Post-Traumatic Strike Disorder
One New Yorker's heroic struggle to commute to work.
Let me preface this by saying that my morning commute normally takes less than three minutes. I live a block and a half from work. During the recent transit strike, however, it took me 39 hours. How can I even begin to evoke for you the epic drama of my journey—an adventure that carried me past the edge of reason and into the deepest pit of my soul? How can human language pretend to contain the punishing metaphysical hell-blister of my struggle?
Over the course of the three days of the strike, I walked barefoot through all five boroughs and urinated powerfully in every major waterway in the tri-state area. I crossed the Brooklyn Bridge nine times, often with a German shepherd sitting on my shoulders. At a bus terminal in Maine, where I was waiting for a shuttle back to Times Square, I lost six teeth to a gypsy cab driver in an illicit game of chance. I rode from Staten Island to Queens on a tandem bicycle with a paraplegic homeless man. I watched a group of rats—forced out of the subways by the sudden lack of fresh garbage—pile themselves into a 6-foot mound, put on a police uniform, and direct pedestrians into a manhole. I hotwired a police car. I traded one of my kidneys for a sip of hot chocolate. I delivered a premature baby in the back of a sinking catamaran. I had my tongue pierced in a Zoroastrian ritual while rappelling down the Chrysler Building. I became fluent in a dialect of German spoken exclusively by a colony of anarchist street dentists squatting in the nave of St. Patrick's Cathedral. I made love, against my will, to a styrofoam effigy of Mayor Bloomberg. By the time I got to work, nearly three days late, I had missed the office Christmas party and my job had been outsourced to Philadelphia.
The single largest obstacle to commuting during the transit strike was the mass of reporters asking questions about the difficulty of commuting during the transit strike. They formed a solid line, 30 deep in some places, that sealed off every major traffic artery. News vans clogged Broadway from North Harlem to the southern tip of Battery Park. Cameramen filled the trees. The mayor's media contingency plan, which required reporters in Manhattan to interview at least four people simultaneously, only increased the commotion. Journalists spoke to everything that moved, and the sound of their hundreds of millions of questions formed a powerful soporific drone that overwhelmed car engines and echoed off of buildings. Commuters fainted from the noise, only to wake up surrounded by microphones. "Excuse me, ma'am, I can't help but notice that you have regained consciousness. Can you describe for the audience at home your harrowing commute through the realm of non-being?" A coworker of mine, after pulling a rickshaw for nearly 300 miles, stopped a few steps from his front door to tell a reporter what time it was; before he could escape he had been sucked into an interview: "How has the strike changed the way you feel about the issue of class and/or race in America?" asked a reporter from the Times. "Excuse me, sir," said a reporter from the Post. "How many points do you think this cowardly sissy strike will boost President Bush's approval rating?"The man was passed from one news team to the next until, after several hours, he disappeared into the throng. His family is still looking for him, though they do see him frequently on television.
In the end, the strike was worth every hardship—the lost revenue, the puncture wounds, the staph infection—if only because it reminded us once again of the incredible resilience of every single New Yorker in the history of the world, including myself. People from Santa Fe would undoubtedly have committed mass suicide in the face of such a crisis. Midwesterners would have run away screaming and vomiting out of despair and thrown themselves into the nearest unfrozen river. Even Bostonians, wrapped in polar fleece and warmed by space heaters and roaring fires, would have succumbed to frostbite in an hour. Every New Yorker I spoke with, including myself, agreed that our tremendous spirit is a heartwarming beacon of inspiration to humanity. I am only glad that our suffering, like Christ's, could coincide with the holidays.
Sam Anderson is a writer living in New York. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photograph of New Yorkers during strike by Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images.