Hunting Locals

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One reason
that the New York subway is so confoundingly hot these days was
written long ago and discovered in the 19th century:
the second law of thermodynamics. Economists will know the first
by the acronym TANSTAAFL,
denying the ability to get something for nothing. The second
, depressingly, tells you you cannot even break even. Thus,
the effort to air-condition subway cars will make those cars cooler
at the expense of making some other place hotter, but the heat generated
by the effort will increase the overall level of heat in the system.
The net result is temperatures approaching sauna levels; avoid 34th
street on the N/R/W line in the summer if at all possible.

The original
two subway lines in New York, privately owned and operated, used
a different method of cooling. Both the IRT,
opened in 1904, and the BMT
relied for cooling in part on operable front windows, as seen in
this BMT photo,
and this IRT
; this reflected these private companies' concerns for
the comfort of their customers. The IND division, opened
for first riders on September 10, 1932
, was designed for speed
and long stretches of express runs; upsetting boys of New York,
the front windows would not open to allow in cooling breezes. The
IND, or "Independent" system, was built by the city of
New York, and added a third, competing subway system underwritten
by the public (this during the depths of the depression), which
eventually drove the other two truly independent systems into one
consolidated system in 1940.

All three systems
provide substitutes for pleasures so common in the suburbs that
they go unnoticed. The urban youth is denied the ability to drive
long distances in a convertible, and so his only chance to experience
the wind (along with dirt, dripping water, steel dust, and Federally-distributed
bacillus bacteria
) in his hair is to camp out in the front of
a train equipped with an operable window; speeds of over 50mph and
the constricted shape of the tunnels will conspire to drive an impressive
volume of air through the front window. There are others, especially
those who grew up with only an IND subway nearby, who will simply
peer out into the gloom, until their appointed stop is reached.
Should visitors to the Mises
Institute's 25 Anniversary
conference wish to avail themselves
of the chance to partake, a little explanation of the rituals of
the natives is necessary.

If the front
window is free, you may occupy it at will; lean against the compartment
where the motorman operates the train, and peer out down the tracks.
If you see one person in the window, you may lean into the left
side of the window; make no eye contact while the train moves, but
a nod when moving into position will secure your place as a member
of the "society." If there are two people, you may lean
against the pole directly behind the front window and stare out
as best you can, but you may not approach the window until one leaves.
If, however, there is one taller and older man at the window, with
a younger child on tiptoes straining to peer over the bottom edge
of the window, you must refrain at all costs from your urge to stand
over the child and look out the left side of the window. Like a
Bushman learning tracking, an Eskimo learning seal hunting, or a
father taking a son into a duck blind, a sporting skill (albeit
here completely useless) is being taught, one with which you dare
not interfere: hunting locals.

Locals are
the ungulates of the subway system. They carefully graze at intermediate
stations, lazily loading and unloading their feast of passengers.
Express trains are the raptors, the big cats, the top-line predators
of the subway system, stopping at far fewer locations yet still
concentrating a large proportion of the ecosystem's protein within
them. Denied the opportunity to hunt within the city limits, the
urban youth will be trained by caretaking older males in this ongoing,
forever-open-season hunt.

Learning to
track the elusive local starts with an understanding of the facts
of its motion. Since Franklin
(who in essence created the suburb through his work
with streetcars) invented multiple
unit control
, the largest concern with a moving electrical train
has been the ability to stop it safely. The IRT, a private subway,
was designed with safety foremost in mind (curiously, absent the
direction of legions of bureaucrats), including the first railroad
fleet of all-steel cars in North America and an emergency system
for stopping trains before they could come into contact. As

not themselves signals, stops, or “trippers”, or “automatic train
stops”, as they are sometimes known, are a key component of the
New York City subway’s signal system. They are and have always
been used everywhere in the system to force trains to stop if
and when they attempt to illegally pass a red signal (one indicating
“stop”). The stop is a T-shaped metal rod about a foot long, usually
painted bright yellow, at track level, to the right side of the
track on the IRT Division and the left on the BMT and IND Divisions.
When the stop is raised by the signal system to the “tripping”
position, it engages a “trip cock” on the wheel frame (truck)
of a passing train, which cuts power to its motors and applies
its brakes in a “full emergency” application, bringing it to a
screeching halt, very possibly causing discomfort or minor injury
to passengers, but stopping the train as rapidly as possible.
That action is called tripping the train. Every car (not just
the first car) is equipped with tripcocks.

Stops are
an integral part of the signal system, and the key to its safety
strategy. All signals except dwarf signals have stops. The stops
are operated by a heavy mechanical spring and either an electric
motor or a pneumatic valve (the original IRT was all pneumatic
in this regard) — if electric power or air pressure is deenergized,
or fails, the stop is raised to the “tripping” position by the
spring. The signal system, therefore, drives the stop (forces
it down) when conditions are safe, not “raises” it when conditions
are unsafe (this exemplifies the general “fail-safe” design of
the signal system.)

This lengthy
explanation is not usually provided to the local-hunting initiate.
Instead, he will hear that the small metal stop itself will bring
the train to a halt, and marvel at the strength of its steel; he
will likewise know to associate the red light with a train's recent
departure from a stretch of track. He now knows enough to hunt.

Locals will
bleed a string of red lights out into the tunnel behind them. By
carefully tracking the progression of lights along the local track,
the hunter can become aware of the presence of a local, even before
drawing it into sight. He can now prepare for the kill.

The most humane
sort is where a local, unsuspecting, has just come to a stop and
not yet opened its doors to feed. The express will humanely sweep
past, smiting it with a mighty rush of air in one fell swoop. This
is the image that the hunter will have of the lion on the savannah,
humanely dispatching the springbok quickly.

This is incorrect,
however, as lions will usually kill by suffocation, a slow death
as the animal staggers forward. This, sadly, will happen as well
to the local trains, as they may futilely start to accelerate out
of their station in an attempt to catch up with and even pass the
express, before stopping once again to graze upon local-station
passengers and falling victim. Occasionally, however, one will make
it safely to meet the express at the next express stop, and survive
its ordeal; you may not hunt where you also stop.

It is possible
to bag many locals at rush hour, especially when hunting on the
Serengeti of the subway, the West
Side IRT
. More experienced hunters looking for a challenge will
seek out the late-night quarry, when knowledge of train headways
indicates the slight chance that an express departing Brooklyn Bridge
will catch a local only near 110th or 116th
streets. Slight deviation in schedules will allow the local off
to the Bronx, safe once again from the expresses of the night.

If you wish
to participate, you must observe the rules on kills above. In addition,
you may not hunt locals as they gather in social groups near the
end of their runs, including south of Canal Street on the East
Side IRT
, or near 67th Avenue on the Queens IND line;
this will allow the locals to properly reproduce and keep enough
available for other hunters (sadly, the subway can suffer a tragedy
of the commons
.). The best hunting locations are on the IRT
in Manhattan (the 2/3, or 4/5 trains), the E/F in Queens, and, most
thrilling of all, the Flushing Line (7 train), best hunted in the
morning as the locals thunder towards the safety of Manhattan through
the open air, with the expresses in hot pursuit. Sadly, the "War
on Terrorism" will prevent
you from photographing
your kills, so you will only have stories
to keep from the experience. It might be best to keep those to yourself.

11, 2007

Thomas Schmidt
[send him mail], a
Brooklyn native, thinks his earliest memory might be riding the
last wooden trains in New York, October 4th, 1969, the night the
Myrtle Avenue El closed.

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