THE WHEELS COME OFF

1. It’s Wednesday, June 28, 2017.

2. It’s the 20th anniversary of Mike Tyson biting off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear. It’s also the birthday of Richard Rodgers.

Being able to convey these facts through the magic of the Internet is one of my things.

3. I am really into “Twin Peaks: The Return.”

My understanding is that there aren’t a lot of us who are. The ratings are supposed to be dismal.

And I can understand why. It’s not a TV show for people who want resolutions. It’s more about looking at the world through someone else’s vision.

In that way, it’s more like watching video art. Some people are into Jackson Pollock. Some people are into Cassius Marcellus Coolidge. “Twin Peaks” is definitely more the former, but there are certainly elements of the latter.

I think I’m going to do what some of the critics suggest – stop trying to figure out the plot and go along for the ride. I can always figure out what David Lynch was trying to tell me when it’s all done in September.

4. New Yorkers brag about everything. That’s one way you know who we are (I’m including myself even though I’ve lived in the suburbs for 30 years).

Don’t get us started on pizza and bagels.

The subway system is one of our bragging points. Other cities have systems of comparable size and scope. I’ve been on trains in London, Paris and Seoul.

None of them – none – are as convenient and easy to use as New York. In Seoul, I felt as though there wasn’t a single station that it didn’t take me 5-10 minutes to either get to the street or make a connection.

That’s not New York.

One other important point. Unlike London and Seoul, you don’t have to hurry up at night. New York runs 24/7/365.

But here’s the thing: Construction on this system began around the turn of the century. The prior century, as in 1900.

Parts of it are more than 100 years old. And riding on some of these lines, you are very inclined to believe it.

Yes, there are new branches. I haven’t been on the new Second Avenue line, which consists of three whole stations. I have been to the new station near the Javits Center and the new Hudson Yards.

5. But this system is aging. Fast.

It’s been about three years since I rode the New York City subway system on a regular basis. I used to take a bus to the Port Authority Bus Terminal and then, like Billy Strayhorn, take the A train to my job in Columbus Circle.

But I’ve been on the trains three times in the past two weeks. And with a little distance, it’s easy to see how much the system has deteriorated. Not that it was so great in 2014.

There are the crowded trains and platforms. There are the service disruptions. There are the people who insist on dancing on a packed car as a way to make money.

And perhaps most important, there are the safety concerns.

Yesterday’s derailment at 125th Street was a scary but, fortunately, not fatal reminder about how things have declined. That doesn’t mean the next problem won’t be a catastrophe.

6. Waiting at Times Square last night for the shuttle to Grand Central got me thinking about the subway.

Did the people who designed those first lines in Lower Manhattan and the guys who dug up those tunnels under Eighth Avenue and Broadway and Lexington Avenue think about the future?

About me and my daughter and the young woman with the THERAPY SESSION t-shirt with the headphones and the guy speaking to the woman he was with in a language I thought was French and all the others?

That we’d be standing there on a June night in 2017 using the same damn tunnels they dug up when Teddy Roosevelt and Mark Twain and Thomas Edison were contemporaries.

They probably thought their creation would last. Maybe they even thought it would make it as long as the 21st century.

But I also believe they expected something else to come along. That our technology and our know-how would find a way to make some better way to transport people.

We found better ways to communicate. Just about everybody on that platform was holding a rectangular device telling them the Mets lost or what time they’re supposed to meet Billy at the bar or to leave the garage light on.

The shuttle cars were adorned with the same color scheme, a dark ad for a new TV series on a cable network – ideas that weren’t gleans in anyone’s eye when they drilled through the bedrock under 42nd Street.

But, for some strange reason, transportation is different. In cities, we’re still riding on early 20th century tracks. The newest thing is the cars on the street, and they’re not necessarily a blessing.

I’m not sure why we don’t ask the question – why are these things the way they are? Why do just try to rebuild something that’s far older than we are when we don’t do that for anything else?

Why is there no smarter, cleaner, faster, more efficient way to get people around a city, or even from place to place? Why do we rely on old stuff for this one thing?

We split atoms, put men on the moon and made it so I stand in New York and see my son live in Seoul on a 5-1/4”x 2-1/2” chunk of metal and plastic in my hand. Why can’t I get somewhere fast and safely without resorting to 19th and 20th century ideas?

As New York’s subway continues to decline, and the system gets older and more taxed, maybe it’s time for the visionaries to reimagine our transportation. Maybe it’s time to pull out the blank piece of paper and figure out how you move people without resorting to what already exists.

It’s often said you can’t reinvent the wheel. But the question should be, why not?

Standard

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s