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Archive for September 3rd, 2013

excitement and fatigue

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In today’s post, what not to do on the Subway, a public service announcement.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To start, I’d like to remind you that time well spent and the daily round for old Mitch normally includes trips to sewer plants, waste transfer stations, and hanging around a certain superfund site which defines the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens. I can describe the different smells of residual sewage material versus that of putrescent garbage in some detail, and will often stop short and sniff at the air, proclaiming “there’s something dead nearby.” Saying that, the most disgusting thing I encounter on a daily basis is actually an electrified Petri dish we call the Subway.


The team identified no known human pathogens and found that about 5 percent of the microbial species (a fifth of those identifiable) probably came from human skin — our heels, heads and forearms, mostly.

“Every time you step down, you pressurize the air that’s in your shoe,” Dr. Pace said. “You stomp down, you squirt out a little warm air, carrying foot microbiology.” This so-called convective plume radiates from some 1.6 billion riders annually and disperses throughout the subway system.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m sure that the system is cleaned as much as possible, and that the MTA folks do everything to the letter of the law. Theirs is a hopeless task, however, as the system is the focal point through which all of us must squeeze. We apes are a particularly disgusting lot, who often carry and consume foodstuffs down there, and riding along with us are the multitudinous pathogenic organisms which infect us. Urine, blood, and sputum adorn the platforms, and god itself only knows what might be festering in the rat blown darkness of the tunnels.


Gerba found e-coli (a bacterium often responsible for food poisoning); MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a staph infection that’s resistant to most first-line antibiotics); and fecal matter on handrails. Fecal matter is on 50 percent of all handrails (people, it’s time to seriously wash your hands after using the bathroom). It’s not uncommon for handrails to have flu, staph bacteria, and respiratory and cold viruses, as well. Previous research in England found that people are more likely to get a cold from handrails than any other public surfaces.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sandals are, perhaps, the most illogical choice for footwear (IMHO) in the City of New York but I won’t go so far as to petition City Hall to ban them. My prejudice against this specie of shoe no doubt emanates from growing up in the glass strewn milieu of 1970’s Brooklyn, when smashing beer bottles against brick walls was all the rage. This fellow whom I noticed on the train recently, however, had apparently decided that even the open toed pseudo shoes were a bit too restraining for him. Folks, its bad enough we have to breathe the same air down there, exchanging our personal biomes via aerosol vectors, but… keep your damned shoes on when you’re riding the train. Bleh.


Here are the numbers: in 2011, 46 track-cleaning positions were eliminated saving the MTA $3.9 million; 11 escalator cleaning positions were cut, saving $1 million; and 116 car cleaner positions got the ax, saving the agency $8.6 million.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 3, 2013 at 7:30 am

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