You may think you love NYC's mass transit system, but you don't love it the way Darius McCollum does. McCollum, 51, is a NYC legend because he's been arrested nearly three dozen times for stealing subways and buses since 1980, which was when, at age 15, he took an E train downtown from 34th Street to World Trade Center. Today, Off the Rails, a documentary offering a window into his obsessive love and whether authorities overreacted to it, opens at the Metrograph.
Director Adam Irving portrays McCollum as a non-violent man with autism who gets locked up (for over half his life) instead of getting treatment. "The Asperger's [syndrome] added this childlike innocence to his crimes," Irving told the NY Post. "Why would someone pretend to drive a bus? You've got to make the stops, make all the announcements. It's not, like, a pleasurable thing. Who would do that for free?"
McCollum's ability to break in and gain access to equipment and even take them for a ride has embarrassed transit agencies too many times. He's been arrested in LIRR yards while carrying various transit keys (engineer, universal, and switch), transit worker's clothes, and a hard hat. But McCollum's legal team has suggested that the MTA use him as a consultant, to help the agency better secure its equipment.
Since he was a child, McCollum was interested in subways and buses. When he was 12, he befriended subway motormen in Queens, who showed him a new world. McCollum's mother, who now lives in North Carolina, has previously said she has warned him from going back to NYC and its tempting mass transit system, but, "He's a lover of New York and can't get over it."
McCollum is currently being held at Rikers for stealing a Greyhound bus from the Port Authority Bus Terminal last year. He told the Post from jail that he's asked for therapy but can't get that there. "I just hope people ride the MTA in the safest manner possible. The main thing I want people to understand is that even though I'm here, I have never given up my love for the MTA," he said.
Off the Rails premieres at the Metrograph today. Director Adam Irving will be at a Q&A after tonight's 7:30 p.m. screening, with NBC New York's Sarah Wallace moderating; Wallace interviewed McCollum in jail last year.