Underground, The Nyah Nyah Factor
[New York Times,
15 January 2006]
By RICHARD MORGAN
Hemesh Patel was in midconversation on his cellphone when he strutted onto the N train at Union Square the other day, and he kept talking as the train shot uptown. With a mix of disgust and awe, a gaggle of scruffy hipsters flashed the well-dressed Mr. Patel a dirty look as they adjusted their iPods.
But iPods are for peasants. New York's truly elite subway riders know that there is only one real mark of the underground upper crust: cellphone use.
''I'm the bottom of the totem pole aboveground,'' said Kate Davis, 19, a Jane-of-all-trades who works odd jobs and lives out of a suitcase, after a cell chat on the No. 1 train. ''When I can talk and someone else can't, it's like the only time I can feel better than them.''
Think of people like Ms. Davis as cellular aristocracy, possessing the wireless capacity to communicate on subway platforms and at times even in subway cars.
Not that technology has much to do with it; pricier phones don't guarantee underground service. Instead, there's an element of luck, possibly enhanced by the fact that the chances of obtaining wireless service underground are greater in stations closer to street level.
''It's like when the train pulls into the station just when I get there,'' said Maria Lopez, 22, a waitress from Alphabet City, after a quick call in a No. 6 train approaching Bleecker Street. ''It's a 'little princess' feeling, like the whole system is made just for me.''
Beyond platform use of cellphones underground -- which, in an unscientific survey, seems especially prevalent along the 1, 6, B and N lines -- there is tunnel use, which Charles Seaton, a New York City Transit spokesman, dismissed out of hand. ''I've certainly never been able to use my own cellphone in the tunnels,'' he said. Is he jealous? ''It's all totally by chance anyway,'' he replied.
A Verizon Wireless spokeswoman explained last year that the occasional subway wireless service resulted from the signal occasionally bleeding through vents from ground level into the tunnels.
Service could improve soon. On Wednesday, after months of delay, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will begin reviewing bids from companies seeking to equip 227 underground subway stations with wireless access, a spokeswoman said.
But the randomness of current wireless service underground is fine with some.
''You figure you're not going to have a real conversation,'' said Mike Poole, 29, a slick-haired painter from Bedford-Stuyvesant, as he cracked open his cellphone. ''And you don't want to be that guy doing that on the subway anyways. So I just do text. I write it up, wait for the bars to flash on here, then send.''
back to home page