Monday, January 19, 2009

Subway Diaries

My friend runs a blog site called Muni Diaries in San Francisco that chronicles the oddities and the banal seen on the public transit system in the Bay Area. I just Googled for a similar concept here in New York, and got a few decent hits. The most compelling one, at a glance, is The Subway Chronicles, which I plan to peruse at some point in the next decade or so.

Anyway, I thought of this as I was riding the C train back home from my friend's place in Harlem tonight. There was an ancient, homeless-looking guy on my car who appeared semi-conscious or drunk, leaning at a 45 degree angle, mouth-breathing and staring at nothing. I walked towards his end of the car looking for an empty seat, but immediately spun around and headed to the other side of the car because he was steeped in pee. Nothing personal, I just didn't care to smell him for the next 50 blocks.

A few minutes later I noticed he was alert and smoking a cigarette, which has been illegal on New York subways for the last 500 years. Strangely enough, everyone on the car was staring at him. I mean every.single.person. No one was staring when he was just this crazy smelly old homeless guy half sleeping next to a spilled cup of coffee.

A woman started scolding him from across the aisle. "You can't smoke on the subway. You're going to have to put that out."

The man just nodded and continued smoking. He was clearly mentally ill and not grasping what she was saying. People started whispering and continued to stare. One woman coughed loudly, several people covered their noses with scarves, one guy rolled his eyes, and about half the people on the train shook their heads and turned their frowns even lower.

The man sitting next to me said, "You know, Obama has never mentioned anything about mental illness in his health care plan."

I wasn't sure if this was true or not, so I said something else that I wasn't sure was true or not. "Yeah, mental illness is one of those things that doesn't get prioritized in health care because people don't see it as a physical sickness."

"Oh my God," the man next to me said. "Now there's someone kicking that guy."

This was true. Someone had gotten on the train, taken one look at the dude smoking, and started kicking him.

I feel like rule number one on the subway is, don't kick mentally ill people. It's not nice, and not really safe either.

The kicker got off at the next station, and the homeless guy started ranting to himself. "Nggh mgh nngh I don't GIVE A SHIT! Fnggn ghnn nngh."

Then he took his cigarette and got off the train.

1 comment:

Christina said...

I'm glad to hear your night wasn't over when you left my place!