Sunday, September 5, 2010

Mass Transit Massacre

Rescue Mission Activate!
As some of you know and others don't care about, I spent the last year or so contributing to Pop Syndicate, a recently renovated website that lost all its past content (and writers). The following article appeared in 2009 and since you can't find it anywhere else in InterWorld, I'm rerunning it here. Apologies for the deja vu.

While riding the subway this morning, I experienced the occasional misfortune of hearing the sudden click followed by a very brief decrescendo. Once again, I had forgotten to charge my iPod. This being rush hour in one of the largest cities in the world, too many people were blocking my view of the new tet-heavy Dunkin' Donuts advertisement and I lacked the arm room to reach inside my bag for a book. What you ask, was a bored, half awake, rather irritable horror fan to do with only the screeching sounds of train tracks for entertainment?

Movie-filled imagination action, that's what. I've seen my share of bloodfests and know that the only thing scarier than watching someone die a painful death is realizing that the victim could be me, and the only thing more relaxing is realizing that it could be my enemy. And so, for those dark hours spent in mass transit (commonly known here as 7-9 AM and 4-7 PM), I present a few mind games to keep you sane and safe from boredom, danger, and the urge to kill the gum snapping secretary leaning on the center pole you can only grip with a pinky. Basically, you picture her death (and your subsequent survival) in your head via one of these scenarios:
Final Destination Destinies
The great thing about this growing franchise is that it gives paranoid obsessives like me an endless supply of things to fear. If a tanning booth and Slurpee can kill you, is there anything that can't? While your train is generally not stocked with life-threatening hazards (at least until the recession starts hitting mass transit budgets, that is), everyone around you is constantly at risk should Death draws their Metro card. 

That teenager applying mascara sitting next to the old man with an umbrella? Double eye gouging. The Mariachi band strumming away for spare change? One rough turn and those guitar strings could slice open a neck. An Mp3 player malfunctions to make some poor podcast listener's eardrums burst, sending a chunk straight into another commuter’s throat. A little boy munching on a peanut butter sandwich gets sick on the allergic man sitting nearby. He forgot to pack his  emergency kit. 
Anything could happen. Limits, thy name is not Tony Todd.
Battle Royale, Rush Hour Style
I can't think of many scenarios more awful than being whisked away to a deserted island, choked with a metallic and explosive collar, and forced to kill my friends and acquaintances. While I've been known to throw darts at blown up high school yearbook photos of cheerleaders back in my day, the idea of me having to kill--possibly with my own hands--is incredibly disturbing. 

At 8 AM on a Tuesday, however, that changes. State sanctioned murder is far more appealing when your bottom is dangling off a hard plastic seat because some sullen teenager next to you is comfortably stretching his legs in ways that would make my mother blush. Go ahead and airlift our subway car to the wilderness of Japan, fully fitted with danger zones and sharp rocks. I'll accept that AK47 or turn my government-issued pot lid into a neck-slicing apparatus if it means surviving in place of the irresponsible cyclist with a 10-speed standing on my foot.

The challenge here is twofold: 1) how do I survive when unarmed and wearing heels and 2) who's my real competition? Look around that car. Judge your fellow passengers. That skinny housewife may seem like a mouse, but imagine her fighting to defend the two kids she has in tow. Then size up the rugrats for further competition. For all you know, that fat college kid has no soul while the body builder's smoking habit will blast his endurance. Think hard. Just don't stare. Remember, the less people that believe the game is real, the higher your chances are for fictionally killing them without a fight. Plus, it’s rude.

Jason Takes Manhattan (or whatever metropolis you may inhabit)

Anyone who's seen the terrible/awesome eighth installment of Friday the 13th knows that Mr. Voorhees has no qualms about jumping a turnstile. Problem is, how can you possibly thwart him once the doors are closed? It's easy enough to use innocent bystanders as human shields in this scenario, providing your conscience can handle it. During rush hour, a machete can hack its way through quite a few grumpy suits, many of whom may prefer a fast death to another day at the office. Really, you’d be doing the a favor.
Eventually, however, you'll probably be forced to confront Crystal Lake’s number one hockey fan. Depending on which installment you consider to be genuine canon, the method of putting old JV out for a while may include a little electricity. One possible escape from certain death would be to lure Jason onto the third rail, but this is an ambitious plan that requires you to stay alive long enough to disembark the train and hope for the right chance to push. Too ambitious? Would you rather focus on saving your skin and leaving the dirty work to the pretty virgin you have befriended?
Sorry, but that's just as good as suicide. Nobody survives Jason; you die or kill him temporarily until the next series’ entry or your contract expires. Still, if you truly doubt your potential for ending a 90 minute massacre yourself, you could focus on escape.

My plan would be to run through the cars until an MTA policeman, seeing an easy ticket to fill his quota, takes action. By the time Jason catches up, I should be able to rile the law enforcer enough to merit a backup call. If nothing else, a few of NY's Finest will buy me time to cross the platform and hop on the express.
Urban Vampire Slayage
Subways--at least the ones that remain underground--seem like the perfect place for a blood-sucking night prowler to get his hunt on, what with the artificial lighting and a constant flow of diverse meals-in-heels. I doubt the more experienced vampires would feast during such high profile times as rush hour, but every group has its showoff. 
Your mission is to identify the carnivorous commuter and plan the much-harder-than-it-sounds disposal of said fiend. Remember the totally kickass subway fight between Spike and the 1970s slayer during Buffy’s fifth season? 

You probably won’t have that (unless you’re imbued with super strength, at which point you should have a better job than one that requires you to ride a death trap on tracks five days a week). Part of the game here is angles and tools. First, locate a weapon. A stray cane could work as a stake, or perhaps your odds are better of grabbing a schoolgirl’s pencil box and hoping she recently used her sharpener. From there, it’s all about locating the heart and finding the space to put enough force behind your stabbing. I’m sure physics has something to do with it.
Did I forget an important step? One that Sunnydale’s own heroine never mastered in seven years? The actual identification process is, of course, its own challenge. How do you spot a vampire at the start or end of your day, when your eyes are barely open enough to see the living things in front of you? Do you look for the palest person in your car, or is that just plain racist? Decide what makes a vampire and cautiously go from there.
I suppose you could transfer this game to other filmic villains as well. Any unibrowed figures hiding from the full moon, their necks absent of silver jewelry? Body snatching pod people lacking any sense of human emotion in their eyes? Henry-esque sociopaths trying to blend in or a separated conjoined twin clutching his basket/briefcase/backpack a little too closely, as if it may be housing a raging claymation Belial? New York City boasts an average of 5 million people riding the subway on any given weekday; the odds are pretty high that at least one of them is either a monstrous killer or misunderstood murderer you’ve seen the likes of before.
and of course, when all else fails, the Classic Zombie Contingency Commute

When a guy squeezes into the seat next to you smelling like the undead, you're rarely pleased, but if you're a zombie fan tired of reading the same ad for 20 minutes, you can at least be inspired. Forget, for a moment, the fact that the poor man hasn't showered since George Romero made a good movie and pretend instead that his rotting odor is the result of a crashed satellite, voodoo inspired resurrection or nuclear waste spillage. How much time do you have before his eyes open wide in search of a high protein snack?

As Max Brooks has pointed out, straphangers are pretty much the equivalent of canned sardines if stuck underground during an uprising--except, of course, these canned sardines taste really really good. Emergency exits don't provide much in the way of realistic refuge, but no zombie fan worth his or her weight in edible brains would give up so quickly; if nothing else, suicide must be improvised to minimize pain. That in itself is no easy task.
For those with stronger fighting spirit, however, the Zombie Survival Game is never more challenging than when played on the Metro. Can you swing that briefcase with enough force to successfully bash in every stench's head before they corner you? Should you spend time trying to free up a pole for pointed attacks, or is it better to just use it for leverage in getting a nice running kick at the right angle? Your chances are fairly slim, but daily brainstorming may very well prepare you to at least last long enough to make it to the next stop for a transfer. 

So what do you think, fellow commuting time killers with slightly psychotic tendencies? Is it wrong to imagine the guy holding open the automatic doors decapitated by his own sense of entitlement, or do morals evaporate when you’re stuck under the armpit of a fellow traveler in inexplicable train traffic while a bebop group sings out of tune?


  1. i'm gonna play this game at work today, imagining the seaport as being attacked I am Legend/The Crazies style.

    brilliant article sister, from a brilliant sister.

  2. I wish I had played this game more often when I was bus-bound for the first 2 years of my college time. I supremely HATED the high-schoolers I had to share the bus with... along with the fact that most buses in my area almost perpetually smell like urine in their interiors.

    Had I known then what I know now, I would've dashed all those annoying lil' pricks from my view a'la "Black Belt Jones" style: just beating the piss out of them, and throwing at least one person out per windows of the bus.

  3. Timbo, I love ya, but if an outbreak occurs at the Seaport, I don't see good things in your future. Although you do have the boats right there, so on the other hand, I may ask you save me a spot or at the very least, a dinghy.

    Mikey: The urine is a challenge, since it can hide a rotting corpse or other threat. Thank your stars that your bussing days are over!