"Attention, police. Attention, police," said an extremely calm voice over the loudspeaker at Atlantic Avenue. "Your presence is needed on the uptown 5 train holding in the station at Nevins due to suspicious activity. Attention, police."
The doors on my 2 train close and the mysterious voice is sealed out. We move to the next stop which is Nevins Street, where I assume I'll catch a glimpse of the po-po and so-called suspicious activity.
Level one suspicious: The smart-looking businessman with his hand down his pants a la Al Bundy while staring at a pretty woman on the 4 train. (Aside: she snapped his suggestive pose with her camera phone and his photo was blasted over the front page of the Post the next day. Explain that to your wife, buddy.) Level ten suspicious: Staring through the train door window while a firefighter on an otherwise abandoned West 4th Street platform stares back at me. He's in full gear complete with oxygen mask shaking his head and waving the train conductor not to open the doors.
Am I concerned about the activity at Nevins Street? I really can't afford to be. If something truly horrible were occurring, what exactly could I do about it hundreds of feet underground and somewhat trapped inside a metal can? I think this is why New Yorkers are so good at what we like to call "business as usual."
And that, Ken Wheaton said in his essay in the Subway Chronicles book, is due to conditioning. "We've simply reached and are able to maintain a transcendent state of subway existence. After all, if a New Yorker did start considering all the things that could possibly go wrong, he'd never get to work."
It's rather Zen, if you think about it. Whatever goes down, the subway commuter's brain is always in the present. A few years back, my stepdad stepped in front of a suspect who was trying to evade the lone cop chasing him down the Jay St./Borough Hall platform and pinned him on the stairs leading to the street. Once back-up arrived, we boarded the next arriving F train and never talked about it again. There is no dwelling on the "what ifs."
My train arrives at Nevins and the voice again says, "Attention, police," as if he were announcing a golf game. I look through the window to see what I can see. Absolutely nothing. There's no police, no suspicious activity, no firemen on the platform (though I would not be entirely upset about this. It must be a job requirement that all FDNY recruits rate in the "Oh my god" category of the hot department. They have a calendar. Here's one more reason not to ban photography on the subway.)
Where was I?
Right - the non-existent suspicious activity. My train moves on to Hoyt Street, and one stop closer to the office, back to business as usual.