Confusion on the orange line
By Matt Nippert
Aug. 19, 2005
NEW YORK - If passengerss on the B-train are anything to go by, Homeland Security might want to consult legendary 1930s New York Times columnist Simeon Strunksy who wrote: "People who want to understand democracy should spend less time in the library with Aristotle and more time on the buses and in the subway." Commuters riding the orange subway line, in a city under constant orange alert, just don't get the terror warning system.
"I don't worry whether it's orange, or brown, or whatever. Because I don't understand it, it doesn't mean anything to me," said Jeanette Williams, a 42 year-old electrician and New Jersey resident. She waves her hand dismissively at the constant orange klaxon, "I just don't get it."
Williams, commuting home after completing a 12-hour shift renovating Walton High School looks like a tough woman. Braids tied beneath a black bandana, and respectively a gold and silver chain on her left and right wrists, she said when the media is flooded with warnings, the result is often panic, not alertness. "Everyone is fuckin' scared, doesn't want to go to work, and for what?" Williams said.
A sample of six commuters riding the B-train to the Bronx were unanimous in being unable to tell this reporter what this alert level meant. And, apart from patience with bag searches - on par with the Yankees in terms of subway conversation-kindlers - they didn't know what the color orange encouraged them to do.
Chris Young, a 37 year-old actor, wearing a baseball cap and red-and-white striped shirt, said while he does take note of the constant warnings, he's not sure of what to do about them. "It is making me a little hesitant; it's always in the back of my mind. I know it means we're supposed to be on an elevated level, but that really means nothing to me," said Young, a resident of Park Slope, Brooklyn.
The advisory system unveiled to great fanfare by Tom Ridge in 2002 stretches from green "low risk", through blue "guarded", yellow "elevated", orange "high", and finally to red "severe". According to the department's website, orange alert requires, in addition to patience and understanding during bag-searches, people to "exercise caution" when traveling and review family emergency plans.
Al Carter, 68 and retired of Harlem, was catching the subway north to pick up a doctor's prescription. He thought orange was "The highest alert level." Not that this dire warning, or in light of London, means he's changed his habits. Ambling along the platform in a brown Black Bear Golf Club polo shirt and black peaked cap, he said: "I just keep going where I have to go, and pray that it doesn't happen again."
Terror prevention activities, like searches, should be constant, Williams said, not limited to high-profile color-coded warnings. "You go to work and there's this big ol' warning. It should be like it every day."
And even the most visible aspect of the alert status, bag-searches by the Transit Police, seems to occur more often in the Bronx than downtown, Williams said. "Maybe they're richer, maybe they pay more for their stuff, maybe there's a lot of stuff going on uptown, I don't know," she said.
Williams, who normally takes a car to work, said she was only on the subway because her car was under repair. "Well, I'm glad I'm driving, because you don't get any of this freakiness," she said.
But Jason Knight, a 42 year-old writer from South Jamaica, Queens, believes the city is facing problems closer to hand than transnational terror. Wearing black slacks, a well-cut black business suit jacket, and a white T-shirt for contrast, Knight was a big fan of the old 42nd Street. "The cinemas, the porn - it was great," he said.
Surrounded by four plastic bags filled with papers and books, he points to the clean-up of the red-light district as a symptom of New York City losing its exciting edge. Forget Osama bin Laden, Knight reckons former Mayor Rudolf Guliani deserves the title of man most destructive to the Big Apple. Knight said, "He turned it from Paradise to Boresville."