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October 28, 2004
Yesterday was the New York City subway system's birthday -- one hundred years since the first ornate car rolled sedately out from City Hall to 145th Street. Over the weekend, you could visit some of the old cars and even ride in a few of them, including one from the very beginning, 1904.

I was busy over the weekend, but I rode twice yesterday, my usual route from 34th Street to 110th. The usual set of companions rode with me: children with parents and other children with teachers, office workers, college students, the very poor, even a few of the fairly rich. The mayor rode, too, as he does every day, but he's not on my line, so I never see him on the train. A man shook his paper cup full of coins and sang weakly, hoping for an illicit donation or two. The riders were every shape and age and color, the reading material with which they passed the time in a dozen different languages, maybe more.

Only about a third of the riders read as they hurtle through the tunnels. The rest stare into the middle distance, managing the remarkable New York feat of standing in the center of a group of six or seven fellow citizens, tight as sardines, without meeting anyone's eyes.

Some do talk, of course. A fair number meet each other on the subway -- old friends, sometimes, but often new ones: pretty young people scoping out other pretty young people, striking up conversations as they lurch into each other's arms, propelled into one another when we turn a corner, an unexpected intimacy suburbanites cannot know. People do meet other people on the rains. Some of them get married.

Clean and safe, now, the trains -- the graffiti of the 1980s is gone from the cars, although you still see it on the walls of the tunnels as you pass through. Somebody was stabbed down at South Ferry Station a couple of months ago, and he made it to Rector Street before stumbling out of the train and dying on the platform. Everyone was shocked to hear it, which wouldn't always have been the case.

Yesterday, two things: the MTA announced some reduction in service and an increase in certain fares, and the first Ms. Subways since 1966 was introduced, someone beautiful whose spirit exemplifies the city and its people. She will be a Ms. now -- she was a demure Miss Subways in her previous incarnation, but ours is a pricklier age.

And, since she is a Ms. and not a Miss, perhaps I should apply. I see no age limit on the application. I will be the first Ms. Subways with crowsfeet. My face will look kindly down upon all the riders, and I will remind them all of their mothers. And they will sit up straight. And keep their feet off the seats.


Tune in to the Audio eMos by visiting, and hear the new Voice of the eMos, Buddy Stallings, transplanted Mississippian making his way through New York. I thought long and hard before making him read this one -- how many men would be gracious enough to read an essay about becoming Ms. Subways to an audience of thousands of people? But Southerners are courageous by nature, and they are the bards of America -- Buddy's good. He could read a shopping list and make it sound like the Gettysburg Address.
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