A LEAP OF SHAME
I once asked a British backpacker; ‘What strikes you as the biggest difference between London and Sydney? As it was summer I half expected him to say; ‘The amount of visible female flesh in Sydney’ . However, he surprised me with; ‘Your city train announcements never say; ‘Mind the gap.’ I shuddered, because those words have an embarrassing significance for me.
Arriving in London as a naïve young Tasmanian in the 1970’s I was terrified of becoming trapped in the tube-train doors. I once leaped aboard with such haste that I collided with a disembarking passenger. To my eternal shame the contents of the woman’s shopping bag fell down a particularly wide gap at Edgeware Road. Not surprisingly, she responded to my heartfelt apology with an expression of horror and intense dislike. The thirty seconds until we moved off felt more like thirty minutes.
ADVENTURES IN THE ‘CORE’ OF THE BIG APPLE
Despite having used the subway extensively on a several visits to New York, I haven’t a clue whether ‘gap warnings’ are given. Platform announcements appear to be mumbled through mouthfuls of hotdog. They have always been completely unintelligible to me. However, I understand that before Mayor Giuliani’s crackdown on crime some years ago a more appropriate warning would have been ‘Mind your Back’. Happily, tourists are now more likely to be jabbed between the shoulders by a carelessly held bottle of mineral water than by a switch-blade or the barrel of a handgun.
Riding the New York subway was a breeze I thought, until my old fear of doors was revived by an alarming poster at Penn Station. It read; STAND CLEAR OF CLOSING DOORS – THEY DO NOT RE-OPEN AUTOMATICALLY. A young woman was pictured standing on the platform with her shoulder bag trapped in the doors of a departing train. I spent the entire journey worrying over the best course of action in such a situation. No self-respecting female would dream of abandoning her handbag, so presumably the only option would be to run beside the train until it reached the next station. Imagine if it turned out to be a rush hour skip-stop instead of an all-stops local!
Mayor Giuliani may have slashed the Big Apple’s crime rate, but panhandlers still ride the subway. I will never forget a wild eyed character who once entered my compartment at Union Square with a battered collection tin. He announced that he served time for armed robbery and was an ex crack addict. However, he claimed that his new mission in life was to give a dollar and a sandwich to every homeless person in the city. He had clearly been in some serious fights, because he had very few teeth, a displaced nose, and hardly any ears.
Besides myself (well I was too afraid to refuse) the only person who donated to the cause was a young Afro-American wearing a metre high, lime green crocheted hat over what must have been a truly remarkable hairdo. Writhing across his forehead was a tattooed snake, complete with a metal stud for an eye. While foraging for a dollar bill he asked his startled neighbour to hold his needles – he was knitting a sweater!
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