If you live outside the NYC metro area, it’s possible you don’t know there is a major transit strike happening in Gotham, the first in 25 years, and it’s bringing the city to it’s knees–or rather, to its feet, rollerblades, bicycles, scooters, skateboards, and, of course, cars.
When I heard about the impending transit strike, I worried about big things like the rights of the workers, the people who hold by-the-hour jobs who might miss paychecks because they can’t get to their jobs, and whether family would be able to make it in and out of the city for the holidays. But on a smaller scale, I felt a twinge of dismay about the simple absence of a subway ride in my day.
Though some people hate riding the subway, I love it. It’s fast. Efficient. I can get anywhere in Brooklyn or Manhattan in under 30 minutes. I have favorite lines like the Q that will get me express to SOHO and the Union Square Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, and the A train that takes me all the way up to Harlem in just seven stops. And the subway is one of my favorite places to people watch. Everyone takes the subway, even Mayor Bloomberg. On any given train you can find a microcosm of the city’s diversity–ethnic, economic, and otherwise. The fashionable and the functionally attired, parents with children, the old and the young all mingle together like nowhere else in the city. Late one night I even caught a Broadway cast on their way home from Times Square, and was treated to an impromptu show for five stops.
But in the last two days, as I and the rest of the city have made our way whichever way we can, I’ve seen a lot of anger: angry drivers that can’t cross a bridge because they don’t fulfill the four-person-per-car restrictions or are stuck in gridlock, people overtired from long treks on foot lasting, sometimes, upwards of five hours. But more than anything else, I’ve seen and heard about kindness. Cabbies are offering free morning rides so they can make it across police lines with the right number of passengers, drivers are offering total strangers rides across the bridges and living to tell the tale, walkers are handing each other bottles of water just to be nice, and people crowding the bridges are talking and telling stories just to pass the time. In “Thrown Together in a Crisis, Strangers Share Cars and Life Stories,” New York Times reporter Alan Feuer asks one driver, owner of a fancy BMW, why she didn’t fear inviting strangers into her car, and she gives a Karma/Golden Rule-inspired response: “I didn’t even worry when I stopped to give these people a ride… I really believe that when you’re nice to people they’re going to be nice to you back.”
It’s rare that people talk to each other on a regular, subway-riding day. And I am looking forward to shorter walks and faster commutes. But for now I’m enjoying watching the Good Samaritans everywhere I turn.