Riding a Cattle Car

The experience of all subway experiences was in July of 1943 during an already torrid morning when, as a U.S. Merchant Marine Academy cadet, I was on my way from my folks’ home in Brooklyn to Manhattan where I would sit for the marine engineer’s license examination. In order to make a favorable first impression I wore my best, newly washed and pressed, khaki chino uniform.

The rush-hour IRT train from Flatbush that I was on stalled in the lowest part of the tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan, 94-feet beneath the surface of the East River. Within ten minutes the temperature rose at least twenty degrees in the crowded vestibule where I was jammed in. Everyone sweated profusely. Women’s makeup melted.

Just as I wondered what could be worse, the man behind me had an epileptic seizure and could not fall down because of being so pressed by other riders. No one could help him and I couldn’t move away as he slobbered all over my right shoulder and sprayed a few other passenger as well. After a few moments, he recovered by himself and was much embarrassed while we waited for another twenty minutes for the train to restart.

When I finally arrived at 45 Broadway, the examiner asked, “What pier did you fall from?”

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Copyright © 2005 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo

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