I was down to the last 50¢ on my MetroCard, so even though the 6 train
was just arriving as I got to the subway stand after work, I had to skip it to
refill my card. So I waited for the next train; it turned out to be one of the
brand-new ones, a contrast to the train I missed, which was one of the older
models in the system (I think they're called Redbirds).
I'd seen the new trains being tested, throughout the summer and fall, on the
test tracks of the 5 line, above 180th Street, and looked forward
to actually riding them, since the city had graciously proposed
to replace the oldest-of-the-fleet cars that most riders of the 5 and
6 must endure on a daily basis. But it seemed like it would take forever for
the new ones to graduate from the test tracks.
One night, as I took the grueling ride from the East Village to the North
Bronx, necessitating dealing with several transfers (the L to the
4 to another 4, due to construction, to the 2, to the
shuttle at 180th that covers the last few stops in the absence of the 5, which
doesn't run late at night) and long waits for each transfer, a set of the shiny
new cars rode in, empty, and pulled to a stop at 149th Street, where I was waiting. It was on the
downtown tracks, so we northbound huddled masses could only stand and
watch; there were mainly subway maintenance people and a few civilians (plus
this one guy) on the downtown platform. The doors opened, but
they were the doors that faced away from the platform -- you couldn't board it
unless you jumped down on the tracks and climbed up into the cars. Then the
booming pre-recorded voice of Bloomberg's Charlie
Pellett encouraged us to Please stand clear of the closing doors!, the
doors closed, and the empty train was off, to the laughter of the testers and
the maintenance crew. Those of us on the other side, waiting forever for
our train to show up, were too tired to be amused.
So I got to ride in one of the new cars today. It was clean and brightly lit;
we'll see how long that lasts. The ride was a little smoother. But the most
excellent parts were the PA and the LCD displays -- the displays tell you
what train you're on (e.g. "6 TO BROOKLYN BRIDGE"), what the
next stop is ("NEXT STOP BLEECKER ST"), and what time it is.
The PA is all pre-recorded, and, more importantly, audible; many of
the older cars have non-functioning or barely-functioning audio -- if you know
where you're going, maybe it isn't a big deal if you can't hear the conductor's
regular announcements, but missing the special announcements can be either a
trivial matter, like when the impending final score of game one of the World
Series was given over the PA; all I could understand was the inning (the
13th?) and that one team had pulled ahead. You can also miss more-important
announcements, like the occasional rerouting of the 5 train to the west-side
2 line (only the exodus of those grumbling riders who were able to hear the
message can provide a clue), or the skipping of certain local stops by the 6.
I presume the conductor will still make those special announcements, but the
routine calls are now prerecorded -- the aforementioned Mr. Pellett handles the
closing of the doors, while a woman's voice, not unlike what you'd hear on a
phone menu ("If you wish to place a collect call, press 1..."), handles
the rest: This is Spring Street. Next stop, Bleecker Street.; I'm not
sure how the locations are triggered -- if a train is suddenly rerouted, will
the Menu Lady call out the right information? And already there's a bug...
Menu Lady: This is the Number 6 to Brooklyn Bridge. Next stop...
Pellett: Please stand clear of the closing doors!
It still needs some work. And after riding the shiny new train for a few
minutes, I was returned to the regular sights and sounds of the subway -- parts
of the Canal Street station, eternally under construction, look like some
rundown, abandoned subway station you might see in some dystopian B-movie
about NYC; the presence of what looked like fresh blood on one of the many
steps I have to climb took me even further away from all things shiny and new.
I discovered Napster
this week, too late in the game, perhaps. My
rationalization, if one is needed, is that I own much of the material I'm
downloading, except I have it on vinyl, rather than CD; I stocked up on some
and Muhal Richard Abrams
, et al. It's like home taping
really -- something no-one apologized for back in the day
, and actually a
good form of try-before-you-buy
, which worked for me, back in the
aforementioned day, though my purchases, then as now, have tended to be from
s or the obscure back-catalog of The Cartel
, rather than
a dozen Kid Britney Rockin'sync'inem
CDs to go (Do you want fries with
. The only CD I have that's remotely "now" and "popular" is the
newest one from God's Peed
, which I'll bring to
the annual company shroom
. But I digress
**If such a thing existed.