What creature would roam underground, scurrying from point to point through an intricate network of tunnels — dank, dirty and dingy — tirelessly trudging in claustrophobic surroundings?
I know them as New Yorkers. And they rule the subways.
For a long time I was one of them. Today I fondly think back of my days underground — and over ground when on the El — from the safety and sunshine of Florida.
But there is another New York inhabitant that is the true ruler of the subway, especially its tunnels.
This New Yorker has many cousins in fields, landfills and building basements and is an abomination born of the darkest of crevices – The Subway Rat!
This monstrosity is no ordinary rat. Its above-ground cousin shares similar disgusting traits, such as its almost cat-like size, hideous teeth and fur and voracious appetite. Did I mention it’s as big as a freaking cat?!
The New York Subway Rat has all those traits and exponentially raises it a few degrees.
Many New Yorkers never get to see one of these monsters.
They are the fortunate ones.
I am a New Yorker who faced one and lived to tell the tail…um…tale.
My commute back in the late ’80s was on the No. 6 train from Parkchester in the Bronx to the Garment District near Seventh Avenue. (No self-respecting New Yorker ever called it Fashion Avenue.) But the No. 6 doesn’t go to Seventh Avenue in the Garment District.
I would get off at the 42nd Street Station and then take the Shuttle to the West Side.
I would always go to the first car, not because I wanted to watch the passage through the tunnels from the front door, though I often did.
My principal reason for taking that spot was logistical.
The 42nd Street Station back then had a supervisors’ booth that had long been abandoned.
But the structure was still there and at the mouth of the tunnel, it jutted into the platform forming an inverted “U” from the front tunnel entrance. To either side of the “U” there was a narrow walkway that went right up to the tunnel’s mouth.
Since this walkway was always empty, no one would stand there to wait for the train and I could exit from the first car onto the platform without bumping into anyone waiting to come in.
It saved me a few milliseconds, and if you know a New Yorker’s morning commute, every fraction of a second mattered.
For months I exited the car without ever looking. Until one day…
Sniffing around this secluded platform, at the height of morning rush hour, just inches away from where I was about to plant my first step was a Subway Rat.
He was this big: I am holding my hands out at least three feet apart!
I froze mid-step.
Average rodents will typically scurry away when confronted by a human. But this is Subterraneous Verminus Rodentus we are talking about here.
This — this thing — stopped sniffing the ground, swiveled and stood on its freaking hind legs!
I was still frozen mid-step, and five cars away there was probably a conductor watching this exchange and wondering who would win, and more important how quickly, because he needed to get the train moving and close the freaking doors!
This New York Subway Rat knew who was boss. He was!
After a brief stare-down, it lowered itself and slowly, deliberately, walked to the tunnel and out of sight.
I exited the train, turned left and got the hell out of there.
I lived to tell the tale. But often I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t froze and if I had quickly used my soccer skills to kick that bigger-than-a-football-size vermin into the subway car before the doors closed.
Oh the pandemonium that would have created!
But I’m certain the rat would have landed on its feet, killed some passengers and slowly walked off the train and into its subterranean realm.
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