I once saw an older man in a gray suit execute a flying karate kick at a closing subway door on the A/C line at Broadway-Nassau. He didn’t make it, but if he had, I’d’ve cheered for him. Not because it was an impressive move to pull off in a suit and tie—and it was the best urban ninja move I’ve ever seen below street level—but because he would have escaped the Broadway-Nassau station in style. I never get to end my adventures there with karate kicks and applause. Usually I just end up crying.
I get off the train here on the lowest level, the A/C line and think, okay, going to transfer to the JMZ. Follow the signs.
The nearest staircase leads up and has a helpful sign: Exit (but I don’t want that, I’ve already paid and I’m only halfway to my destination), 4, 5 (God forbid, the line in New York City most in need of those pushers you see cramming people onto the trains in Japan) and JMZ (train to Chinatown and I hope I haven’t missed the lion dancers, because I’m broke and unemployed and need to feed a dollar to the giant sequined mask so I can get my luck for 2009).
Okay, so I walk up the stairs. Still underground. No problem, here’s another sign: JMZ to Metropolitan, and an arrow indicating a U-turn. Do I want to go to Metropolitan? Or to I want to go to—turn around—JMZ to Jamaica? Metropolitan or Jamaica? What about Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Uptown, or Downtown? Every other line has these concrete geographical categories that let you know where you’re going and where you’ll end up, but I’m in the metropolitan area already and I don’t need to go to Jamaica because I’m going to spend my last bit of cash on the Chinese lion and there won’t be any leftover for marijuana.
I pick Jamaica. Isn’t there a Jamaica in Queens? Queens is north of me, unless the JMZ doubles back through Brooklyn first, but I’m already at the very end of Manhattan, so I’ll know within a couple of stops if I’m not going in the right direction.
Follow the arrow to JMZ-Jamaica. I haven’t taken a turn, I must be walking directly over the A/C line, so why does the arrow now point down a staircase? Didn’t I just pop up from there? Sure enough, I go down the stairs and the signs on either side say stuff like, C to Euclid except late nights. Yeah, no shit Sherlock, I take the C to Euclid every day except late nights, I don’t need to go there yet, I’ve got to get to Chinatown and get my good luck. Where’s my JMZ sign?
Here it is—JMZ, up another staircase. Didn’t I just walk down from the upper level? Why did I need to take the stairs to get from one end of the corridor to the other? Doesn’t matter, I’m sure there will be a corner to turn at the top and I will be walking perpendicular or diagonal to the A/C line and then I’ll be in business.
Follow the arrow up the stairs, JMZ. But what happened to Jamaica? I don’t want to end up on the Metropolitan side, unless I do, in which case should I take a U-turn like the other sign said? Look, I can turn around at the top of this staircase and still see that first—or was it second?—sign. Again, why did I need to go down? No matter, now I’m walking this way, whichever way this is, and I’m following the arrow to the Exit, 4,5 Uptown, JMZ. I don’t want to go uptown on the 4,5, I’ve been on that line and I know that I can’t get to the JMZ from there. There aren’t even any signs to the JMZ once I’ve crossed over into 4,5 territory, because that’s the Upper East Side line and probably pretends it doesn’t have anything in common with the Chinatown line. So onward with the arrow, ignoring the left fork in the hallway that goes to the 4,5. This must lead to the JMZ.
Nope, just another staircase. This one has an iron gate in front of it. Dead end.
Fuck it, then, I’m going in the Metropolitan direction. At least I can get off at the next stop and transfer in the right direction, unless Metropolitan is the right direction, in which case I just wasted five minutes trying to find the way to a subway line that is blocked off and doesn’t go where I want it to anyway.
Deep breath. Don’t go down the stairs to the A/C again, that’s just what they want you to do. There’s nothing down there but the A/C and staircases going up, and you’re up already. Going away from the 4,5 now. That’s a good sign. JMZ, that’s a better sign. Points to another staircase to the A/C—don’t get sucked in, it’s a lie. See, here’s a staircase going up, haven’t seen one of these yet, I must be getting closer. Spring in the step now, lion dancers here I come!
Top of the stairs: another sign: JMZ. U-turn arrow, back the way I came.
No. I say, No! to you, you stupid fucking sign. I do not take a U-turn! I just came from that direction. You can’t tell me to go back! YOU take a U-turn if you’re so goddamn certain about it!
Now I’m starting to cry. I’ve got to get to Chinatown! I need to feed my dollar to the lion or else I’m not going to have good luck again until the next New Year! And if I don’t have good luck I’m never going to find my way to the right subway line and I may as well just lick the third rail now and give the mole people that live in the tunnels a feast of electrified human flesh like they do in Tibetan sky burials where the dead are carved up and fed to the vultures.
Should I cry though? It’s embarrassing to cry in public. I never did it before I moved to New York, but nobody gives a crap if you cry in public here, so why not? One time I was on the subway and a woman had an asthma attack. She starting grabbing and groping people around her for help, unable to breathe or speak, and everyone, even the other women, shoved her away and made those little “Ugh!” noises you make when you pull clods of wet hair out of the bathtub. If no one stops for life-threatening dangers, they won’t stop for a crying woman who can’t find the JMZ.
There are always musicians playing at the Broadway-Nassau station. I think it’s just bands that have gotten lost and decide to spend the rest of their lives down here rather than waste the $2 they paid to get down here to ride trains that don’t exist and follow signs that lead you nowhere.
Just a theory.
I didn’t make it to Chinatown in time for the lion dancers. I bought a hot dog instead.