A Waiting Quarter

When I was growing up, one of my most favorite beach “casino” games was the one with all the quarters. Seeing all those shiny coins waiting to drop off that ninety-degree angle and fall with a clink into the metal cup before me was too much for me to avoid. I would beg my parents for dollars, and quarters and more dollars just to see if MY COIN, the metal body I dropped in, would be the one to push them all over the edge. I rarely ever got anything more than a dollar in return, but over the years I must have dropped hundreds of quarters into those machines just hoping I’d eventually knock a bunch off and make room for more.

Every weekday, I take the L train from Brooklyn to Manhattan. I get off at 14th Street, Union Square and then hop on the 4/5/6 headed uptown. Most of the time, I get to work in 20-30 minutes just because the 4 Express runs from 14th to Grand Central which is my stop. But on occasion, the 4/5/6 gets constipated, anyone going anywhere from the Brooklyn Bridge all the way along the western side of Manhattan is pretty much screwed. Rest assured, however, most of any office will arrive late, that’s many people use that line.

Usually, it’s not so bad. The 4/5/6 runs nearly every 4 minutes—sometimes even more often. So getting to work isn’t usually a problem. However, on the days where something goes wrong, Union Square is an absolute mess.

For example, take the very first day I worked at the new office. I left a little before 8:30 leaving me ample time to get to work by 9:30. Plus, I really wanted to test just how long this commute would take me should I get the full time job. The only other time I had followed the route was during the afternoon on the day of my interview, and trains run differently when it’s not rushhour. But on the morning of my first day, even the L was even on its best behavior; things were looking good. That is, up until I hit Union Square.

The platform of the 4/5/6 train was JAMMED packed with human sardines. It was so crowded, the NYPD were forced to block all those coming downstairs from above. Somehow, I managed to get down before this happen, not my experience on the platform was more pleasant by any means. You see, the platform at Union Square running alongside the 4/5/6 is thinner than most trains’ platforms. While this makes little to no sense to me given it’s a major artery for most commuters, that’s the way it is. Maybe that’s why they run so frequently. Who’s to know? So as I stood there there, behind scads of tightly packed people, with another pack of humans directly behind me, asses touching asses, as they waited on the local track, I couldn’t help but picture what would happen should the NYPD not show up to stop the flow of people.

One might now consider me a waiting quarter. And should another coin choose to disobey the NYPD on a day where we’re backed up in rows of five or more on the platform of the 4/5/6, I might surely meet my demise in 2 inches of some of the most toxic, trashy dumpster juice known to man.


  1. what i learned on pbs: thats the way it is, because the 4/5/6 wasn’t supposed to be a packed line when it was built, and the city could never get off its ass to make the 2nd ave line.

    but now they’re finally gonna make the 2nd ave line to alleve congestion. i’ve always thought that if they just ran 2x as many trains, that there wouldn’t be an issue. a lot of people have said that, too. except, well, this is what is amazing: the MTA is a state agency, not a city agency. so, NYC can build a new line and then the MTA runs it, or NYC can whine and bitch about bad service and Pataki laughs his ass off in albany and says “You blue fuckers should have voted red. now i’m gonna take your cash and you can kiss my ass goodbye”


  2. They ARE creating a 2nd Avenue line? No shit. I imagine one will be able to connect by way of the first avenue or second avenue L, right? They really do need one. They need to do something about the cross river Brooklyn to Manhattan congestion as well. IT’s a mess. :/


  3. I’m too much of a bumpkin’ to contribute to the traffic disscusion, but the phrase, “most toxic, trashy dumpster juice” is one of the most horrifically genius things I’ve ever heard.

    Although, the Mopac in Austin was a nightmare.


  4. The 2nd ave line has been in the works for ~80 years

    click me

    Its going from 126th st to lower manhattan

    there are no real plans to do anything about brooklyn/manhattan in the near future. the city council has decided that once 25% of the new buildings they’ve promoting throughout north and south brooklyn are complete, they will consider a study of the new population impact on transit and eductation (as a note, just about every other city in the country does those things BEFORE rezoning areas… but hey, its NYC)


  5. For being such a large city, sometimes it amazes me the show goes on. It’s as if we’re all barely making it through the day. Seriously. Weird place, she is. :] A 2nd Avenue train would do wonders. I imagine it might never happen, tho. Who knows.


  6. I’m with Amanda – I’ve never even been to NYC, nor do I use the public transportation system here (it doesn’t go where I go, so it’s useless to me), but the phrase “toxic, trashy dumpster juice” made my stomach turn over.


  7. I will take a picture of this gunk. I haven’t ever seen anything that looks quite like this crap. I used to make “soup” when I was a kid out of stick, leaves, twigs and mud and water. It looks like that only it consists of garbage, turd, batteries, rat carcasses— pretty much every thing you can think of. It’s frickin’ gnarly.


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