New Yorkers Put on Their Walkin' Shoes

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For Miriam Kirschner, who suffers from severe arthritis, Tuesday's transit strike was a nightmare: She couldn't get out of bed without the help of a nurse, who couldn't make it to Kirschner's Brooklyn home.

"I'm going to send her to the hospital, I'm going to call 911," said her son, Philip Kirschner, who is himself on disability and stayed up till 3:30 a.m. Tuesday to hear news of the strike.

Across the city, kind-hearted New Yorkers made the best of it, offering their time to people and animals alike.

At the Central Park Zoo, a few employees never went home, spending the night there to make sure the penguins, polar bears, sea lions, monkeys and other creatures were taken care of.

On some bridges leading to Manhattan — the Brooklyn, Williamsburg and Queensboro — Red Cross workers greeted motorists with hot coffee in the 30-something temperatures.

The first transit strike in 25 years forced 7 million commuters to find creative alternatives to mass transit buses and subways that stopped running in the early morning hours.

Strangers shared cabs and car pools, people caught commuter trains and water taxis, or even walked. Pedestrians made their way across the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. Cyclists weaved through lines of cars backed up at bridge entrances.

At times, it was bedlam.

At Pennsylvania Station, "there were hundreds of people waiting for cabs, pulling doors left and right. I had to make four stops," said taxi driver Angel Aponte, who left his meter off and charged $10 per person.

In Brooklyn, Philip Kirschner's 72-year-old mother was home with severe rheumatoid arthritis and dementia, needing round-the-clock care either in bed or in a wheelchair.

In the past, when her son tried to lift her, he broke her ribs. "I don't have the training," he said.

Help came towards noon Tuesday, when her nurse's aide got a ride from a relative. "My mom's aide is very dedicated to my mom," said Philip Kirschner. "But I don't know about tomorrow."

He wasn't the only skeptic.

Stefano Kibarski, working the overnight shift at a coffee shop in Penn Station, said he didn't know how he would get home to Brooklyn.

"I read their wages in the newspaper. They make like triple what I make," he said. "It's a monopoly. There's no alternative, and they know it."

Darryl Padilla, a 20-year-old club promoter, didn't have enough cash to take a cab to his home.

"I didn't think they were going to shut down," he said. "I can't take a cab."

On Wall Street, Yvette Vigo's teeth were chattering as she waited for a company shuttle bus going to midtown Manhattan. The Citibank employee tried to dress as warmly as she could, in a parka, fur hood and gloves, since she had to walk downtown several miles from her Lower East Side home to catch the shuttle bus.

"I'm not happy about this. It's too cold to walk this far," she said. "But they do deserve more money."

Matthew Higgs arrived in Manhattan just before midnight Monday to avoid traffic and make it to early meetings. "I'm disappointed that it's happening, but I try to put myself in their shoes. The only way you can get what you want is to take a stand."

Some taxi and livery drivers said business was proving difficult, especially with car pool restrictions allowing cars only with four or more people into parts of Manhattan.

"I can't find more people," said Atiq Ahmed, a limousine driver looking for commuters leaving their cars at Shea Stadium's parking lot. "I have one going uptown, but then the other goes downtown. I have to get a combination of three people going to the same place. So I am just sitting here. This strike is no good for anybody."

But not all commuters were pessimistic.

"This is part of New York, part of the culture here," said Chris Reed, an insurance executive waiting in line for a taxi in front of Penn Station. "New Yorkers always try to find a way to deal with things like this. New Yorkers always find a way to overcome."

To Betty Band, it was no novelty. "I'm one of those people who lived with the strike 25 years ago. I started wearing sneakers to work then."