Saturday, July 09, 2005

Our Faith-Based Train Rides - New York Times

Our Faith-Based Train Rides - New York Times


July 9, 2005
Our Faith-Based Train Rides
John is the A train. Robin and the other John are the L. Nicole used to be the 1 and the 9, but ever since they canceled the 9 she's been just the 1. Geoff and Jen, Joel and Kate, Ted and Scott and, Joan - they are the F. Four months ago, I moved east of Fifth Avenue and became the N and the 6, even though there's a part of me that will always be the C and the E.

It's not just the New York subway map I think of as a refrigerator door plastered with loved ones' snapshots. The Richmond BART line in California is Eli heading home to Berkeley; the orange line on the Washington Metro is Carson, reading her son a bedtime story in Arlington; the purple line in Paris is David, who moved there so he could smoke.

When I woke up on Thursday and turned on the radio to news of the London bus and tube bombings, the announcer said, "Piccadilly Line," but in my head it's just called "Nick."

I know all that sounds mushy. I get like that when 50 people are murdered, and sappier still when one of them may be the guy I think of as my own private Churchill. (I'm getting used to this selfishness. As with Oklahoma City and New York and the tsunami, my first thought was to hope that my friends and family weren't among the victims, which is to hope that others' loved ones were.)

Nick's alive. But during the four panicky hours it took to hear from him, I was too fidgety to sit on the couch in front of the news. I started pacing back and forth between the TV and a bookcase, where a detective novel set in London by dear old P. D. James caught my eye. Has someone checked on her, by the way? Who on earth would want to blow her up?

Seeing the books, I thought about the last time I had taken the subway. On Tuesday night, I took the No. 6 train down to Cooper Union and heard the writer Charles Baxter stand at the same lectern Lincoln used when he spoke there in 1860. Baxter read his wonderful story "Gryphon," about a substitute teacher who enchants schoolchildren with fanciful non sequiturs about how "unquenchable fires burn just under the surface of the earth in Ohio, and that the baby Mozart fainted dead away in his cradle when he first heard the sound of a trumpet."

Oh, it was nothing special, just another average magnificent night in New York City, a 10-minute subway ride from home. I suppose it's what Mayor Michael Bloomberg meant on Thursday when he reassured New Yorkers of beefed-up subway security and urged us to go out and "enjoy what others find so threatening."

And I can do that. I can take the 6 train uptown to see the Maurice Sendak exhibition to spite the terrorists. And for some bonus irk factor, it's at the Jewish Museum. But I might enjoy the things that others find so threatening just a little bit more if the federal Homeland Security Department showed a bit more concern about my travels underground - last year, it distributed $38.31 per resident of Wyoming, but only $5.50 for each person living in the state of New York.

When Senator Hillary Clinton started using the adjective "threat-based" in talking about how to divvy up the homeland security funds, I thought my head might explode. Not because she was wrong. But because - simpleton that I am - I kind of assumed that the "threat-based" thing went without saying.

I was clueless enough to think that the very idea or, let's face it, ideal, of effective counterterrorism involved, at the very least, an educated guess about our national vulnerabilities - and I even thought that the money and equipment and personnel would be distributed accordingly. Which probably sounds simply adorable to those of you who have ever heard of the United States Senate.

I love Wyoming. I grew up right next to it in Montana. But from where I now sit in an apartment in the Flatiron neighborhood, staring at the Empire State Building, an apartment that, admittedly, isn't the Brookings Institution or anything, but does have high-speed Internet access and all the cable channels, it seems to me that New York has more ports and borders and financial centers and people and, yes, subways, so Wyoming could stand to throw a buck or two more our way per person.

So doesn't that make sense, even to citizens of Wyoming? Or should the British Parliament convene in response to the despicable massacre Thursday in London and decide to allocate a disproportionate amount of counterterrorism resources to ... Cornwall.

Maureen Dowd is on book leave.

Sarah Vowell, a contributor to public radio's "This American Life," is the author, most recently, of "Assassination Vacation."


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