Riding the Poo-Train, Literally

23 Jan

Bright lights, big city

If you’re my Facebook friend, you know that this week was especially traumatic. My birthday (the big 3-6) is creeping up in a few weeks, and with it, my California driver’s license is set to expire. I’ve been dragging my feet about the whole New York thing, one moment extolling the virtues of all this culture and energy right outside my doorstep, and another moment bemoaning the frigid temperatures, the virtual impossibility of getting Ruffles Cheddar and Sour Cream potato chips at my local grocer’s.

So I kept waiting, wondering if I could get away with just renewing my California license. Here’s the big bad of waiting though:  eventually you run out of time. This week I researched how to renew my license by mail. Turns out you need to file six weeks prior to your expiration date, rather than my two weeks out. Fark.

So on Wednesday I trudged out to the NYS DMV at Herald Square, which apparently is the only place in Manhattan where an out-of-stater like myself can swap her old license for a New York one. Now, the California DMV system suck balls just as much as all the others, but at least they allow you to choose an appointment time online.  No such luck in New York City, where it seems as though they’ve designed the process to maximize your potential time suckage.

First of all, the office is hidden in a mall, perhaps the only mall in Manhattan, directly above a Modell’s Sporting Goods. I emerged from the subway stop at Herald Square and wandered about, blinking, for a good ten minutes. All around me, signs for JC Penney and Footlocker, Charlotte Russe and Victoria’s Secret pulsed and spangled with their bright florescent banners.

Once I found the entrance, wedged between Staples and Footlocker, I followed the DMV signage to a bank of smelly elevators in the back corner.  Large signs cautioned “no more than 10 people on elevator please.” I held my breath up to the eighth floor and tried not to make eye contact with my fellow passengers.

Granted, I’d made a late start and it was now 12:40pm, but there was a line of people out the door. Or rather, out one set of doors. Having absorbed the Manhattan lesson that one should squeeze to the front if there is space to squeeze, I went in through one of the other doors. These people were waiting in the information line. Had they not heard about the internet, where all the forms and confusing instructions are posted? I stopped an employee wandering through the stuffy room. Did I have all my forms completed? Of course. She pointed me to the other line, snaking down the center of the room, about fifty people deep.

By this point, I was sweating in my down blanket aka winter coat and feverishly shed whatever I could. Strangely, no one else seemed warm.  Just comatose with boredom. The woman in front of me, a French-sounding college type, asked to borrow a pen. Had she not filled out her forms? When I produced my green felt-tip, she faltered. Was she allowed to use a green pen, she asked. I shrugged (was I a friggin’ DMV employee?). She waved my offending pen away. Later, she turned toward me again and asked my height. Was this woman seriously going to use me to estimate her own height? Apparently so.

Luckily my fears about the DMV employees was unwarranted. They were all efficient, professional. It took one hour to get through the first line, where I presented my paperwork for stamping and had my photo taken. I spent another hour waiting for my number to be called, so I could hand over my stamped paperwork, squint at the eye chart, and pay my fee.

I am now the sheepish possessor of a temporary New York State license.  My official one should be here in two weeks.

Now comes the crappy part…literally. Since I was just blocks from Koreatown, I stopped into my favorite new kimbab place and ordered some rolls to go, then maneuvered my way back to the subway. As the train approached, we all began to jockey for position on the crowded platform. Rush hour was about to start and I could tell the train was a little full, but then I spied a somewhat empty car, which came to a stop right before me. I shuffled on with the others and quickly snagged a seat. Then I turned my head towards the (now registering in my brain) oddly empty righthand side of the train. Which is when I saw the crap. Literally. On the floor. Just below the end of the far bench. Oozing towards the door from the train’s jostling movement.

I have joked about the dirtiness of this city, written about its pungent aromas and people. But shit on the train. What the hell is going on? To add insult to injury, the man directly across from me began to hack, as though aliens were about to burst from his chest. I couldn’t really blame him. We were sitting on the shit train after all. But I was trying desperately not to breath. I couldn’t imagine willfully mouth-breathing, all that poo-ey effervescence flooding into my unguarded throat. The rest of us clung to our end of the train, scarcely looking at each other or the poo. At the next station, which took eons to reach, we all flooded out, gulping sooty station air, racing to the adjacent, hopefully crap-free car.

I could barely wait to tell CityBoy the story, and we howled and clutched at each other in our kitchen, me miming my astonished look of discovery, him recalling how this was unfortunately not the only poo-in-the-city sighting he knew of. When we’d calmed down, I told him again how I couldn’t believe it, how I especially couldn’t believe that I didn’t notice until it was too late. CityBoy turned to me and explained that I wasn’t quite a New Yorker yet, because as everyone knows, you always avoid the mysteriously empty car.

Keep your eyes open, people.

– Jho


2 Responses to “Riding the Poo-Train, Literally”

  1. Farid Ali January 23, 2010 at 1:28 pm #

    I once had the misfortune of stepping on shit as I walked between subway cars one night while the train was in motion. Thank God I didn’t slip.

  2. jhointhecity January 23, 2010 at 8:03 pm #

    That’s one reason why I don’t walk between the cars. That, plus I’m a big scared-y cat.

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