Miss(ed) Manners

May 6, 2005

Miss(ed) Manners: The Second Avenue Shuffle

Filed under: Column — missedmanners @ 4:03 pm

Omigod, omigod, omigod, if I get on that other train across the platform I might get to wherever I’m going a full one minute earlier! Maybe Mr. Wellington, my charming, father figure of a boss will notice and I’ll get that 2% raise that I’ve been pining after which will let me start putting money down on a condo in Florida, where I’ll spend time with my grandkids, assuming Susie says yes and we get married, but it’s all for not if I don’t get to work sixty seconds earlier!

That’s only what I can assume was going through Mr. Scruffy McThroatbeard’s head as we sat at the Second Avenue Station, staring across the platform at an idling V train.

Neck hair and silly obsessions with commute shortening notwithstanding, I’ve got something to say about the V train. It sucks. Any rider of the J train will agree with this. The V makes its lazy way through Manhattan’s most affluent sections only to stop a few blocks short of connecting thousands of people to the only train they can take home. Fortunately for everyone, they’re mostly poor people, so it really doesn’t matter.

Its terminus is Second Avenue, home of those with the means to live in the most nasally obtuse and culturally devoid section of New York good only for drinking and stumbling, the East Village. This could all just be my bitterness built up over a couple of years of watching aging hipsters sitting on an empty train heading home after a long day working at their “Branding Strategy” job, or some other absolutely pointless avenue of life.

So there we were, sitting at 2nd Avenue. If your reading comprehension is a little off I’ll explain how this station works in a completely roundabout and less simple manner. Train A (the F train) comes into the station PACKED with people from Brooklyn direct and by way of the J train (Train C, not further mentioned here). Train B (the V train) exists solely for the good of East Village twits, is sitting there, lights on and completely empty. Train A and Train B will sit and stare at each other for a few minutes, sometimes there’s a whistle and there’s definitely urban tumbleweed.

Every once in a blue moon there’s an announcement telling the passengers of Train A which train is going to be leaving the station first, thereby initiating a mass exodus of people like McThroatbeard. However usually there is no announcement and we begin the seductive dance that is known as The Second Avenue Shuffle.

Have you ever thrown a firecracker at a herd of cows? For those of you lacking the sadistic wilderness upbringing I’ve had I’ll explain this slightly more subtle effect.

Basically everyone starts looking around, waiting for someone to jump ship to the other train. No one really has any fucking clue which train is going to leave first, so the idiot mob looks among its ranks for a sign, because obviously someone on the train has a direct neuro-cannula link to the train dispatch hub and that miniature dude in the cowboy boots knows what’s up.

To make the situation even more complicated there are actually people who need to transfer to Train B (V Train) to get wherever they’re going, so they don’t really care which train leaves first.

When one person takes off, the F train empties like a room full of scapegoat farting dogs. That’s round one of the shuffle. Sometimes it ends after just one round, I do a dosi-do around the pole in my now empty train and fifty percent of the time we end up taking off first.

But not the day Scruffy was on the train. I had originally taken the picture of him to be part of a column outlining my feelings on Neck Beards. As it turns out, my feelings are pretty simple; I think they make you look like a pioneer’s retarded brother who’d been in a horrible badger skinning accident.

No man, the day that Scruffy was on the train we had a full FIVE rounds of the Shuffle. For some reason unbeknownst to us both trains were being held at the station for about twenty minutes. Twenty minutes standing in an unmoving train breeds Cold War era levels of paranoia. People would move from one train to the other once every few minutes, I’m being absolutely serious.

As the simpering mass of slack jawed sheep meandered back and forth those of us who were sitting or standing in either train A or B couldn’t help but start laughing. Side of the mouth grins turned to all out laughter as the crowd came back to us for the third time. By the fifth we just began feeling bad for them, they weren’t in control of their own bodies. When they’d come back there was this look of absolute defeat, but when they left, they seemed to roll their own eyes at themselves, like it wasn’t up to them that they were bounding back and forth across the platform.

Eventually we got moving and I think the V train actually went ahead first with half of the now broken and demoralized herd. Those who’d participated in the idiot dance stood around, red faced. Quietly embarrassed and hopeful no one noticed their silly behavior, like the silent drunk who spills his drink all over himself two beers in and tries to use his jacket to cover the stain. Trust me, everyone noticed.

There are so many issues in just this one tiny facet of moronic group behavior I don’t really know where to begin. On one hand I understand that following a group of people implies your trust in the general goodness of Man. On the other hand, it’s a train, it will get you where you need to go, and getting on the train in front is only going to save you sixty seconds.

What on earth could be so important that you need sixty seconds more in your office? Is that Custom Order Form Company giveaway calendar you’ve got tacked to the fabric lining of your cubicle going be extra pleasing during those sixty seconds?

My advice to Scruffy is the same advice I’ve always had for everyone trying to get anywhere faster than they need to: Relax, you’ll get there. No amount of lane changing, train hopping or running is going to make a difference in your day and certainly not in your life.

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