Tales from the underground

The aging New York City Subway still has some magic left

Roads Report Article February 05, 2019
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David Matthews

When the New York City Subway opened in 1904, it was considered an engineering and architectural marvel.

 

Today it’s one of the oldest public transit systems in existence and, due to years of neglect and financial mismanagement, is showing its age.

 

While the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) struggles to keep the crumbling subway system running, two art students are reframing it as an anthropological history museum.

 

As part of their “MTA Museum” project, the anonymous artists have been placing small cardboard signs that resemble museum labels throughout subway stations in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

 

The titles and descriptions on the placards playfully portray the deteriorating details of the subway stations as fine works of art.

 

For example, a well-worn wooden bench was titled “Untitled / Butt Pattern” and described as “a political statement on transit and the concept of rest.”

 

A trash can rechristened “Odd-Man-Out” was said to be “purposefully designed with a small aperture to ensure that more trash would collect on the exterior than on the interior. The resulting effect is a powerful statement on human apathy and poor aim.”

 

MTA spokesman Shams Tarek told The New York Times that the agency was “flattered by the parody,” but also that the agency would remove “unauthorized postings” at stations.

 

On the right track

In addition to being one of the oldest, the New York City Subway also is one of the longest, busiest and most confusing metro systems in the world.

 

It’s no wonder that so many frustrated and frazzled passengers take to Twitter to post desperate pleas for help.

 

To their surprise, those Tweets are often answered—not by the MTA, but by a 21-year-old unemployed Bronx man dubbed the “Saint of the Subways.”

 

Derrick Richard fell in love with the subway when he was just two. He started studying subway maps in 2001 and has been helping passengers on Twitter since 2014.

 

Most days at 6 a.m., Richard begins monitoring Tweets from riders who are late, lost or just fed up, and responds with specific, up-to-date information, or even alternative routes.

 

On weekends, when there are often confusing service changes, he’ll even visit busy stations with printouts to help perplexed riders.

 

His replies are so accurate and quick that even the MTA has taken notice.

 

“We wonder when he sleeps,” NYC Transit’s chief customer officer Sarah Meyer told the New York Daily News. “His dedication to fellow New Yorkers is beyond admirable.”

 

Riders appreciate the help, too, replying to Richard with messages like “Amazing I get a response from you but not from @NYCTSubway,” and “The @MTA should put a check in the mail for you.”

 

Richard is hoping for more than just a check from the MTA. He’s currently studying to become an MTA conductor, a job he’s dreamed of having since he was four.

 

As you wish

Derrick Richard isn’t the only person bringing relief to subway commuters.

 

For the past year, a self-proclaimed wizard has been granting wishes on the New York subway.

 

A couple nights each week, 32-year-old Devin Person dons a green robe and matching pointy hat and rides the subway with a sign that says “Talk to the Wizard. Because no one meets a wizard by accident.”

 

People ask Person for everything from money to love to new jobs.

 

Person doesn’t grant wishes on the spot—after all he’s a wizard, not a genie. “What I’m offering is a moment to. . . think about things differently,” he explained to the New York Post. “Maybe [the person will] take an action that they wouldn’t have otherwise.”

 

Some riders have come to believe in Person’s powers. “People have followed up with me where crazy coincidences happened after they had their wizard interaction,” he said.

 

Of course, there are some wishes that not even a subway wizard can grant, like the time when a man asked Person to get the Knicks into the NBA playoffs. “There’s a difference between a wish and a miracle,” Person clarifies.

 

About the author: 
Matthews has been chronicling the unexpectedly humorous side of transportation news since 2000. The stories are all true.
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