The Tester on My Train

Vintage Subway Train by rikomatic via FlickrI don’t know much about the subways of other cities, but in New York the station announcements are made both by the train’s conductor, and with pre-recorded messages. It depends on how new your train is whether or not your ride will favor the pre-recorded announcements or a human being.

So I was riding the A-line home yesterday from West 4th street and the speaker was making the normal announcements at each stop, where we were and what connections could be made. I was reading so I wasn’t paying too much attention.

But then I heard something weird and I looked up. I wasn’t entirely sure what I had heard, but it was off. That was all I knew.

As I looked around I saw, standing in the subway door, a little kid maybe ten years old. He had sandy blond hair and looked, to my eyes, about three feet tall and he was wearing a backpack that was bigger than his torso. He was standing with his feet in the subway, but was leaning out the door and looking down the platform.

This was odd. I mean, I see adults do this all the time, but for a little kid to be doing it was just strange. Then the kid shouted out, “We’re being held momentarily by the train dispatcher. We’ll be moving shortly. Please forgive the delay.”

Now this was getting really weird. And, I should point out, that when I say that this kid shouted these words out, I mean he shouted them out. He still had the voice of a ten year old but he put everything he had into it and knew how to belt out a phrase with some authority.



I was feeling a little disoriented but…so this boy likes to play conductor. I mean that’s not the strangest thing ever. I guess.

Then suddenly he shouted, “Please stand clear of the closing doors.” At which point he stepped back into the subway, the doors shut, and we started moving.

We were well past weird at this point. This kid was predicting when New York subway trains would leave the station. That’s just pure wizardry. Plus, I was looking around, and I didn’t see any parents keeping an eye on this boy. He seemed to be all alone.

Then, as we’re riding, he threw in a, “Ladies and gentlemen, please remember that large backpacks and other items are subject to search by the transit authority.”

This is the exact phrasing of the on-board announcements. Everything he had shouted up to that point had been a perfect imitation of train-speak.

My first thought was, “Well I’ve lost my mind. What fun.”

Except that, as we moved from stop to stop, other people in the car started looking up and catching each other’s eyes and laughing. At one point the lady sitting next to me leaned my way and whispered, “Did I miss something?”

“I have no idea what’s going on,” I replied.

“Oh good, I’m not the only one,” she answered.

For his grand finale, while we were pulling in to my stop, the kid shouted out the location and the connections and then called out, “There is a B local train arriving across the tracks. B local across the tracks.”

Sure enough a B train arrived across the tracks shortly after we had stopped.

I walked to my connecting train actually laughing out loud.

Having thought about this now for awhile, it makes more sense. Obviously the people driving the train have to get the information for their announcements somehow. I had always assumed they used a radio or something, but it’s just as likely that there’s a system of signals located along the routes that gives them a heads up about what’s going on and then they make the corresponding announcements. Someone probably taught this boy, or he figured it out himself, and he knows where to look when pulling into a station to tell if there’s a delay ahead or what other trains are arriving.

Plus, his mom was sitting right next to him, but she also had a little girl with her. She was reading to the girl and focusing more on that, so the first few times I tried to find the boy’s parents I missed her. As I searched more and more I noticed that there were plenty of times when she was glancing over at her son to make sure he was okay…although clearly he did this trick a lot.

And, while I’m glad to have made sense out of yesterday’s train ride, and always knew there was a sane explanation, I have to admit that it was so much more fun during those first few minutes when I was happy to believe that a very small, supernatural being was somehow interacting with my reality.

That’s always been part of the joy of writing the Matthew and Epp stories, trying to figure out ways to have these characters come into contact with human reality so that, well, maybe they explain some weird event in my readers’ past.

It was nice to have reminder of that in the form of a ten-year-old tester on my subway ride yesterday.