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There’s Room for Everyone on This Train

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Black. Brown. Yellow. White. People in all shades and everybody, as Rodney King implored so long ago, just getting along, at least for a short train ride.

An old Asian man is reading a Chinese newspaper. A younger man with skin the color of dark chocolate is intently making notes in the margins of an Arabic paper. A young Latina woman is scouring Good Housekeeping, every now and then tearing out a coupon.

For sure, the train is crowded. There are older guys in suits and ties, teenage dudes sporting backward baseball caps, women in hose and heels, girls in strappy little tops grooving to their disc players.

All in all, a slice of life in the big city, the very picture of a culturally diverse America. No big deal. No freaky scene. As Atlanta Brave reliever John Rocker may very well find out for himself if he ever makes good on his announced intent to take the No. 7 subway train from Manhattan to Flushing Meadow.

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To take the No. 7 from Times Square to Shea Stadium--26 minutes on the express, a touch over 30 on the local--is not, as Rocker charged in his now-infamous remarks in Sports Illustrated, to have the senses assaulted by “some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids.”

Nary a purple-haired punk could be found on the eleven-car No. 7 that ran just before game time Wednesday evening from midtown to the stadium.

Rocker also said elsewhere in the magazine story, “The biggest thing I don’t like about New York is the foreigners,” adding, “You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there.”

The train, cherry red on the outside and graffiti-free, was packed Wednesday evening with Met fans, commuters and students headed home from the city and, from the looks of it, Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything.

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A common refrain, expressed in perfectly comprehensible English: Dude must be off his rocker to talk trash about a train trip that longtime riders called uneventful and unremarkable.

“I think he’s out of touch with reality,” said Joe Eitel, 34, a banker en route with his brother and two pals to the game.

Eitel, a regular on the No. 7 for 12 years, added, “I’ve never seen anybody with purple hair.”

“It’s 2000,” said Leonce Cunningham, 23, a regular rider for the last 18 months. “Your views should be changed by now.”

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“He doesn’t know us,” said Lisa Darrigo, 37, a health care insurance company executive who said she has been riding the No. 7 her entire life. “So what right does he have to say these things?”

This being New York, the city that never sleeps, particularly when there’s a chance to make a buck at someone else’s expense, several riders sported brand-new T-shirts--$19, thank you--touting the No. 7 train--in 18 languages--as “The International Express.”

“I’m proud to ride the 7,” one wearer said.

Most riders don’t call it the 7. The line, which travels a little more than nine miles through a number of immigrant communities and carries about 400,000 people on an average weekday, is more commonly known as the Flushing line, after the first and last stop in Queens, Main Street Flushing. Shea is the next-to-last outbound stop.

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Among the 400,000 you can sometimes find a ballplayer or two.

Met first baseman Todd Zeile takes the train almost every day the team is at home.

“It’s easy, fast and convenient,” he has said.

Also, it costs all of $1.50 one way.

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A couple weeks ago, Dan Eitel, 31, Joe’s brother, got on and found himself en route to Shea in the same car with Yankee second baseman Chuck Knoblauch.

“Nice guy,” Dan Eitel said. “A regular guy. Nobody gives him a hard time.”

Of course not, said Met catcher Mike Piazza, an occasional rider: “It’s a train. It’s cool.”

Police said this week that, it being a free country and all, Rocker can take the train to Shea if he wishes. He had said in an interview with USA Today Baseball Weekly, “I won’t be in a cab. I won’t be on the bus. I’ll be on that train.”

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That prompted Sandy Alderson, vice president of baseball operations for Commissioner Bud Selig, to say, “The number of people who have advised him not to take the No. 7 train is exceeded only by the number of people who take the No. 7 train.”

A number of team and baseball sources were quoted Thursday as saying that Rocker would not be taking the train, at least not during this trip to New York.

Sure enough, he boarded an unmarked police van with tinted windows at the Braves’ hotel Thursday afternoon and, with a police escort, made his way to Shea.

If Rocker does get on board this weekend, police also said, he would probably be surrounded by uniformed cops. Meaningful conversation with his fellow civilians would be unlikely.

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Not, from a variety of opinions offered Wednesday night, that many riders think Rocker has anything meaningful to say.

“If he did take the train,” said Ron Martirano, 23, who works in one of New York City’s publishing houses, “it’d be fine till he opened up his mouth. The sad thing is, he can’t keep it shut.”


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