Get Your Red Cross Transit Strike Hot Chocolate Right Here


Image hosted by Photobucket.comMy friends at the Red Cross asked for my help when the MTA went on strike. So I showed up at the frigid base of the Brooklyn Bridge for yesterday’s “commute” home, as Brooklynites streamed back into the borough after their first full day of no trains or buses. (There were also quite a few folks going the other way, heading into Manhattan at that late hour. Tourists, I guess.) We set up three tables at the end of the pedestrian walkway, each one loaded with drink Cambros, and from about 3:30-8:30 P.M. (with about seven other volunteers), I handed out hot chocolate, coffee, and cookies to the throngs.

The Red Cross sent over an ERV to deliver and prepare the hot drinks, and stepping inside almost gave me flashbacks. Clearly, a transit strike isn’t a disaster (at least not one on the scale of a Hurricane Katrina), but it was great to be able to do folks a mitzvah, to ease their trip home. It was also a kick to don the vest and ID again, to be part of something.

After all my experiences in Mississippi, it was almost surreal to be doing similar stuff right here in my hometown. It was also nice to work with local volunteers, to be reminded that there are other New Yorkers in the Red Cross — and that they’re just as eccentric and irascible as the rest of us. Mainly, it brought back that incredible sense of wellbeing that only comes from giving something away. When you’re out there, distributing free food, you get visions of another (less complicated) world, a society where people just get what they need, no money exchanged, no questions asked. Paradise.

It being the first day of the strike, a sense of adventure was in the air, and even though people were tired and freezing, they were almost uniformly upbeat. I got more smiles and looks in the eye, more genuine expressions of thanks, more actual personal exchanges, than I normally collect in a year. Plus I spotted four friends, including deuxchiens and her man Doug.

Then there was the old Chinese guy, who stood dumbfounded on the ramp, holding his steaming cup and shaking his head in awe. His vocabulary was limited, so he thanked us with a thumbs-up, a huge grin, and the exclamation “New York!” over and over again. And the well-dressed young woman who mixed half a cup of coffee with half a hot cocoa to make her own mocha java. And the numerous folks who asked which Cambro had the rum. Or asked us for directions. Or news on the strike. Not to mention all the assorted wisecracks about the temperature and quality of the coffee. You’re not a New Yorker if you can’t complain about the service — even if it’s free! As the hordes streamed, hobbled, biked, rollerbladed, and scooted by, I was struck with that “only in New York” feeling. We are a special breed, and situations like this just reinforce the determination, pride, and obstinance that characterize us.

As in Mississippi, we were recipients as well as donors: a woman in her mid-30s — very Manolo Blahnik, very Sex in the City, with a lap dog and everything — walked up to the ERV with a plate of goodies for us. Homemade peanut brittle and chocolate chip, cranberry, date & nut cake! Sweeeet! We dug in, and then shared the bounty with the NYPD and Transit Officers in the area.

The volume of people began to slow down around 8 P.M., and we broke down the stations, gathered our trash, loaded back the ERV, and went our separate ways. As I biked back home, face and feet frozen, I reveled in the familiar sensations of fatigue and satisfaction in a job well-done.

Unfortunately, as the strike continues, I’ll bet things won’t stay so chipper. I can’t volunteer the rest of this week, so I’m curious to see how things will change if the strike lasts through X-Mas. For now, folks seem fairly pro-strikers, but if Bloomie and the media continue to trash them in the media, I wonder how long the solidarity will last. I’m curious to see how this will play itself out.

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ERV at the ready.

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requisite goofy photo.

37 thoughts on “Get Your Red Cross Transit Strike Hot Chocolate Right Here

  1. When you’re out there, distributing free food, you get visions of another (less complicated) world, a society where people just get what they need, no money exchanged, no questions asked. Paradise.
    Paradise, indeed. You take this (and it takes you) where, and as, you find it.
    Gosh, I love the “requisite goofy photo”. It’s so hard to find such joy in what people are doing.

  2. I would love to see some of these “volunteer” journal entries done in comic form; i dunno if anyone else is feeling that. I am really enjoying your “looking from the outside in” perspective on present-day occasionally- united-by-disaster America, Josh.

  3. You are amazing. BTW, this bit:
    “you get visions of another (less complicated) world, a society where people just get what they need, no money exchanged, no questions asked. Paradise.”
    is like the Bizarro-world flip-side of ‘s ACTIVATE. I guess you are the yang to his yin?

  4. nice
    That’s very cool of you to do Josh. I have been walking over the Manhattan Bridge – which I don’t think had any Red Cross folks set up on it.
    Do you get the sense that most people are pro-striker? I am very much against this strike – I think it’s wrong and destructive.
    My feets hurt!!

    1. Re: nice
      Strike? What strike?
      Altho, there was a half-hour picket this morning when my body wouldn’t let me get out of my bed to walk 10-feet to my desk to work. A fresh pot of coffee staged an intervention and everything returned back to normal.

    2. Re: nice
      regarding your first comment, i don’t think the r.c. set up any relief services on the manhattan bridge. i’m not sure why. they do have stuff at the brooklyn and williamsburg bridges. an oversight, for sure.
      regarding the strike itself, i’m totally for the union. being a freelancer, it’s easy to say that because i’m not as inconvenienced as people like yourself who actually have to show up at work. BUT the issues involved are very important for all working people.
      the power of unions has been slowly and methodically eroded over the last 20-25 years, and not coincidentally, the gap between the rich and poor has been growing as well. the union movement is increasingly the only group that stands up for the rights of workers.
      regarding this strike in particular, it’s important to remember that this is not only a consumer issue, about whether you and your fellow commuters are inconvenienced. it’s a LABOR issue, about whether the tens of thousands of MTA employees are treated fairly. imagine being a subway worker, working 8 hours underground, walking the rails, having your hearing destroyed, surrounded by dangerous equipment. this is not an easy job, and it’s only fair they be paid equitably for it.
      most important in this strike is the pension issue. from what i’ve heard, pension issues are not negotiable in collective bargaining. these are legislative decisions. so let alone that it’s “illegal” for the transit workers to strike. under the very same Taylor Law, it’s illegal for the MTA to propose this harsh pension restructuring scheme.
      sorry for the rant, but i do feel strongly about this. in fact, i even spun my red cross work in my own mind as a pro-union action. by aleviating the annoyance to commuters, just a little bit, my hope is that people remember that the strikers are doping their bit to make a stand for workers everywhere.
      maybe if you had taken the brooklyn bridge and gotten some red cross instant hot chocolate, you’d be more kindly inclined to the strike!

      1. Re: nice
        I don’t think we should really be the ones to characterize the jobs of the people in the subway as dangerous and difficult or not. It’s a mixed bag – for every worker who has to brave the rats and machinery in the tunnels, there’s the sour looking woman who only has the job of sitting in the glass booth and being unhelpful to families of tourists who’ve gotten on the downtown platform when they needed to be on the uptown… 🙂
        I am against the strike. I am not against Subway workers negotiating their deals – but it’s wrong to forcibly grind the city to halt over this. I don’t think they have the right to do it, and I agree with our honorable Mayor and others when they talk about the negative economical impact of this mess – not just to the city, but to other actual working people.

        1. Re: nice
          so just because a subway clerk was rude to you, you deny the inherent danger/difficulty of the subway worker? for every token clerk or even train conductor you see, try to imagine how many other operators, track workers, cleaners, and countless other jobs are hidden away from our notice. it’s like the tip of the iceberg.
          and try to imagine what a crappy job it would be to be a token clerk. think about what it would be like, sitting in that box for 8 hours at a stretch, doing the same repetitive tasks, answering the same questions over and over again. no wonder they can be surly!
          we obviously disagree about the “legality” of the strike, so there’s no sense in batting it back and forth. furthermore, our mayor is anything but honorable. he’s a turncoat democrat who has sold our city out to the GOP and developers like Ratner and his ilk. i have no repsect for him or anything he says.
          it’s pretty clear that the TWU had reached the end of their rope before they struck. they’d agreed to a shitty contract last time b/c the city was in a fiscal crisis post-9/11. then, when the MTA supposedly has a huge surplus, they were being given an even worse deal. their one weapon was to strike, and that’s what they did.
          and, guess what? it looks like it worked!

          1. Re: nice
            I’m of two minds. First and foremost the MTA is completely corrupt and evil. It’s a badly run bureaucracy that contributes to the collective misery of every commuter in the five boroughs. Pataki’s appointee, Peter Kalikow, is as qualified and fit to run the MTA as Michael Brown was to run FEMA.
            That said, since the strike was illegal, I feel it could have been timed so that it wouldn’t impact so disastrously on other New Yorkers. Illegal means you can wait a few days. If the TWU wanted to come off more favorably, they could have offered to work with no contract until after the holidays. Many businesses count on these last few shopping days to make their year. They interviewed this guy who runs a donut and coffee stand at Union Square who basically said a few days with no business could wipe him out. This is a lower income immigrant who can’t afford that kind of hit.
            Okay, so my wife had to walk to work the last few days. Hard on the feet, but she did it. But a lot of people didn’t have that “luxury” and probably lost day’s pay they could ill afford to lose.
            It’s an issue with more than two sides.
            And let’s face it: Toussaint is no saint, either.
            Also, re the retirement age, it should be tailored to fit the job description. The TWU members who do work in the tunnels, especially maintenance work, should get to retire early. They have the most health-related problems and deserve the best deal. But like Mike said, the ones who sit in token booths, they (mostly) barely deserve to get paid.

          2. Re: nice
            I pretty much agree with you on all of this. If the strike had happened after Christmas I’d be a lot less mad about it.
            I would still be angry, because I don’t think that they have the right to cause such chaos just because they don’t want to have to put more money into their own pension funds, but I guess much less so.
            If they could have waited until Spring, then the walk to work would have been much more pleasant.

          3. Re: nice
            mike, i’m sure you’d love for me to shut up about this already, but if you insist on being so reductive as to state that the TWU struck “just because they don’t want to have to put more money into their own pension funds” then I have to rebut.
            this forum ain’t “crossfire” or “rush limbaugh” — you don’t win an argument by repeating the same single thing over and over and over again. i actually tried to address the MANY COMPLEX THINGS that brought about the strike — the dangers and health hazards of the job, the MTA’s mismanagement and disingenousness, the current fiscal surplus, the illegality (by the MTA!) of addressing the pension issue in collective bargaining, etc. — but you refuse to acknowledge them.
            clearly, your mind is made up. you have zero sympathy for the people who make the transit system work.
            so maybe we should just drop it?

          4. Re: nice
            Aw, come on now – now you’re putting words into my mouth. I said that I pretty much agreed with Bob (the MTA is evil and corrupt, but the strike was illegal) and I said elsewhere that I am not against the workers negotiating themselves a good deal – I just don’t think the strike was justified. How do you connect the fact that I think the strike was wrong with me having zero sympathy for the workers?
            I don’t actually think it’s up to me to decide what constitutes a fair or unfair deal for subway employees, which is why I’ve been a bit glib about the actual dangers of their jobs. I don’t know any more about the actual experience of having jobs with the MTA than I assume you do. I definitely do not think that the fact that the woman in the ticket booth has a job that is tiresome and repetitive is justification for a strike. And I don’t think that the dispute over contributions to pension funds was justification either. That’s not to say that I think that it’s right to ask them to pay more. But that was the sticking point that I understand caused the Union Leaders to walk away from negotiations and call for the workers to walk off the job.

          5. Re: nice
            What bothers me IS the glibness.
            “I don’t know any more about the actual experience of having jobs with the MTA than I assume you do.” Well, actually, we DO know something about it. That’s what listening to people does — it imparts knowledge. Newspapers, magazines, conversations, radio, TV: these are all ways of learning, of gaining knowledge, besides “actual experience.”
            “I definitely do not think that the fact that the woman in the ticket booth has a job that is tiresome and repetitive is justification for a strike.” Is that you being glib again? Or reductive? Or both? I can’t keep track!
            You’ve made it clear that you don’t think a “tiresome and repetitive” job or a “dispute over contributions to pension funds” is justification for a strike. But since you refuse to acknowledge ANY of the other contributing factors — because you lack the “actual experience” — you’ve staked out an absolutely rigid position. You’re back on “Crossfire.”
            Look, it’s obviously a major issue about whether state/federal workers — transit, cops, firefighters, medical personnel — should have the “right” to strike. The question is when does JUSTICE trump the LAW? These are issues still being debated, from recent history like Jim Crow and segregation to this day. Obviously, Toussaint and his fellow board members had had ENOUGH. They didn’t want to strike but felt they had been forced into it by the MTA.
            As someone who STRONGLY identifies with the labor side of the labor-management divide, I can only assume they had good reason.
            Happy Hoildays!

    1. Soft!
      Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout? You’re in better shape than everybody on this thread and I ride my bike most everywhere with hardly a drop of saliva shellacking the back of my throat preparing for projectile vomit.

  5. Then there was the old Chinese guy, who stood dumbfounded on the ramp, holding his steaming cup and shaking his head in awe. His vocabulary was limited, so he thanked us with a thumbs-up, a huge grin, and the exclamation “New York!” over and over again.
    Moments like that make life.
    U.R.A. Rockstar.

    1. so true. it was awesome! every time it looked like he was finally gonna leave, he’d turn around after a few steps, and throw us the thumbs-up again.
      last i saw him, his goofy grin was being swept up in the rush of folks coming off the bridge and trying to cross Tillary Street!

      1. You are really made of good stuff…
        Between this and Katrina, Josh is making us all look bad. I’d feel worse, but my general misanthropy helps me cope quite easily with the suffering of others.
        I jest.
        Sort of.

      1. Re: Double Goodness
        La Vie Boheme!
        i remember telling you about this doppleganger when we lived in chitown – glad someone else noticed as well! (funnily enough, his name in the show is Mark Cohen – warren/evan/josh/dean/neufeld/cohen -such a melange.

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