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Undergound Woman - Book Review

The first physical book I've read in ages.
A few weeks ago I was introduced to "Underground Woman" by Marian Swerdlow. Upon reading the back cover I immediately decided I had to read it and that I was probably going to love it.

I mean really:
  • It's a book about the New York City subway.
  • It's about being a conductor.
  • It's set in the 1980's.
Or in other words: three favorite topics lumped into one. So what is there not to love? Pretty much nothing, as far as I'm concerned.. In addition to the inevitable cheese factor of most things produced in the 80's, from a historical standpoint, I find that period in the history of the New York City subway fascinating. In the beginning of the decade, the system was a complete effing mess, and towards the end of the decade (also when I graced the planet with my birth, coincidence? JK) the MTA had made a concerted effort to turn things around with a better state of repair, new equipment, and less crime. The time described in the Book stretches between 1982 and 1986 - so heavy on tales of the era of crap, and light on tales of the bounce back. The author left her job as conductor for a job in academia shortly after the R62's arrived. has a fantastic summary of the state of the system in the 1980's, which you can read here.

As one of the first female conductors at the TA, the author had to deal with a lot of condescension about her capability to perform her job, rude remarks, and sexual advances from coworkers as well as the riding public. She details some of the abuse suffered at the hands of passengers, from merely being spat on to actually being physically assaulted as she was observing the platform at a stop. There was also a big focus on union politics and trying to change things.

Towards the end you can tell that Marian hated her job...and she ultimately ended up deciding that the job wasn't for her and left to go teach in Buffalo. I'm glad she decided to share her story though. This was one of the best books I've read in a while. I definitely recommend it to anyone with even an inkling of interest in the subway, transit, or trains...and even daily commuters. Not that I'm totally qualified to make this statement, but the book definitely gives you an insight into what it actually is to be a conductor and helps dispel the stereotype that all they do is stick their head out the window at stations and press buttons for the doors.

Unfortunately this book isn't available in eBook form (sigh...) and is relatively expensive if bought new, but you can find some decent deals on it used at Amazon. You can also read my review of the book on Goodreads, which is basically just a shorter version of this.

This post first appeared on Blogger, please read the originial post: here

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Undergound Woman - Book Review


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