Two nights ago, I had the distinct pleasure of driving on some of the worst roads in the area. I had just dropped my parents off at the 4 terminal at Woodlawn so they could journey down to Yankee Stadium, and I had to get our car back to its garage on the Upper West Side. I scooted up the Mosholu Parkway to the Henry Hudson Parkway and drove that lovely road south to 96th St.
For years, that had been my ride back and forth to high school. It was where I cut my driving chops, and by the time I graduated from high school, I could ride that stretch of the Henry Hudson Parkway with my eyes closed (not that I, um, ever did that, mom).
But Sunday’s drive was something special. All around me, cars were driving aggressively. People were speeding, and those going to slow were glaring at the other cars zooming past them. People were switching lanes without signaling; they were speeding up to block other cars from moving in front of them. It was one of the more tense ten-mile drives I’ve ever taken, and I just chalked it up to the general chaos of the too-narrow Henry Hudson Parkway.
On the way back to Brooklyn a few hours later, I observed another odd moment. My 3 train heading down the West Side was largely empty, and those of us on the train had various bags and suitcases from Fourth of July weekends spent outside the cozy confines of the Big Apple. At 34th St., a few more straphangers toting suitcases boarded the train. At this point, most of the train was empty. I was sitting near the middle set of doors with my bags; a couple with their bags was across the aisle from me.
A few minutes later, at Park Place, a woman got on the train at the far set of doors, she walks past about 15 empty seats, audibly sighs and rolls her eyes while stepping over our suitcases before parking herself in front of the set of doors at the opposite end of the train car than those through which she boarded. She then de-trained at Fulton St., one stop later.
Every day, as I ride the train, I see more and more behavior like this. I see people who get flustered when asked politely to move out of the doorways because no one else can enter or exit the train. I see people taking up too many seats; I see healthy young riders ignore older and infirm riders who need a seat. And I hear music; I hear everyone else’s music at volumes so loud as to bother the rest of the train.
After the subway incident on Sunday night, I wondered if I hadn’t imagined a tougher ride down the Henry Hudson a few hours earlier. All around us, New Yorkers are retreating into their isolated worlds, and I wonder where this hostility comes from.
Sure, no one likes to spend more time than they need to on crowded train cars, stiflingly hot platforms or in traffic on the West Side Highway. But we’re all in this together, and if it means stepping over a few suitcases in an empty train car without making a production about, then do so. If it means turning down the iPod volume a few notches, then do so. We’d rather all be at our destinations, but don’t make the trips worse for everyone else. Let’s restore some decency and humanity to our roads and subways. Is that too much to ask?
Above: A sign from Tokyo urges subway riders to practice good riding etiquette. (Photo by flickr user French Disco)