Today is the 110th anniversary of the opening of the first underground segment of the New York City Subway System.
Whenever I go to Manhattan, the subway is how I get around. I think I’ve only been in a New York cab once. Everything about the taxi experience was troubling and question-producing. Will we get where we’re going? What will it cost? Does this driver really have a license? Are we going to die?
Compared to that, the subway is a paragon of predictability. The noise, the crowds, the graffiti and the unsavory smells of the underground train are exactly what I expect to find there, and because I’ve anticipated them, they are nothing more than minor inconveniences. And apparently I’m not alone. The NYC Subway system is setting ridership records. On six separate days in September, more than six million people used the subway.
You can see in this image from 1904 that the NYC Subway had a fresh look at the beginning. It makes me think of a Disney World ride – clean, attractive and harmless. I expect to see a jolly little choo-choo come puffing around that bend any moment, brimming with charming characters. But of course there is no connection – the Disney rides were built on the popularity of a cartoon mouse, while the NYC Subway system has the Norway Rat as its totem animal.
Those rats were tested recently. Researchers at Columbia University found that the subway rats carry around disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and single-celled organisms in amazing numbers, much in the same way subway cars carry all different types of unsavory humans around. There were 30 viral species, including a 18 viruses that were previously unknown to man.
Among the many rat-borne delights – the Seoul Hantavirus, which causes an Ebola-like hemorrhagic fever.
And yet – next time I go to New York, I will take the subway as my first transportation choice. Yes, there are risks, but a prudent traveler can manage these ordinary hazards with a few simple rules.
- Don’t put your feet on the seats.
- One seat per customer.
- Don’t make eye contact.
- Don’t lick any surfaces.
- Don’t make eye contact with, or lick, any Norway Rats.
- Enjoy your ride!
What’s your favorite mode of transport?