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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

a film and TV critic notes the details of the economic collapse

I traveled into Manhattan today for the first time since I returned home from England on Saturday. I was only away for 10 days, fer pete’s sake, and yet evidence of economic terror was suddenly everywhere. For one, two delis I visited in the theater district, hoping to pick up a soda to sneak into my screening of Body of Lies this afternoon, had the gall to be asking, at one, $2.25, and at the other, $2.50 for a 20-ounce Diet Dr Pepper. The going rate had previously been $1.50, $1.75, maybe at an extreme $1.90. I refused to give in to such extortion, and went sans soda to my screening. Fortunately, another retailer I frequent — a newsstand in a subway station on my way home — was still charging his usual $1.75, so I satisfied my artificially-sweetened-water jones later. Still… $2.50 for a soda not purchased at a multiplex concession stand? Outrageous!
And then, during my subway ride home with my still-$1.75 soda, I noticed the most extraordinary thing: a No. 6 train with ads on the outside of the cars. Never before in the history of NYC has such a thing been done. Ads in the car? Absolutely. The MTA has even allowed advertisers to take over the entire interior of cars, including floors, ceilings, and seats. But on the exterior of cars? I was stunned. (I make particular note of it here, too, because it was for a new History Channel documentary series.) I have no objection to advertising per se, and I’d far rather have subway cars wrapped in ads for almost anything than have to pay even more for a subway ride (our fares keep going up even as trains get more crowded and service is as bad as it’s ever been). But surely this is a sign of desperation on the part of the MTA. And the MTA — that is, the Metropolitan Transit Authority — is not denying it:

Note, however, that the subway line mentioned in the above video is not the one on which I saw the ads that turned my head, and also that the ads I saw were not the kind that fully wrap subway cars, as pictured in that video, but of the more ordinary banner type like we already see on the side of MTA buses.

I’ve been trying to stay detached from my own worry about the economy and my own money issues by taking a step back and cataloguing how it’s manifesting in ways beyond my checkbook. And these were two of the most obvious instances I’ve seen so far. I expect things will only get worse, and more noticeable, in the coming weeks and months.

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  • Ken

    Haven’t they been doing that on the shuttle for a while now?

  • If you think things are bad now that subprime loans have turned sour, imagine what it’s going to be like as more people lose their jobs and default on their alt-A mortgages, prime mortgages and credit card debts. Collectively, we in the west have been living beyond our means for far too long and I fear that when the tsunami of debt really hits, governments will have no choice but to turn on the printing presses a la Zimbabwe.

    Score one for the crackpots on the internet who predicted this in detail several years ago. I only wish I’d listened to them more closely and stocked up on gold and silver coins, as now it’s becoming impossible to get hold of them without an outrageous mark-up.

  • MaryAnn

    Haven’t they been doing that on the shuttle for a while now?

    They’ve been wrapping the insides of cars on the shuttle line, but not the outsides, at least not that I’m aware of.

  • Ryan

    I’m curious, what are gas prices like in New York? In Minnesota food prices have been rising slowly, but gas has dropped all the way back down to $3.00 a gallon.

  • They’ve started showing ads on monitors on the inside of the subway tunnels here in LA. They’re specially timed so that for like 10 seconds of your ride you can see a Target ad or something. Between that and the sudden proliferation of giant LED billboards (“but we’re in the middle of an energy crisis! Everyone conserve!) makes me feel a little Bladerunner-y.

  • Katie

    DC’s metro has had outside advertising for as long as I’ve been here and the inside advertising is getting more and more expansive. Then again, the metro needs each and every penny it can get. It’s always out of money and if they’re not careful we’ll be paying even more than we already do. Which is a bit much.

  • MaryAnn

    what are gas prices like in New York?

    Regular unleaded had been up to just over $4, but now it’s dropped to around $3.60.

  • Jurgan

    Odd- I thought gas would be higher in a metropolis like NYC than a middling city like Charleston, but that’s almost exactly what we’ve had. Then again, you’ve got better public transportation, so that mitigates the pressure of having so many people.

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