Monday, October 08, 2007

Do They Know What They're Doing? From the New York Times Archives of Bill Walters

Tunnel Vision; Waiting for the A Train,
The Sophisticated Pigeon


Published: March 5, 2002

In the annals of strange subway stories -- some pure urban legend, some alarmingly real -- there has always been a menagerie of animals.

Stories of alligators roaming the tunnels, of pet snakes loose on trains, of rats tough enough to survive the third rail. There have been eyewitness accounts of live chickens, on their way from poultry market to soup pot, escaping from sacks and running amok through the cars. Recently, someone posted a story on the Internet about a man in the subway walking a dog that was being ridden by a cat, the dog and cat dressed in matching Uncle Sam hats. (The story was accompanied by a photograph to prove that it was not made up by Dr. Seuss.)

But one subway animal story has been so persistent and widespread that it simply cried out to be investigated: the case of the train-riding pigeons of Far Rockaway.

A little more than a year ago, a motorman and a conductor on the A line, which terminates at the Far Rockaway station, swore to this reporter that it was true. They said it was common knowledge among longtime riders and those who worked on the line. Pigeons, they said, would board the trains at the outdoor terminal and step off casually at the next station down the line, Beach 25th Street, as if they were heading south but were too lazy, or too fat, to fly.

The inquiry began the other afternoon, when the question was put to a car cleaning supervisor at the terminal. He appeared suspiciously nervous about the subject. ''Oh, no,'' he said. ''Our trains have no pigeons.''

But Andrew Rizzo, 44, a cleaner sweeping in a nearby train, looked around and smiled as if he were finally going to get to reveal his secret.

The birds ride the trains all the time, he explained, motivated not by sloth but by simple hunger and ignorance: when the trains lay over at the terminal to be cleaned, for about 20 minutes, pigeons amble through the doors, looking for forgotten crumbs. But being pigeons, they do not listen for the announcement that the train is leaving, and the doors close on them. They ride generally for one stop, exiting as soon as the doors open again.

''If you don't know what's going on,'' said Mr. Rizzo, pushing his glasses up on his nose, ''you'd think they knew what they were doing. It's a little freaky.''
Of course they know what they're doing because they are repeaters. And not only are they "traveling" in New York City but also in London, Arras, and many other cities.
Donegal Browne

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