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The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School's Literary Magazine, 1929-1942

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2,000 Miles on the I.R.T.

By Stanley Pansky, '40

The Magpie, January 1940, v. 24, n. 1, p. 62.

THIS is, in reality, a travel story. It passes on a vast store of knowledge gained while traveling 2,000 miles. However, I shall not boast of this mileage; I shall, instead, spread the knowledge I have gained, so that young boys who are starting out now to be semi-commuters, may profit by my experience.

The serious traveler first picks out a regular train, which he studiously misses for the next four years. My regular train reaches Burnside Station at 7:41, while I regularly reach the station at 7:46. However, it is nice to know that I can enter school at a sedate walk, instead of sprinting up three flights of stairs. The 7:46 is technically the Sardine Special, for it gets both Clintonites and Waltonites to school a minute before the bell. I will discuss the technique involved in using the 7:46 and then go on to tell how special problems can be met.

THE 7:46

The real old-timer starts his preparations the night before by making resolutions to get up when the alarm rings, and to catch the 7:41. He is firmly set against any laziness, and he will get to the station with plenty of time to spare. Then he is off to dreamland. "What a liar," sneers Morpheus.

Comes the dawn, and with it a horrible combination of steam whistle and Rebel yell known to the trade as a Medium Trill No. 7 Alarm. We, the oldtimer, stick our hand out and subdue the instrument, and then retire to the pleasant warmth beneath the covers. Our brain, fickle as always, forgets the last night's excellent resolutions. The heck with getting to school early. We will get up at the regular time and enjoy those God-given minutes in bed.

Five minutes later, something clicks. Our body describes a graceful parabola as it shoots forth from the bed. Our face bears the numb, idiotic look of the early riser. The shower wakes us up. We dress, and then dash into the kitchen for a minimum of breakfast. We would impair our efficiency if we ate too much. Unconsciously, as we increase the pace, tension is being built up. We grab our books and shoot forth from the house, looking somewhat like a Malay running amok. All we'd need for that would be a bloody kris. Starting off at a distance-eating dogtrot, we gradually work into a dead run. A block from the station we can see the downtown train pulling out, which means we have just thirty seconds. As we get to the stairs, we can hear the old familiar rumble which heralds the arrival of the Sardine Special. Up the stairs in a jiffy, nickel in the slot, through the turnstile, and out onto the platform in time to grab a closing door! There is my method; you may follow or modify it as you see fit.

SPECIAL SITUATIONS WHICH MAY BE MET WITH, AND WHAT TO DO

Suppose you find the trip boring. You can have quite a little fun on the train. For instance, if you are on the platform at the end of the train, you will notice that there are chains between the cars. An end of one of these can be unhooked and dropped into a nearby coat pocket. This will undoubtedly cause the person a good deal of trouble when he attempts to leave the train. It is apt to end in a scene, however, and is not for the beginner.

Suppose you miss the 7:46? Suppose you take the steps three at a time charge through the turnstile and out onto the platform, only to be greeted by just closed doors and a hundred sneering faces. The sap who missed the train. You can almost hear their thoughts.

Such moments are given us to prove Man is on a higher plane than the animals. Don't stand, half-crouched, looking like a trapped gorilla. Don't rush up and down, clawing and pounding at steel doors. Restrain yourself. When you shoot forth upon the platform and kind yourself stymied, stop short like a polo-pony. Turn nonchalantly. Lean against a post and start reading your Cicero. Show them you can take it.

HOMEWARD BOUND

We are on the way station again, only this time we are trekking homeward. The train comes, and we elbow our way in, keeping away from thin men, for they usually have very sharp elbows. The doors slide shut, and the train picks up speed. Lurching drunkenly, the parade of aisle walkers begins to file past. We are off.

We would like to know more about these aisle walkers. As the train leaves the station, they begin filing silently past, each man pressing forward with his eyes fastened on the neck of the man before him, and disappearing into the next car. Where do they go? What do they seek? Does the next car forward beckon them forever onward with the fatal lure of a Lorelei, until they walk off the front end of the train and are dashed to their deaths? Those are questions which only the future may answer. In the drowsiness induced by a hard day's work in school, our tired eyes are drawn to the parallel rows of pretty young girls who adorn the subway ads. They look so happy and innocent, these young girls. It is hard to realize that they are being menaced on all sides by sour stomach, acid skin. and receding gums. In times such as these we can see how uncertain life is.

The most dangerous hazard which can be met with in I.R.T. travel is the subway drunk. This form of pest can be discouraged only if you can convince him that he is not disturbing you. If you cannot convince him, Heaven help you. When he points you out to the other delighted passengers as the assassinator of Lincoln, grin engagingly. When he discourses acidly upon the shape of your nose and the color of your tie, laugh good naturedly with the rest of them. If you are able to bore him, he will merely go to sleep in your lap. After that has happened, you can dump him off at any time without waking him. Then, if you are the type who carries rancor within his breast, you may kick him gently as you are about to leave the train. Hobnailed boots are recommended for that sort of thing.

Do not be too sure at any time that you have completely mastered the difficult art of I.R.T. travel. There is always the unexpected situation which may arise, and which can be met only by the cunning born of long experience, so Happy Traveling, and Think Fast.




The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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