Each of the delays of New York City's public transit system spawns untold legions of human consequences—school tardy marks, missed court dates, botched romantic dinners, daycare pickup complications, and on and on. Yesterday morning, on an E train, one particular subway car carried a young man whose misfortune was highly visible: dressed in cap and gown and going nowhere fast, Hunter College nursing student Jerich Alcantara was missing his graduation.
On the bright side, Alcantara was accompanied by some nice people. Bobby Rahman, who describes Alcantara as his "best friend," was along for the ride. He tells Gothamist that the grad-to be left from Jackson Heights with friends and family members at around 8:20 a.m. to make the 10 a.m. commencement at Hunter College's Brookdale Campus on East 25th Street.
"We were in the tunnel and all of a sudden it did a hard brake and the train jutted back and forth," he said. Ten minutes later, the conductor said that the emergency brake had been pulled, according to Rahman, who is going into his senior year at Hunter.
"We did not think that the delay would be so long that we would miss" the ceremony, Rahman said.
And yet, it was. Rahman reckons they were stuck in a tunnel for 2 1/2 hours in all before new trains pulled up alongside and carried the stranded straphangers on their way. The walk to the new train carried its own set of hazards.
"There was a huge pile of poop" between two of the stalled train's cars, according to Rahman. "We were stuck there for two hours, so I’m guessing somebody couldn’t hold their bowels. Somebody tried to throw it through the gap and I guess they missed. So instead of there being a half-foot gap there was a 3-foot gap, because you had to step over the gap and the poop too."
It was aboard the rescue train, before it started moving, that Alcantara's mock graduation ceremony began.
"There was a little bit of space, so my friend brought his speaker out and started playing 'Congratulations' by Post Malone," Rahman said. As for Alcantara, "He was just bored as hell, and he said, 'Hello, everybody. Welcome to my graduation.'"
Rahman drew his bud a mock diploma on his phone and queued up Green Day's "Good Riddance" for the handoff.
"If you want a copy of my diploma, turn on your AirDrop," Alcantara says in video of the ceremony, phone/diploma in hand.
Later in the day, in the Facebook comments below the video, Alcantara wrote of his actual graduation, "We completely missed it 😂😂"
Reflecting on what he'd done instead of walking across the stage, he wrote, "It definitely was a humbling experience, having all these strangers be kind and cheer for me. Won't be forgetting today."
In an email, Nadiya Afzal wrote, "I took the video because I felt it was so unfair he was missing his graduation. It was good to see something nice happened out of that horrific commute."
Rahman said that Alcantara and his crew ultimately arrived just as the commencement was ending, but that he was able to corral a dean and some other friends for another mini ceremony.
Subway delays are up to over 70,000 a month from about 28,000 a month in 2012, according to Metropolitan Transportation Authority data. Switch malfunctions, signal problems, track fires, power failures, and sick passengers all contribute, and after decades of deferred maintenance, the century-old subway system is showing its age more by the day. In this particular case, the MTA confirms that the E train's emergency brake was triggered near Steinway Street at about 8:40 a.m. A spokesman said that the braking was related to "mechanical issues" and that the exact cause is being investigated.
Double crying face emoji, indeed.
Governor Cuomo, who controls the MTA despite his recent efforts to say that he does not, has directed that $20 million be put toward a short-term effort to minimize delays. Earlier this year, Cuomo pulled $65 million from the MTA operating budget to cover capital costs. So far, Cuomo has only identified sources for $5.4 billion of a promised $8 billion in state funding for the MTA's five-year capital plan.