A couple of weeks ago, on a particularly frigid night in New York City, I was on my way home to Queens.
I was going to have to change trains at some point in order to get home. I could have done it at 4th, 34th, or 42nd street. However my train philosophy, and really my general travel philosophy is “get as far as you can on the vessel you are on before you change.”
And generally it works out pretty well for me. But for whatever over thought reason, I got off the train at 34th to change.
At the risk of sounding insensitive I will point out that when it gets really hot outside, or really cold for that matter, you tend to see more homeless people on the climate controlled trains.
But a subway car is a closed space and it is quite frequent that the homeless individuals who have settled in smell less than ideal. Often if I board a car that smells awful or I am aware of somebody who might smell, I’ll move to the next car.
According to the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority, moving between cars while the train is in motion is illegal. However it is something I have done dozens of times. Many people have. It is something that happens every day in every single car of every train I have ever been on.
Sure it’s illegal, but so is jaywalking, and who gets arrested for jaywalking?
Upon boarding my train, I noticed a pair of homeless individuals, and realizing I had about 30 minutes left before I got home I decided not to risk the smell and moved on to the next car.
As soon as I walked in the next car I saw 7 police officers. My first thought was that I had walked into a murder scene, which made me panic. Then I thought one of the officers was talking to me, which also made me panic.
But he wasn’t talking to me so I just sat down and put my headphones in. Thirty seconds later when we got to the 42nd street stop and the doors opened, one of the officers signaled to me to get off the train.
Could you come here for a second?
The officer was one of a group of three, all who appeared to be fresh out of the academy. He told me that walking between cars is illegal, and asked me if I knew that.
I told him I did.
He asks for my I.D., which I give to him. We are underground one of the three officers has to go upstairs to call it in to make sure the yuppie with the newsboy hat and duffle coat isn’t actually an arms dealer.
I’m standing on the platform, freezing, because I don’t have my gloves on, because they are inside my coat, which I don’t think I’m allowed to open because they don’t know I’m NOT an arms dealer yet. I go to put my hand in my pocket which the officer asks me not to.
Great, first I get pulled off my train, and now I’m going to get chapped hands.
It takes no less than 10 minutes for the officer who took my license to come back. In that time I stare at the floor. I stare off into the distance, at the other people who are now staring at me because I am standing against a wall with two police officers blocking me from moving in any direction.
Some schmuck keeps looking over and smirking. I want to kick him in the junk. I want to push him onto the track. But then I realize he doesn’t know that I got busted for walking between train cars. For all he knows I COULD be an arms dealer… A very preppy arms dealer.
Finally the third officer comes back. And that’s when the officer who asked me to step off the train, the one who looks about 23, reaches into his pocket and pulls out his pad.
I’m going to have to give you a summons.
Which is a lie. You can call it whatever you want, you can call it a Bagel Dog. It’s not a summons. It’s a ticket. A ticket for 75 dollars.
It was at this point that I wanted to yell at him.
Are you kidding me? Look at me? Do I look like a rule breaker? How about you do something about the guy I saw on the train last week who was peeing himself while he was on the train? Or the people who lay across 4 seats to sleep? Or how about the people who panhandle on the train, which is illegal by the way, and then walk between cars, which is also illegal as you know, so they can do more illegal panhandling in the next car they illegally entered. Why can’t you arrest them? Or the people who shout at me to repent for my sins while I ride to work? Or the kids who sell candy for their “basketball team?” How about you give ANY of them a summons?
And this is when I realized, I am not meant to be a risk taker. I can’t even lead an exciting enough life to possibly expose myself to the risk.
I’m the kind of guy who would go to jail for an overdue book, or for putting gum underneath a table. I constantly think about what it would be like to be one of those people who just goes where life takes them, who ignores conventions to just do whatever interests them.
But I can’t even do that because the laws of the universe refuse to even allow me to move away from odiferous transients. How can I break the rules if I can’t even break the smell barrier?
It takes the officer forever to write the ticket because he’s obviously never done it before. So it takes the three of them 15 minutes to read their rulebook, consult each other’s intelligence, and fill out a half a sheet of paper.
I want to argue but everything sounds cliché`. And as a writer, I hate cliché`s.
Give me a break, come on, seriously, and all the rest of that sounds so already used up that I can’t bring myself to say any of it. So I just stand there in silence as he writes my ticket, my ticket for what is officially denoted as “unsafe riding.”
Which if you look at my history of police infractions, pretty much every single one can be classified as “unsafe riding.” Which in and of itself is pretty pathetic sounding. Not even “dangerous riding.” Nope, unsafe. And I guess that’s me.
Rich Boehmcke: Not dangerous just... Unsafe.