Today, I’m pretty sure, was the first day of New York’s Deathsport season. Like baseball, Deathsport has a fairly long season, though less predictable: it starts when the weather begins to consistently hit the upper 70s and above, and lasts until the weather no longer does that.
The rules are simple: catch a subway in Manhattan during rush hour. Don’t die. If you make it to your destination alive, you win.
This is not as easy as it sounds.
First, while you might think that what with the giant tunnels and all, subway platforms would get pretty good air circulation, you’d be wrong. They’re stuffy, and when you have the outdoor heat plus bodyheat (and during rush hour, platforms are elbow-to-elbow crowded in a lot of stations), you will find it sweltering. If your train doesn’t come soon (and don’t let the phrase “rush hour” fool you, it won’t), you may well overheat and keel over…and as the hospital is (presumably) not your planned destination, you lose at Deathsport.
Now let’s say that after four local trains go by in a row, your uptown express finally stops. Here is round two of Deathsport: getting on the train. Because it’s the first express to come by in twenty minutes or so, your train will doubtlessly be packed. Assume you can’t get on: repeat round one until you can, or until you die (and thus lose at Deathsport). However, if enough people disembark from the train that there’s room to get on, prepare yourself. First, you have to hold your ground against the relentless waves of people coming off, all of whom will be heading for the staircase directly behind you. If you get run over by a mom with a stroller, you lose at Deathsport. If you get pushed too far back to catch your train, go back to round one. But if you hold your ground, you can now begin to fight it out in the hand-to-hand combat portion of the game, trying to get on to the train before it is too crowded to allow any more passengers, and/or before the conductor closes the doors in your face. If you get blocked out of the train, you lose at Deathsport. If the door closes on your body and you aren’t a highly experienced player, you likely lose at Deathsport. (You also lose an arm.)
If, however, you have the cunning and fortitude to make it on to your train, proceed to round three.
Round three is the endurance round, lasting anywhere from five to seventy city blocks, or roughly between a quarter of a mile and four and a half miles. In this round, you are stuck in your car. On the plus side, many (but not all) subway cars have air conditioning. On the down side, rush hour cars are so crowded that you likely will find yourself longing for the freedom of the platform, where you could move almost six inches in any given direction. That is no longer the case: if you are claustrophobic or don’t deal well with crowds or with strangers pressing against you, you’ll likely end up sobbing or screaming, in which case you lose at Deathsport. Here, your challenge is to stand perfectly still regardless of the teenagers shoving each other next to you, the lawyer who continuously tries to shove his briefcase into your kidney, or the woman dancing to her iPod who doesn’t notice that her super-awesome kick-step involves coming down directly on your foot.* This is also a balance challenge: there are so many people between you and the nearest hand-hold that you have no way to hold yourself up. If you have inner-ear problems, you lose at Deathsport.
Round three presents an additional challenge to those of us who are less than average height: the people around you will likely be holding onto the ceiling-mounted bar, which you can’t reach. However, the bar is at the correct height to leave you nose-to-armpit with your neighbors. If you require fresh air to breathe (or indeed any air at all), you lose at Deathsport.
Round four, the final round, is a reverse round-two. You fight your way back towards a door, in an attempt to get out of the subway car before the crowd on the platform presses their way inside, sealing you in forever. Once you’ve reached the platform, you’re faced with vertical turnstiles and impatient people behind you, and if you can’t jump out of the way in time as you exit, you will be crushed against the exit itself and lose at Deathsport.
If, however, you have successfully navigated your way this far, congratulations! You win at Deathsport! Your prize is fresh city air, which smells rather like rotting garbage and dogshit. Ah, summer in New York.
Other fun New York games: Dodge the Gawking Tourist, Don’t Get Lost in Central Park**, and Wait Three Hours for Dinner in the East Village, among many others.
* Unless, like me, you are that girl. Sorry.
** I lose at this one a lot. I can enter the park on the East side, walk westward in a straight line, and somehow exit the park on the East side again. Seriously.