Did he ever return,
No he never returned
And his fate is still unlearn’d
He may ride forever
‘neath the streets of Boston
He’s the man who never returned
(lyrics from “M.T.A.” by The Kingston Trio)
I’ve now been a Boston subway commuter for not even three weeks and I have struggled to get back into the rhythm of riding public transportation to work. There has been indignities, there has been jostling, there has been sprints featuring the high stakes of a twisted ankle or getting plowed over by a car.
But perhaps the worst is the sport the MBTA drivers make of their cargo. I won’t bother to call us humans because the operators clearly don’t think of us as that. We’re not much more than “straphangers” to them.
It only took three days before I was truly indoctrinated. I was hustling for the Green Line trolley and I made it! Yay! Except as I lifted my foot to climb aboard, the driver slammed the door in my face. I looked up to see the driver cackle and pull away. I turned, a bit surprised, and really annoyed to see the guy who supervises the subway stop laughing at me too. Really?
And yet in the 11 days I’ve been commuting it’s happened three times. The other day I tried a different tack. I was at the Boylston stop heading home and the train in front of me was crowded so I hustled back to the less full car behind. All of this was done in full view of the driver who saw me approach and yet still started closing the doors. So I reached my hands in and … the doors slammed right on my wrists.
I had two simultaneous reactions.
- They’re f—ing with me …
- Subway doors are NOT like elevator doors and do not open back up. Bad idea.
I stood there for a beat or two and watched the faces of my fellow commuters inside flip to concern. I remained remarkably calm. The doors re-opened, I hopped on, and actually got a seat, adrenalin pumping pretty hard. Two days later and my wrist is still a little sore, but I’ll survive (I can still type, right?). No one — passenger or driver — asked if I was okay.
I tweeted the T that they were meanies … their response? They started following me back through an autobot program and that was it. I posted on Facebook, tagged them, and again, no response. Whatever … we’re just straphangers after all.
A friend of mine who lived in New York City for years said I was lucky and to never do that again. “Do you know how many people die every year from doing that?” he asked.
He’s right. New York City expects to have 113 deaths on their subway system in 2013. That doesn’t include serious injuries or dismemberment. I couldn’t find similar numbers for Boston, but turns out they do consider this a sport. The MBTA keeps track of their numbers through a monthly Scorecard. Sadly they don’t track injuries, death, or dismemberment.
I suppose this will all fade away. I have yet to fully learn my place as a straphanger. I will adjust to the nameless, faceless crowds surging through rush hour traffic on the Green Line. As for Charlie, I was thinking about him on the ride home last night. A very smooth affair where I even had a seat and zero struggle. An MBTA worker even flashed me a smile.
But as I thought about Charlie, well, I know they killed him. They shoved the body somewhere, likely in an old, unused A-line tunnel somewhere, sealed off, and decayed into dust. And like tribal nations of old, they now use Charlie as a symbol, as a rallying cry against the straphangers. He’s now their mascot … and why subway passes are called Charlie Cards. All done to remind us to stay in our places.
The grim-faced straphangers just keep hanging on.