The Coastal Post - September, 1997

Letter From New York

By Jim Scanlon

The last time I was in New York the subway and bus fare was $1.50 and there were few transfers, all between bus lines. You could change subway lines in a few stations if you knew the torturous paths through the crowded labyrinthine passageways. So a subway-bus commute meant paying two or three

times $1.50.

The fare climbed from a nickel to a dime to thirty five cents and up in increments to $1.50. The introduction of tokens made increases difficult because thousands of turnstiles had to be refitted to accept new tokens. This has all changed now with the introduction of the new smart card called the Metro Card.

The card has been in use for some time now but it was not popular because there was little financial incentive to use it. That has all changed since July.

This trip, as soon as I could, I got a Metro Card and put $20 into it. I couldn't wait to use it. Now you can transfer between buses and subways and the card doesn't deduct a fare if it is within two hours. And you don't have to lug around tokens. That's the good part. The bad news is that it will make it easier for the Transit Authority to raise the fare. Now all that has to be done is upgrade the software and they can charge anything they want---say $1.99 or $2.07 and the amount will be deducted.

There's a little slot in the turnstile in which you swipe your plastic Metro Card, holding it with the stripe towards you and the notch on the card forward. On my first try it took me two or three swipes and the help of a friendly African-American dressed completely in black with the top of his head shaved and the fringes hanging in long dread locks.

When I got out of the subway at Aster place, I took the Third Avenue Bus using my Metro Card and it didn't cost me anything! I couldn't believe I was in New York. Something for nottin'! (The way a mouse must feel seeing cheese on a strange contraption.) You have to hold the card differently for the bus slot to suck the card into its insides and then spit it out like a rejected floppy disk.

There is also a new EZ (electronic) pass which you hold in front of your rear view mirror going through special lanes on the bridges and the numerous toll roads that ring the City. A scanner reads your pass and

deducts the toll from your account. Pass holders get to avoid the congested toll collections booths and zip right through without having to reach into pocket or purse for the large sums extracted for passage over

bridges ($7 on the Verrezano) turnpikes and thruways (there are no "freeways"). The EZ pass is popular.

Of course the paranoid are worried that now "The City" will know who you are and where you went and when! This point was proven when two N.Y.C. cops left their Brooklyn precinct and drove with a woman to New Jersey, got into a hassle at a Mac Donalds, maced a motorcyclist and drove back to Brooklyn. Their police cruiser was traced going over the Verrezano and now it looks like unemployment insurance time for the errant cops.

The last time I visited New York, the O.J. Simpson trial was monopolizing television. This time incessant analysis of the Jon Benet autopsy report was being dissected and re-dissected until the strange case of Abner Louisma erupted.

Louisma is a young Haitian security guard who was arrested outside a Flatbush nightclub and then brought to the police station where he was beaten and raped with the handle of a toilet plunger by two police officers, both from Staten Island. The case might have degenerated into Louisma's word against the officers except that he had a punctured colon, a torn bladder and damage to his intestines. Injuries that are hard to explain away.

This case has come to dominate the print and broadcast media and illustrate how racially neurotic the big city has become, and how difficult it is for sophisticated, intelligent people to speak about our excretory orifice. Fast-talking New Yorkers all slow down and seem to weigh and chose their words carefully when it comes to the part where Louisma is taken in hand cuffs with his pants down and the toilet plunger is employed.

Strangely enough, two of the four white police officers charged so far have black girlfriends who are standing by their men and denying that they are racist. It's as if no one seems able to grasp that race might mean nothing to a same sex sadistic rapist.

For me, the most interesting revelation came early: the father of the man most heavily implicated, after relating how his son could not possibly have done such a thing, said his son told him he was innocent and that when it was over and he was exonerated and "they" tried to give him his badge back he would tell them to keep it.

This fantasy comes right from Clint Eastwood's first "Dirty Harry" movie where the Harry character, after committing crimes too numerous to describe in the name of his personal sense of justice, finally kills the last evil doer and, in an act of contempt for the corrupt criminal justice system, throws his badge from a Sausalito cliff into the bay.

There is, understandably, a great concern expressed these days over the effects of TV and movie violence on children, but ought we not, perhaps, consider the effect of Rambo-like-stories on adults, and in this case-police officers.