I rode on a berserk subway train the other day. At every stop the woman inside the PA machine issued a different Cassandra-like announcement: “this train is delayed due to weather” “this train is delayed due to mechanical difficulties” “this train is delayed due to signal problems” “this train is delayed due to passenger illness” “this train is delayed due to smoke at track level” etc. There are several things I find disconcerting about this experience, not the least of which is that these announcements came through clear as a bell, something that never happens in an actual delay. Here are some other things that occurred to me.
1. Somebody somewhere must have made a list of all of the reasons a train might be delayed in order to have these pre-recorded announcements handy. I can imagine there must be hundreds of different reasons why the subway would grind to a halt. Things like “this train is delayed because some jerk held the door open” or “this train is delayed because a mouse got stuck inside the wheel well’. I picture a room full of men (because only men would care about this kind of thing) generating the list of disasters then arguing about which ones are sufficiently disastrous to make the final finite list.
2. Probably a different somebody somewhere has to choose the most appropriate reason for any given delay from the vast collection of reasons. I can imagine that sometimes this is difficult. First, because you have to get the announcement on right away so there is some pressure to press the right button quickly. Second, because there may be some nuances of the delay situation that require choosing between several related messages. For example, “this train is delayed due to flooding” versus “this train is delayed due to water at track level”. This type of stress must surely command a huge salary.
3. The amount of effort being spent on obsessing about telling us about delays would indicate that the transit system believes that delays are an inevitable and even a normal occurrence that will continue to persist. I respectfully suggest that spending more cycles on preventing the delays than explaining them would be a better use of the time.
4. Actually, why is it even necessary to communicate exactly why our subway train has come to a grinding halt mid-commute? The only information that has some value is when (or whether) the train will move again. Which is also the only information they never seem to be able to accurately tell us, or if they do, it is impossible to hear it.
5. There is yet another career path that has passed me by: dire announcements announcer. Or actually, pre-recorded dire announcements announcer. Imagine being able to do all of your work without needing to do anything or be anywhere? You literally ‘phone it in’. Nice work if you can get it.