Thursday, November 5, 2009

Stuck Underground

image via

On the way home from a comedy show last night, our L train unexpectedly lost power and was deterred underground for an entire hour. Not only were we underground, but we were under the river, halfway between the 1st Avenue and Bedford stops. It was terrifying.

At first, the train was stopped for a few normal minutes, which we barely noticed through our chatting. Then, as we began crawling forward again, the train came to a quick, screeching halt--the emergency brakes had been pulled. I had never heard that sound before on a train and was instantly convinced there was disaster ahead. I turned to my companions, who were somehow so calm despite the sound, and asked if they had ever heard that noise on a train before. Billy apparently had been on a subway car once that was held underground for 20 minutes and eventually MTA workers with flashlights arrived to escort people who wanted to leave out through the tunnel. (Billy opted to wait it out.)

My eyes began to scan the train car trying to decipher whether I'd be able to fit my body through the tiny open window or if we'd be able to smash through any of the glass. Yes, I was panicked. It didn't help when someone said, "What if we just saw water slowly inching up over the windows?" That was it for me. Worse still was the discovery that the tunnel underwater was too narrow for us even to walk alongside were we to have to escape. The walls were an arm's length away from the subway car.

After about 20 minutes, the air circulation shut off and I was hot, not to mention thirsty. I scanned the train car again, the first episode of Lost haunting my memory, and tried to eye people with water bottles with whom I'd eventually have to wrestle for a sip. Soon, the main lights flickered and turned out. (The car was only half-lit, not pitch dark. But can you imagine? It would have turned into the scariest war zone.) Over the next 40 minutes, the other passengers were getting pretty restless and angry. The calmest ones were those with books. One guy was reading All the Pretty Horses, another The Life of Pi. I wish I had my book. I wish I had my water bottle. Of all the times I ride that very subway train, this was the rare occasion that I wasn't lugging around my enormous black carry-all that is intended for my work clothes, but is then additionally loaded up with things I thought were useless junk, but are actually subway emergency necessities: water bottles, bananas, string cheese, granola bars, notepad, book, 5 magazines, cards, you get the picture. My only saving grace, aside from my brave companions, was a crossword that I dutifully brought with me. Still, I could only concentrate on it intermittently, between bouts of claustrophobia and anxiety.

After an hour (OK, maybe I rounded that up from 50 minutes), we finally crawled into the station and I jumped out of my seat as if I never wanted to sit down on a train again. I stood with my nose nearly pressed against the doors and was the first one to jump off when they opened. This story has no lesson, since I'm obviously going to have to get back on that train this afternoon when I head to work. But maybe I've learned to no longer complain about my heavy, junk-filled day-bag. That thing could be a lifesaver one day.


Jen @ follow my bliss said...

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! This is horrible. I'm so glad it wasn't longer. (The "wait" it "out" links made me lol.)

Frankly, I'm surprised William didn't pass out. He'll tell you it's because of his blood sugar, but it's really because it's a big baby.

JC said...

Holy. That is one of my biggest NYC fears--I generally have to tune out whenever the subway goes underwater, otherwise I start freaking out. The L is the worst, too--it's such a haul between 1st and Bedford.