Saturday, November 04, 2006

Wandering Monster

I TAKE THE TRAIN in and out of the city each workday. Others settle for just the tracks.

While entering the 14th Street PATH station this week, I passed two street people on their way out. Both wore layers of dirty clothing, disintegrating shoes, and heavy facial hair. They also carried huge garbage bags over their shoulders. Not an uncommon sight in New York City, though usually not in the PATH stations, because the range of transit through the city is far more limited than via the New York Subway proper.

For those unfamiliar with the PATH tubes, the far wall of the station is lined with shallow niches. Some of them are open and join with the tracks on the other side, permitting pipes, wires, and workers to pass through. Also, evidently, street people.

As I took a place on the platform, a third street person emerged through one of those open nooks. Keep in mind that the third rail hugs the far wall as well. I watched — never having seen someone get electrocuted before — as this guy stepped with practiced ease over the shielded third rail, walked casually to the platform edge even as a train approached down the tunnel, and heaved first his bundle and then himself up onto the main floor. He then strode out the turnstile to join his comrades as casually as if he had debarked the train that screeched to a halt in the space he had just traversed.

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