January 12, 2012

Subway Trash, Explained

One of the joys of living in New York City is the mass transit system. You can get anywhere in the five boroughs at any time of day. (Well, there will be a long spooky wait at night — I composed half of “Spy Rules” in my head waiting for the 7 Train at 2 a.m. many nights — but you’ll get there.) My daily commutes and side trips are like mobile cocktail parties with an ever-changing guest list.

For the most part, people consider the subway an extension of their tiny apartments. There’s a delicate ballet to let people on and off and to keep from getting extra personal during rush-hour crams. It mainly works pretty well.  But there are those moments when you begin to take a seat and realize it’s layered in trash. Most of the time, it’s the remains of someone’s fast-food feast.

Last week, I caught my downtown C and slid onto a seat opposite a short husky woman in a black parka who was eating ravenously. She was businesslike with her multi-course Mickey D. At the end of her meal, she collated, placing wrappers thus and small bags within larger ones. At 50th Street, I glanced up and she was waiting for the doors to open as the train slammed to a halt. The parka could now be identified by the patch on the shoulder: MTA. Panning left, I saw her food detritus — McD bag and medium drink — sitting on the floor  where she had sat. A stray wrapper sat on the bench. Really? I thought. A subway worker trashing the subway?

As the doors parted and she fled the scene, I noticed a garbage can placed not three steps from the train doors.