The Oransky Journal

Interesting stuff that doesn't fit on Embargo Watch or Retraction Watch

A good news story about the New York City subway

with 3 comments

Gryffindor, via Wikimedia

In 2006, I declared in my bio at The Scientist, where I was deputy editor at the time, that my favorite gadget was the New York City subway. An experience 15 years later has made that even more true.

A few Friday mornings ago, I walked briskly down the steps of the 79th St. downtown 1 subway entrance at the northwest corner of 79th and Broadway, just around the corner from our apartment. I had a quiet morning schedule that day, so it was already after 9.

I swiped my MetroCard and walked up the platform, toward the last few cars, since I wanted to make the transfer to the N/R in Times Square more efficient. The next train wasn’t arriving for a few minutes, so I went to pull out my phone.

That’s when it happened. 

As if in slow motion, my phone slipped out of my hand as it emerged from my pocket, dropped to the platform, bounced once, and then…fell to the tracks.

There was barely anyone in the station, so either no one noticed or, these being New Yorkers, no one could be bothered to admit they’d noticed.

I had a moment of panic, then stared at my phone, some feet below, for a few seconds. Well, there goes my day. Or maybe a few days, given how reliant I was on my phone, as I went about replacing it and hoping that Samsung or Google would somehow know which apps I needed. I needed to figure out how to get into my office, since one of those apps was a health check-in.

Then I remembered one of those announcements that had I had no doubt thought I was ignoring when I heard it for the hundredth time, the one to the effect of “Please do NOT go onto the subway tracks to retrieve a lost item. Alert a station representative.”

I walked back down the platform and exited through a turnstile, then approached the clerk. “Yes?”

“I dropped my phone on the tracks.”

The response was emotionless, but efficient. “I’ll call someone, but it might take a while. Do you want to stay, or come back?”

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. I had assumed I would fill out a form and wait who knew how long. “Oh, how long is a while?”

“Well, it might be up to an hour.”

That didn’t feel like a while, all things considered. “Oh, I’ll wait, then.” I started to turn around, figuring I’d walk up and get a coffee, or some such.

“You want to go back in?” 

It took me a second to understand what she meant. She was gesturing to the emergency gate. It turned out that even when you do something a little — or maybe a lot — dumb, and cause a nuisance for staff, you get back into the subway without paying another fare. “Oh, sure, thanks!” I pushed on the gate, and walked right in.

I sat down on a bench to wait, then realized I had a phone meeting I’d likely be late for — and no way to call the person. But wait — platforms have WiFi. So I pulled out my laptop — far from the platform this time — and logged in. 

I let the person I was meeting with know I’d be late, and that we should probably reschedule. I dealt with a bunch of other emails.

Something like 20 minutes later, I saw a yellow jacket-clad transit worker with a claw at the end of a long pole walking in my direction, eyes intent on the tracks. I stood up and waved. “Hi, I’m the one who dropped my phone.”

He came over, and I pointed to where it was. It took a few tries with the claw, but no more than a minute or two, then he lifted my phone and passed it to me, gripped in the claw.

I thanked him. “That was really straightforward,” I said. This being New York, I tried to tip him, but he declined. “This is my job.”

“Thanks for sticking around, though,” he said. “Usually people leave, and I have to walk up and down the tracks trying to find their stuff.”

He walked away, and I packed up my laptop. A train came within a few minutes, and I was barely even late for my meeting.

So there you have it, folks. Drop something on the tracks? Don’t even think about going down to get it. Speak to a transit worker, and wait. They make it really easy, and they aren’t jerks about it — at all. Maybe that’s because they really, really don’t want anyone going down onto the tracks, but that’s just fine with me.

Thanks, New York City subway workers. You still run my favorite gadget ever.

Written by Ivan Oransky

August 22, 2021 at 6:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. So the guy with the stick thanked you for sticking around? Seems like you could have done more with that, but I can’t come up with it either.

    Andrew Oransky

    August 22, 2021 at 7:29 pm

  2. Love it Ivan.

    Lesley Oransky

    August 23, 2021 at 12:26 am

  3. Thanks for countering the “public transit sucks” narrative, Ivan. Crazy how it often does work as advertised.

    Mary Chris Jaklevic

    August 28, 2021 at 6:14 am

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