Transit Talk: New York’s bus and subway workers tell their stories

Transit Talk: New York’s bus and subway workers tell their stories

Walsh, Margaret

Robert W. Snyder, Transit Talk: New York’s bus and subway workers tell their stories, New York Transit Museum, Brooklyn NY; Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick NJ (1998), 190 pp., $35.00 hard covers, $16.00 paperback.

Transit Talk is an experience which works on several levels. For those in the academic world the book offers insights into the history of the New York Transit System since the 1930s. For many within the New York metropolitan corridor it provides a human side to the seemingly faceless and impersonal transit system which they use either daily or casually. For the 44,000 current transit workers and more likely for their predecessors it is a living testimony to the trials, tribulations and triumphs of their jobs. For those living in or visiting New York the book can be made more dynamic if it is read in conjunction with a visit to the New York Transit Museum, which has co-sponsored its publication.

Which academics and their students are likely to benefit most from reading Transit Talk? A thumbnail sketch of the author is suggestive. Robert Snyder, a native New Yorker, is the grandson of a transit worker. Holding a doctorate in American history, he has written on popular culture and edits Media Studies Journal. The book originated as a project in folklore and oral history. Nearly 100 interviews conducted mainly by Joseph Sciorra and Sally Charnow provide its framework. The author supplemented the interviews with his own questions to workers while he rode the transit system and visited different sites, both formally and informally. So Transit Talk is a volume of memory and popular history and should be read for its revelations of individuals’ lives and labour. These range from male workers’ attitudes to their female co-workers, through the invasion of bureaucracy, the ethnic and racial composition of labour and the dangers of working on the transit system to the problems of being part of a twenty-four-hour and seven-day operation. Much of the information is anecdotal and there is no indication of systematic sampling. But then, this is a book suited to postmodernist times. Those interested in the construction of subways or the formal history of the Transport Workers’ Union must look elsewhere.

Copyright Manchester University Press Mar 2000

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