Homeless Train to Nowhere

homeless3(MSCC) John Mudd, July 20, 2015 — In my 30-plus years in New York City, I have yet to see real improvement in our transit system. I’ve seen many changes and fair hikes, cost curbing business investments and upgrades attempting to keep up with the times, like the addition of vending machines and new turnstiles—which effectively cut the work force. The electronic signs do help us navigate our route, but I question whether the ones with maps and information (aka income generating kiosks), which enable corporations to suck me into the consumer vortex, are much of an improvement. Yes, I should have more self-control against mind washing advertisements, but sometimes I can’t help it. I don’t need to watch another idiotic TV show or buy nonessentials that’ll up my credit card bill well beyond my means. Although I find it excessive and even annoying to step onto a train teeming with advertisements, marketing the latest must-see film, it will eventually seep into my psyche and peak my curiosity. The teaser, the decal-covered turnstile warned me of the coming attraction; not that it went unheeded, but I had no alternative route. I’m waiting for iPhone covered booths.

Our public transit system is shameful when compared with France, Japan, China, Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, and Chicago. And those are only the ones that I’ve experienced first hand. We ride daily on our city’s MTA transit system with appalling standards of air quality and cleanliness. In its worse than grungy fine form of late, people are subjected to dirty, slippery floors, congested passageways, slow trains, multiple disruptions of service, and more. I’ve seen two slip and fall accidents, I’ve nearly slipped to my certain death twice, but with the deftness of a drunken one-eyed sailor on a schooner in a tsunami, I was able to dance my way to a handrail to live another day. I always give travel time an extra half-an-hour above the suggested Google app calculation. I understand standards have been set, but they are not acceptable with your trending cost and our trending incomes.

On this particular chilly Saturday morning in its ratty fine form and more appalling than usual: The blue line or more specifically the Queens bound E-train is besieged by homeless, of the likes I’ve never seen before. I quickly count over ten homeless people hiding under blankets, curling up with their wealth of goods, and huddling in corners. Completing the picture are two comrades head to head, stretching across the car’s center seats, stewing in alcohol spiked putrid cologne. This distressing scene encroaches heavily upon my sensibilities and has me sprinting to another car away from the dead-raising pungent odor, even though I’m part of the working class and have used the subway system for years and know I should be accustomed to its vulgarity and its resident homeless by now.

Once out from the bowels of our underground railroad, the homeless still have the power to govern my actions. I find myself scooting to the outer edge of the sidewalk in desperation to be somewhere else; anywhere. I look everywhere but toward the paper cups cradled in the hands of these impoverished souls; I cross streets early to avoid walking past them. I reach for my phone to check the time or emails that I’ve checked only moments before. Voices are whispering in my head, “I just gave a block away. You’re not indigent enough. You’ve got two hands and two feet. You’re still young, you should be working.”

This has been my thinking for years. But the longer I’ve been here the more I’ve begun to think that these people that hang about the fringes of our peripheral have fell into such a decrepit state through no fault of their own. Some are diseased of mind, physically disabled, or both, and many of them do not have the resources or don’t know where to turn for help. And then I think there are others that just didn’t have the stones to fight society’s brutal victimization (but that’s a whole other discussion to be had). I like to think that I’ve found more compassion in my heart for those whose shoes I have not walked in: The homeless deserve much more than a fleeting thought during my morning commute or a self-serving spare change or dollar dropped in a paper cup.

So what will we do for the homeless? Will we alert the many outreach programs that the city offers? Whatever happened to homeless outreach programs anyway? Can we band together and help them end their purposeless wandering during our questionable wandering, and perhaps ignite a worthwhile purpose for us all? Help me to stop ignoring our homeless with a dollar bill! And how will we better the conditions and keep up with the basic maintenance and cleanliness of our walkways, platforms, and subway cars? I would really like to not have the smell of urine assaulting my olfactory zones while I descend beneath our city streets and into the bowels of what is our subway system. We must do more than shuffle back and forth mindlessly on our morning commutes. For Pete’s sake, how can we represent our great city to the world while our public transportation is so ill and forgotten.