I have no reason to congratulate myself or even give this matter consideration. But I sat down to write this post, with nothing in mind for its content, and noticed that this, should I finish and publish, would be the 5,000th posting published to this blog.
But that number means nothing, even if I had a fondness for milestones. This site is a combination of multiple sites I ran independent of each other, finally mashing them all together at a time I do not remember. This content comprises what used to be Sorabji.MOBI, sorabji.com, a bunch of flat HTML pages from hither and yon, and a collection of microsites I ran under Movable Type. The seemingly inevitable upshot of stuffing all those years worth of postings from multiple platforms into one WordPress site is that things gets messed up. Internal links go missing, fonts look screwy, audio or video referenced no longer exist, etc.
The 5,000 posts does not include anything from the earliest days of my websites, which go back to 1994, and possibly 1993. The stuff at WSBJ only goes back to January 7, 2004.
What did think I had to say that made it appropriate for me to sit here and type, to break a months-long online silence, a silence which only inhabits this particular place?
I took great pride in being the tipster/source behind a couple of stories at thecity.nyc, a newish website that promises to deliver hardscrabble investigative reporting about the city. The stories I sourced involve a sign on the RFK/Triborough Bridge that says “LIFE IS WORTH LIVING”, and which promises those in need they will find a crisis counseling hotline telephone “UP AHEAD”.
No such phone has existed since a previous iteration of the sign first went up in 2010. It stung me any time I went up on that bridge.
I wrote about this seemingly cruel joke multiple times at my payphone site, while also badgering the MTA about this several times via email between 2012 and 2019. How could a sign claiming a non-existent crisis telephone is ahead be allowed to exist, and for so many years?
My persistence might have paid off on its own, but not before I contacted thecity.nyc through its “tips” email.
My account of the absent crisis telephone on the RFK led to conversation with a reporter whose interest in the matter seemed genuine. The story took some weeks to finally post but after reading it I went up to the bridge as a sort of reflex action. I wanted to demonstrate, with this story posted and the MTA called out on the matter, that I intended to check in regularly, if not every single day, until a telephone was installed.
What, then, to make of the fact that upon my arrival I encountered about a dozen MTA personnel, with a few trucks on the roadway and most of the workers on the walkway. I let myself stay skeptical, and I walked through the group of workers with no comment. I am not much for initiating conversation with strangers, but after passing through this group and walking on I let myself articulate the question: Are these guys actually installing a phone?
I walked back and found the nerve to ask one of the more amiable-looking gentlemen: “Are you guys installing a phone?” He said “Yes.” I said “That’s incredible!” It was enough to make me cry, and the feeling of positivity in the air was palpable. These guys thought they were doing something good and beneficial, and I concurred.
Lacking proper press or government credentials I was not allowed to take photos of this moment, even though I truly can give myself credit for making it happen. Yes, the story in thecity.nyc had posted hours earlier; and yes, thecity.nyc questioned the MTA about my concerns.
But I prefer to think it was one last bit of correspondence I had with the MTA that ignited their decision to put a damned phone on that bridge once and for all.
In late June I had sent the MTA an email similar to others I’d sent between 2012 and this year, simply asking where I could find the phone. I further challenged the agency to visit the bridge and see for themselves that no phone existed on the pedestrian walkway.
The response, arriving not even 24-hours later, said that inspectors that day verified a phone was present, adding that it was tested regularly.
To this I replied asking where, exactly, does this phone exist? I asked for some kind of mile marker or coördinate that could pinpoint the exact spot.
That question went unanswered, though I had assumed it got lost in their trouble ticket reporting system, which is supposed to close tickets automatically and reject followup emails. But I received no bounced email notification, leaving me uncertain if the message was received.
After this exchange I contacted thecity.nyc. The first story posted at 4am on a Monday. I don’t know when the MTA’s work on the bridge started but it was probably around 10am. There is no way they mobilized a dozen workers that quickly in response to the publication of the story. They had to have planned days if not weeks in advance, either in response to my final question asking for a precise location, or to the fact that there had been a media inquiry about the matter. I don’t know, and don’t really care what precise trigger got the phone installed. I’m just happy as hell it happened.
If I prefer to believe I got this to happen it comes from the fact that, two days after the phone was installed, I finally got a response from the MTA to that last question asking for a precise location. I suspect that inquiry might have set off some alarm bells. They waited 6 weeks to reply, this time informing me that a phone was present on the walkway, as well as on both sides of the roadway. The latter phones are out of reach to pedestrians, unless they intend to die getting run down by a truck or other vehicle.