My current book-in-progress is Gary Shteyngart’s “Super Sad True Love Story,” a cautionary tale about the paranoid, technologically advanced/obsessed dystopian New York we might inherit in ten or twenty years if things keep up the way they’re going. Our hero, Lenny, with a “slightly dangerous body mass index of 23.9” and a propensity to read books (the kind you hold in your hand and manually turn pages), falls in love with the daughter of Korean immigrants, the smart, troubled, 80-pound Eunice Park.
Right now the unlikely couple is headed out to bar called Cervix in Staten Island (no one hangs out in Manhattan anymore) to meet Lenny’s friends. The multiple check points they pass through, the interrogations and the searches they must undergo simply to travel from one borough to another, made me wonder how anyone in the future could get anywhere in a timely fashion.
Future? What am I talking about? I was running late for an audition YESTERDAY when I raced down the steps into the subway. A small crowd had formed at each of the two turnstiles. People were swiping their cards, only to be denied entrance. Please swipe again, the meter read.Please swipe again. I rolled my eyes. Did no one know how to swipe their darn card? After the two ladies in front of me abandoned their efforts, I stepped up and swiped my card.Please swipe again. I did. Please swipe again. Okay, I thought, maybe there really is something wrong here. I went to the other turnstile, waited my turn, and swiped.Just used, the meter informed me. I nearly screamed.
I peered through the bars blocking me from the mostly-empty subway platform. Wasn’t there some sympathetic soul with a working subway card to open the damn gate? Uh, no. Just a tall, thin, hunched man in a grey hoodie. I considered my other options.
I rushed to buy a one-ride card for $2.25. Unfortunately, the machine was not accepting cash, credit/debit/EBT, or coins. I wanted to scream: What ARE you accepting?? Cartoon steam was pouring out of my ears when I heard a voice.
“You just need a $2 swipe?”
I turned to see- the tall grey sweatshirt guy! He had come to my rescue after all! I nodded gratefully and passed him $2 as he took a ticket from a stack of Metrocards, swiped me through to the platform, and proceeded to offer his “help” to the next frustrated commuter.
Geez, I thought. That’s some scam that guy’s running. He must steal people’s Metrocards, manipulate the machines, and then illegally sell rides to desperate travlers. I shook my head at the fraudulent world we live in, at the helpless victims of Metrocard theft, at my own guilt for haven benefitted from this mess. Then I jumped on the train, pulled out “Super Sad True Love Story” and promptly forgot about it.
In Lenny’s New York, the MTA has been privatized. Wanting to impress Eunice on their first date, he pays an extra $10 per ticket for the privilege of riding on the comfy couches in the quiet Business Class car. No panhandlers, musicians or break dancers here! Just luxurious transportation, clean and simple.
As lovely as this sounds, I couldn’t help but agree with Shteyngart’s implicit belief that Business Class is to be RESISTED! The world of the book is clearly dystopian, not utopian, and an L ride without the chaos (and 200 loud, smelly strangers), would hardly feel authentically New York. The madness, the clashing, the unpleasant surprises, this is the New York underground that I love.
Two hours and a dozen errands later, I ran down a different set of subway steps at Union Square. I opened up my wallet to grab for my Metrocard, only to feel the bottom drop out of my stomach: my $104 Metrocard was gone.
It couldn’t be. I searched my pockets, my wallet, my bag, my coat. I checked my book, my wallet again, my shopping bag. Nothing. I knewthat guy was running a scam. I just never imagined that it could happen to me, swindled out of $104.
The train arrived. I got on. Someone offered me a seat. I accepted. A little girl in a tiara screamed until her mother passed her a cell phone to play with. I took a few deep breaths and began to feel strangely proud.
I had been robbed. One step closer to being a real New Yorker!