“PAY YOUR FARE!”
Yelling “Pay Your Fare!” through a garbled speaker is usually all the token booth clerk can summon when they see you sneak through the subway turnstiles to catch a train. Sometimes they call the police though. You don’t want that. Nobody needs that. The MTA is horrible at all forms of communication. When it’s time for them to give out special directions for changes in the routes, all you hear is mysterious garbled whispering from a weak speaker above you. The other version is when the speaker is way too loud, and the conductor repeats himself way too much, just leaving you with a heavy skull. Ask an MTA employee in person how to handle a route change, and they look at you like you’re crazy and brush past you. My bad. A fourth version, the one I truly despise, is the pre-recorded message.
“We apologize for any inconvenience.”
A RECORDING IS NOT A REAL APOLOGY.
Back in the day I always observed people sneaking on the train and getting away with it. I’ll never forget this one kid who did a super fast Yoga master body bend as he slinked through a turnstile like the liquid metal terminator in Terminator 2. I even saw a Mom hustle through with her two kids once, telling them to stay quiet and keep it moving. How hard could it be?
I decided to make my move on a transfer from the NYC Subway to the Path train to New Jersey. I was on the edge at the time, living at the Jersey City YMCA. It was around 4AM. A quick vetting of the area revealed no cops or subway personal. I only made eye contact with an older Indian guy in one of those mini-bodegas you see underground. He looked at me suspiciously, with a judgment vibe. He didn’t like what I was about to do, but why would he care? I surmised that his threat was minimal. The train wasn’t pulling in yet, but my time was now. I jumped the turnstile and headed to the center of the platform. Nobody saw me. At the center of the platform was another bodega guy. He also gave me the stink-eye. He made a phone call while looking at me sternly. What’s up with these two?
Here come two true-blue members of the NYPD. One from either side of the platform. They walk up to the bodega guy who points right at me. They turn and look at me, and stride in my direction. My feet are rooted to the floor.
“You think you’re pretty slick eh? Let’s see some I.D.”
That, my friends is called the dry-snitch. The Bodega guys did me proper, maybe to accrue favor with the Cops. I saw one of them peeing in a bottle as I was led away to meet my fate.
The next level comes from a good friend of mine, who relayed his personal story about getting busted jumping the turnstile. His story is open brutality. My friend and his buddy were on their way to a family birthday party and found themselves without tokens. They were Black. They tried to make the jump to lightspeed and got cold busted by two cops. The Cops decided to teach them a lesson in submission. They took them to a bathroom that looked like it was out of service. (Yes, the NYC Subway had bathrooms back then.) As soon as they went inside, they were blasted with a wall of nasty that make them sick. The Bathroom hadn’t been cleaned in weeks, maybe even months. The Cops proceeded to handcuff both of my friends hands to a pipe above his head. That’s when his friend made a crucial error.
He dared to rise up and speak to the Cops.
“This is fucked up. You can’t do this.”
The Cop in charge instantly discharged any sense of emotional intelligence.
“REALLY? I CAN’T DO WHAT?!”
That’s when they told him to get down on his knees in front of a blown out toilet bowl.
“Wrap your hands around the bowl.”
He tried to twist his neck around, but his face was now in the bowl.
That’s when they handcuffed his hands around it.
And left them there for three hours.
These days you can’t even move between Subway cars. As usual, being Black makes you a target. Last year I got a call for a gig because my friend the late great Roy Campbell couldn’t make it. The hit was in two hours. Turns out Roy was arrested for moving between two subway cars. The Cops dismissed his notion that he was on his way to perform at a concert. Push the cops too far, and they are licensed to kill without consequence.
Welcome to the Subway Drama column at No Sound Left Behind.
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We have no other way to go but up.
For Craig Brooks