city. After the construction of the line the mathematics involved was publicly called into question, but the consultant concerned was on holiday in Bali for personal reasons and could not be reached.
The stations of the New York Subway are legion. Some stretch for many miles underground, linking with colonies of primitive ape-like creatures who worship the trains as Gods and whose greatest honour is when one of their number is taken up by the MTA, and others are no more glorious than tile-walled scrapes in the ground. Here are a few.
The Bog Standard Station
Surprisingly, this category is not named because it is a dependable standard that there is always an area of a New York Subway station which smells like, but is not, a toilet. The station usually consists of two platforms for trains going in opposing directions (usually...usually) and sometimes a central track for express trains, some of which don't actually stop anywhere, and contain the continuing progeny of the last bunch of fans to leave the final Yankees game of the season of 1937, and who survive by eating the meat of the primitive ape-like creatures they occasionally encounter. The walls of the station are usually tiled in white with burnt sienna flourish. There is a central kiosk, manned or womanned by someone in a blue cap who is either asleep, reading, or too busy doing complex three-dimensional continuum mechanics equations in their head to be of any practical use, but they make nice ornaments. Trains pass through the Bog Standard Station pretty regularly, but they are not guaranteed to be the train you want or expect.
The Back Of Beyond Station
An aura of quantum uncertainty surrounds the Back of Beyond Stations. This station has two platforms, but the only way to get to the right one is by picking the right entrance from the street, which is impossible without going into one to find out which is the right one, by which time it is too late. A help kiosk may adorn one side, but never the side you are on. Trains pass through with the same period between appearances as Halley's Comet, that is to say, approximately every 76 years.
The Changeover Hub Station
These 24-hour-a-day seething masses of humanity are a joy to every traveller, tourist or trapped elevator user who passes through their doors. Decorated through art-expression programmes at local mental institutions for that extra nerve-jangling degree of verve and get-up-and-go, the big hubs are never dull places. Be it breakdancing, choral singing, stress tests which are free but where the results cost $10, or even the age-old tradition of picking pockets, there is always something going on. It is impossible to navigate a Changeover Hub Station without two handy survival techniques:
1. Know which train and which direction you need BEFORE entering the station. Maps in the Changeover Hubs are not of the current NY Subway System, however alike they may seem.
2. Take no heed of the signs. Adopt the same techniques that you would if in a labyrinth or similar mythical maze. Sadly, with the volume of foot traffic passing through the Changeover Hub, using a thread to mark your path is impractical and would be costly to cover in terms of trip-and-fall lawsuits from your fellow subway travellers. Instead, follow the nearest wall until it reaches steps to a train platform. Descend and ascertain the species of train which attends there. If unsuccessful, ascend and continue to follow the wall until you find your train.
The 'El' Station
Similar to the Bog Standard Station, only layered in the opposite direction on stilts, with the distressing tendency to wobble when trains brake.
Subway Etiquette and Decorum
Feel free to relax, be social and chat, but otherwise maintain general societal behavioural norms.
Do not make eye contact. Feel free to use a personal music device, read a book, newspaper or stone tablet, or rock back and forth singing the lyrics of The Rolling Stones to the Mr. Softee theme. Swing naked from the hanging bars. Poledance around the poles. Leap balletically from armrest to armrest, slapping people in the face with a crawfish and reciting 'The Charge Of The Light Brigade' by the popular poet, Alfred, the Lord Tennyson. Do whatever you want. This is the New York Subway. No one will react. Just don't make eye contact.