About 5 p.m. on a recent sweltering afternoon, I entered the Times Square subway station. Dante's Inferno couldn't have been worse. The platform overflowed with people dripping with sweat in the blistering heat.
An announcement blared: "If you see someone in danger of falling onto the tracks, get help immediately from a transit officer or MTA employee."
A young mother with her baby stroller struggled to pull back from the edge of the track, with no room to maneuver in the crowd. I tried to assist her, then worked my way down the platform looking for help. Not a single transit cop or MTA employee was in sight.
No train had entered the station for five minutes, which seriously worsened the crowding. With assistance from riders, the desperate mother finally pulled the stroller back a bit. Meanwhile, people kept piling down the steps and onto the platform. Why wasn't there a cop or MTA employee stopping them at the top until a train came and created some room?
And why no air conditioning on the stifling platform?
The MTA's answer to that one is that it's "simply not feasible due to the open nature of construction and the impossibility of cooling an infinite space." Got that? But when someone collapses from the heat or is edged onto the tracks, will we be able to find a transit cop, MTA employee or EMS person on the platform?
It feels like the MTA is oblivious. News reports indicate many MTA board members often don't even bother showing up for public hearings. Mayoral candidate Christine Quinn suggests giving the mayor the majority of appointments to the board and the power to pick its leader, to give the city more direct control of our subways. It's worth considering. I know that something has to be done -- fast.
Meanwhile, despite the dangerous overcrowding and oppressive heat, those around me remained remarkably calm and courteous, even keeping their senses of humor.
Exiting the packed train, I pulled out a pad to take notes. A sweaty young guy beside me asked, "How's it feel?" "Uh, hot?" I suggested. "No, how's it feel to be a lefty? Did you know four of our last five presidents were lefties?"
Gotta love New Yorkers. We deserve better.
Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at newyorkgritty.net.