Riding Between Cars Is Prohibited
Friday. I need a break from the 2005, from being 48, from being consumed with the Oil Mafia and their systematic dismantling of America...
1979. That was the year that I was graduated from college. Armed with my BA in Psychology and the confidence that I would soon be able to escape the mundane existence of a day-gig, I happily accepted a corporate job in downtown Manhattan near Wall Street, donned my suit, (there was no “Business Casual” back in those days. You had to wear a suit and a tie,)and pretended that I was an adult.
I had to take the subway from Wall Street up to 42nd St. at 5:00 PM on weekdays. To say the trains were packed would be like saying it’s chilly in Antarctica in the middle of winter. I have literally dozens of stories from those days, but one of my favorites involved a lifelong friend, about 6 Puerto Ricans and one of New York’s finest.
It was fortunate that one of my boyhood friends worked about a block away from me on Wall St. We would meet up and take the train together to work our way back to Long Island. We would often ride outside, in between the subway cars. It was private, away from the crowds. It was also dangerous and illegal. We didn’t give the downside a second thought. We’d often step off the platform across the tracks right into the space between the cars without even getting inside the car first. Sometimes, there’d be one or two other people riding out there with us. It was fun and we felt like we were beating the system.
In 1979, we had this illusion that pot was legal in NY, and there was a good reason for it. If you weren’t dealing, and you had a small amount on you, you had little to worry about. It was common to be toking on a number and have cop walk by and maybe he would say, “Put that out!” or maybe he would ignore you, but worst case he’d break your balls for a minute and then take whatever you had for later. That was the atmosphere in those days, when we still had John Lennon, and we didn’t yet have Ronald Reagan. Man, that was a bad trade we made in 1980, but that’s another story.
This one day, the trains were particularly unbearable. It was hot. The trains were running slow and behind. We found ourselves between the cars, with 5 or 6 Puerto Rican twenty-something guys heading back up to the Bronx, and stuck in a tunnel in pitch black. One of the guys lit up a cigarette, so we all did and we started to talk.
“Ees hot mang!”
“I hate theees, ees so crowded.”
“I just want to get home and take a shower.”
“Anyone got any weed?”
In fact, I had a couple a joints in my box of Parliaments. I took one out and lit up.
“Oh, mang, you alright. I saw that suit an' thought you were so straight mang!”
It seemed like we were stuck there for a half hour. We smoked up both joints, and we were laughing, joking and trading stories like old friends. When the weed had been consumed, we all lit up cigarettes. What we didn’t know was that we were just outside the next station. So there we were, one toke over the line sweet Mary, standing downtown outside a railway station, smoking cigarettes and laughing like we were hanging out at some bar at 9:00 on a Friday night.
Except we weren't.
Abrutptly, the train started moving, and we were suddenly bathed in the bright lights of the station, a bit stunned and too stoned to drop the butts on the tracks.
The train stops, and here is a transit cop in uniform. Right in our faces. On the platform, looking up at us standing between the cars. He is all red-faced and sweaty, and yelling at us to get off of the train. My boyhood friend blows his smoke from his last drag of his cigarette, drops it to the tracks and looking at the cop but speaking to me in a tone of annoyance and mild disdain, unconsciously, as if the cop was in a movie and certainly out of earshot, and he says,
As you can imagine, I was stunned, the Puerto Ricans were stunned, and the cop was livid. We were in violation of two laws that he was charged with enforcing, and my friend said the two words that we were all thinking but the two words that you should never say should you find yourself in such a situation.
One of the Puerto Ricans made a move to disembark from the train directly onto the platform, which also was illegal, and the cop said, “NO! NO! NO! GO THROUGH THE CAR.”
When we got back into the car, it was so full that had we wanted to get out of the train it would have been questionable. We were scared, and had been taught to respect the law, so we did make an effort to get off the train, and indeed we did, but people were crowding into the train at the door that the policeman expected us to exit from, so we found our way to the next door, and pushed our way on to the platform. We were surrounded by a gaggle of sweaty commuters who were unable to get on this train and had to wait for the next one. We couldn’t see the cop, so we went upstairs and out to the street, had another cigarette and counted ourselves lucky.
I still chuckle to myself when I think of it all, now so long ago.