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My short story published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1976 is clearly fiction, but more than 40 years later, it still rings ironically true. - David Bear
Before all this happened, Wally Busward was just past fifty, minimally overweight, slightly balding, reasonably perceptive, cautiously compassionate, somewhat skeptical, and often bone-weary. He was, in short, an average Wally: a fortunate collection of slightlies, partlies, and somewhats; a solid member of his community.
In the twenty-odd years following the Korean War, Wally Busward built his small food store in Massapequa, New York, into Busward's Nine Aisle SuperDeli, a substantial and generally thriving institution. He grounded his success firmly on three principles:
Stock what the customer wants; Be open when he wants it; and be nice about it. That simple philosophy put three kids through college, one of them Ivy.
Wally ran a good store. To him, that meant keeping his customers satisfied. A spotless but comfortable appearance, high-quality goods at the lowest fair prices, attractive displays, and a sincere but friendly bit of gossip for everyone were all parts of Wally's good-neighbor policy. He tried hard. He really did.
So, when his old frozen food cooler broke down, Ernie Robson, the area representative and repairman for Frigicoolers, didn't have a hard time talking Wally into ordering a brand-new model. As Ernie pointed out, times had changed. The new closed-door "display units" would add a modern touch to the frozen-food section, aside from having more storage capacity, taking up less floor space, and using half the electricity of his old model.
"You know it would cost you twice this much to keep your old wreck running."
"Not to mention that it'll cost me twice as much to buy a new one if I wait two years."
When the new cooler arrived early one Tuesday morning three weeks later, Wally and Joe Pistronk, his assistant, rearranged the frozen-food section to accommodate the new six-foot-high, five-foot-wide cooling unit with the double, silent-hinged glass Thermodoors.
After almost an hour of jockeying the cooler back and forth, Wally decided it looked best up against the outside wall of the store, between the ice cream freezer and the potato chip rack.
Wally was so proud of his acquisition that for weeks he walked out of his way through the frozen food section when going to the rear of the store. The canned-goods aisle was a much more direct route.
That's why he hesitated calling Ernie when he found the new cooler acting strangely on the Monday morning after Labor Day, a real scorcher during which Con Ed found it necessary to reduce the voltage by thirty percent.
The problem wasn't in the cooling mechanism. The cream pies stayed frozen, the pizzas rock-hard and the cool topping cool. No, the problem was the noise. Every few minutes, a forced, high-pitched whine, followed by a deep, sustained rumble and a shattering jangle, reverberated through the store.
"It's like a concrete bowling ball slamming into a rack of bottles," Wally explained to Ernie on the phone.
When Ernie arrived an hour later, Wally was desperate. "Do something! It's cleared my store."
"Cripes, why didn't you shut her off?"
"And have that food spoil?"
"Warranty covers spoilage caused by equipment breakdown," Ernie recited.
"Where's the panel key?"
By the time they had located the panel key in Wally's office, the bedlam spewed by the cooler had increased twenty decibels.
Neither Wally nor Ernie, of course, realized the din was so loud, but Allie Schwartz, the delivery boy back from an early run, came dashing in to report: "What's happening? The store wall outside is shimmering like cherry Jello."
Wally panicked. "Turn that damn machine off before my store collapses. Will that warranty cover collapsed stores?"
As cool as the coolers he sold, Ernie fitted the key into the master panel and switched off the machine. Gradually, almost grudgingly, the bowling alley clatter abated. A close inspection of the wall inside and out revealed no damage.
Then the three of them transferred the food from the quickly warming cooler to the cold-storage room in the rear of the store. "You going to have to take it in to the shop, Ernie?" asked Wally, unloading the last chicken pot pie.
"I'd rather try to fix it here, if that's OK. When do you close tonight?"
"Early, but tonight's inventory and restocking. Joe and I'll be here till midnight. We could make it a threesome."
"That's square with me."
Shortly after Wally unlocked the door to let Ernie in that evening, Stu Minetti, who waxed and polished the store's floors, had also arrived for his monthly job. So, when Ernie called for help rolling the cooler away from the wall, three strong men - Wally, robust despite his age; Joe, former all-state high-school defensive tackle; and Stu, with arms as big around as his circular polishing brushes -responded. The four of them put their backs to the unit and pushed. After several minutes of red-faced grunting, without achieving even a micrometer of movement, Stu offered: "You remember to release the emergency brake?"
"It doesn't have an emergency brake," puffed Ernie. "Just roller catches, and they're off. And even if they weren't, the four of us should be able to carry it around the store dead-weight. Doesn't weigh that much. What did you do, Wally? Epoxy it to the floor or bolt it to the wall?"
"Funny man! Matter of fact, last time Stu was in here, I moved it myself. No strain at all."
"Well," said Joe, "it's not moving now. Not a hair."
"And I'll be damned if I know why not," grunted Ernie, giving the cooler one last tentative but unsuccessful shove with his hip. "And if we can't move it, I'm going to have one hell of a time fixing the damn thing. I could go in through the front, but it'll take a while."
"Whatever. It's under warranty. You, do what you have to, to get it fixed tonight. If you need more help, I'll be over in the pet-food aisle."
Just over an hour later, after Wally and Joe had worked their way through the pet foods, cereal, paper products, and were just beginning the canned vegetables, Ernie gave another shout.
Wally arrived to find his frozen-food aisle an orderly spread of metal plates, tubes, belts, gears, canisters and stacks of small hardware. Ernie was totally inside the gutted cooler. Wally peered inside expectantly at Ernie for a minute, then asked,
"Well, why haven't you got it apart?"
"But I have. Out there," he said, pointing to the spread of metal on the floor, "you see every of stuffing your cooler has, at least every piece they put in factory. I know. Been fixing them for 15 years." He leaned against the inside wall of the cooler, his arms folded across chest, his point proven.
'Well, I've been in the grocery business over 20 years. I got a pretty good idea how the insides of a cooler look. And this cooler still has its insides inside. Are you going to try and tell me that's not a cooling unit?" He pointed to the mass of machinery behind Ernie.
"That's a cooling unit all right. No argument with you there. But it's not your cooling unit. You're standing in the middle of your cooling unit. I just spent the last hour taking it apart, and I couldn't find a damn thing wrong with it. There's nothing wrong with this other unit either. Except that it's here. My guess is someone slipped another cooler between yours and wall."
'I'm a patient man, Ernie. And we couldn't jam a screw-driver between the wall and the cooler, and now you're trying to say trying to say someone has slid another cooler behind my cooler. Step out here and look for yourself." Wally demonstrated that the metal side wall of the cooling unit was flush against the brick wall of the store.
"I don't have to look. I know. You asked me what the problem was. Not how it happened. All I'm trying to tell you is that there's another operating unit behind yours where nothing but hard red bricks should be."
"No games please, Mr. Robson. Just do whatever you have to and get my cooler working again." Muttering something about selling out and joining his sister in Florida, Wally wandered back to Joe, who had been stacking cans of mandarin orange sections. Together, they almost finished stacking the canned tomatoes before Ernie called a third time.
Poor Wally, his shoulders bowed like a man stepping up on the scaffold, trudged around the corner to the frozen foods. Ernie stood in the middle of an assortment of parts roughly twice the size of the earlier one.
Ernie, his face white except where oil streaked it black, looked genuinely shaken. "I've never seen anything like this. Not in 15 years. Not in my whole life. Look at that!"
The first thing Wally noticed was how much deeper his cooler seemed. Then, it dawned on him that where a brick wall should have been, there were racks of beer and soda bottles.
"Christ, Ernie! What have you done with my wall? Where'd these bottles come from?"
"They're in the cooler, Wally."
"I had no bottles in that cooler. Strictly frozen foods. The bottles are in aisle seven. Don't tell me that cooler has bottles in it because I don't want to see them."
"That's what I'm trying to tell you. Those bottles aren't in your cooler. They're in the other cooler."
"Again, with the other cooler. I thought you were going to take it out of there."
"I did. At least I took the back off it. That was a cinch. It's a Frigicooler. Same model as yours. Matter of fact, the serial numbers are consecutive, 843-69216 and 843-69217. These coolers are as close to twins as cooling units can get."
Wally seemed at a loss for words. Ernie continued tentatively. "Look on the other side of the bottles. What do you see?"
"Double-hinged glass Thermodoors?"
"On the other side of the Thermodoors?"
"A brick wall?"
"Look again. Here, let me move these Coke bottles."
"Oh, my gracious God! Where's my wall? That's not a reflection. Where'd that other store come from, Ernie?"
It took them only a minute to clear the bottles out of the other cooler and stack them on the floor of Busward's Nine Aisle SuperDeli.
Then Ernie stepped through the double, silent-hinged glass Thermodoors and out the other side. Wally followed close behind him.
For a few minutes they roamed the dark aisles of the store beyond the cooler. "Look at that, will you," Wally said, quite disgusted. "Highway robbery. That's twice what I charge for shredded coconut. What kind of place is this?"
"No idea," replied Ernie absent-mindedly. He was leaning heavily on the check-out counter, peering out the front window into the street. Suddenly his eyes widened, and he jumped as if he had been jerked by a tremendous force applied directly and equally to both his shoulders. The hair on the back of his neck stood up. Then he ran and grabbed Wally, still concerned with comparison shopping, and pulled him to the front of the store. "Cripes, Wally. Forget the coconut. Look at that! There, where Meyer's Drug Store should be. Recognize the building?"
"Jezus! What the hell is Madison Square Garden doing in Massapequa?"
A moment or two passed before Ernie broke the heavy silence. "Might as well ask what Massapequa is doing in Manhattan. That's definitely Eighth Avenue out front."
"I don't like this one bit. Not one bit. Let's get out of here." Wally began backing towards the cooler in the rear of the store, his eyes never leaving the plate-glass window in the front. He almost tripped over a case of Cheerios.
"Don't wait on me. I'm right behind you." Even cool Ernie walked as if he expected each step to be his last mortal movement.
They scrambled back through the glass Thermodoors to the parts-strewn floor of Busward's Nine Aisle SuperDeli.
Wally held his head heavily in his hands, a study of dejected frustration. "Ruined," he said. "Ruined by a lousy freezer. Twenty years shot to hell by an icebox."
"What do you mean," Ernie asked, visibly regaining his composure.
"You don't think insurance will cover this. How about your warranty? Does it cover this kind of damage?"
"What? Damage? What are you talking about?"
"What's this? My freezer is broken. Oily parts all over the floor. A Case of soggy broccoli. And a hole in my wall that runs clear to Eighth Avenue. You ask what damage."
"There's nothing wrong with that wall. Not structurally. Let's check the outside wall. This didn't just happen, and the outside wall looked fine when I came in here a couple hours ago."
Wally followed him outside where a close inspection of the wall revealed no six-by-five hole. And, right where it should have been, next to the Old German Shoe Repair Shoppe, sat Meyer's Drug Store.
"Ernie, are we crazy? I saw the Garden right across the street. And now it's not there. You can't play the old shell game with Madison Square Garden. Penn Station is in the basement."
"Obviously, somehow something has compressed the miles between here and Manhattan into an inch between those two coolers."
"That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Science fiction. Next you'll have little green men in the watermelons."
"You have a better explanation? We go through the coolers and we're in Manhattan. Through a hole in the wall that's not there from the outside."
"No," Wally admitted, shaking his head and tightening his lips. "But how?"
"No idea. But somehow I'm sure Con Ed is behind it."
Ernie helped Wally restack the bottles in the mystery cooler. Then they refitted the back on it.
Won't they notice their cooler isn't working?" Wally asked.
"Probably already have. Even if they called the repairman yesterday, they won't see him before Friday. I used to work in the city. Permanent three-day backlog."
"Couldn't they get some more men?"
"Sure. They could."
Scrappy little Artie Mulligan, born in the Irish village of Athlone during one of the more politically active periods of that country's history, could take it. Raised on revolution, weaned on dissension, he developed a steely, easily defensible side in the cradle. This was the side he kept like a shield to fend off the shifting spears of daily adversity. His other side, more often on display, was finely tuned to those co-ordinates known as Irish soul. This two-sidedness gave Artie the illusion of being the offspring of the improbable marriage of John L. Sullivan and Molly Bloom. So, in that, at least, he was as typical an Irishman as you could find in New York.
Seven years after Artie emigrated to America, he managed to buy Graybar's Penn Deli. He immediately changed the store's name to Mulligan's Midtown Market. That was the name that hung over the door, but everyone new it as Artie's.
In the ten years he owned the store Artie Mulligan had sufficient opportunity to exercise the adamantine side of his nature. In those ten years he had been robbed a dozen times. The first four attempts cost him $800. After that, he got a gun, and the next eight failed. In addition, he had also endured the blights of truck strikes, rail strikes, bus strikes, subway strikes, garbage strikes, police strikes, firemen strikes and grape-worker strikes; not to mention snow storms, floods, blackouts, brownouts, broken windows, painted obscenities, air pollution, noise pollution, political pollution, harried commuters, senseless vandalism, over-exuberant sports fans and hapless hobos. And despite the barrage of what he called his personal plagues - change makers, gum buyers, direction askers, donation solicitors and donut salesmen - he managed to squeeze profit from the five aisles of wares he called Mulligan's Midtown Market, though everyone else knew it as Artie's.
Through it all, he remained a jovial, quipping Irishman, priding himself on his hard skin and soft heart.
Nonetheless, even Artie Mulligan found it trying to deal with certain people. High on the list of infamy dwelled Mrs. Grassner, one of the few he generally disliked. Each morning, when she arrived to buy her usual bottle of cold beer, as she had done every morning he had owned the store, she made sure to remind him, "I been buyun dis bier here longer dan you been sellen it."
This particular morning, she continued her liturgy. "An dis da firz time dat you tried sellen me a bottle dat ain't colt. My bierz got to be colt. Odderwize it doan fizz." She sprayed her syllables, as if to demonstrate the action of the beer.
"Yes, and don't I know it all, Miz Grassner. But my new icebox went bust yesterday forenoon. I called the repairman to have a peek, and I bought a block of ice to chill what I could till he comes. That's the lord's level best I can do."
"But dis bierz warm. Yule gib me a gut ache."
"Well, my dear, nobody's forcing you to buy beer this morning, are they?"
"Doan get fresh wid me. I got a hab de bier."
"Well, then try the bottles towards the bottom where the ice is. Maybe you'll find one of them chilled to your liking."
As he watched the old hag shuffle to the back of the store toward his warm, silent, double, Thermoglass doored Frigicooler, he felt a twinge of pure frustration, an emotion most rare for a man who prided himself on his all-encompassing stride.
"Hey, Artur. Doan wan uxcite you, but daerz somebody your bier cooler."
"Now the old lady's finally -round the bend," he thought. "Surely you've been smoking out demons, Miz Grassner," he called out on his way back to the cooler. "Don't tell me you've also been investing in the grape so early in the day. Pure shame it is too. It's not yet gone half ten."
"Na. Not a drop today. I swear dat dere's sombody taken bottles outer da oderside. Heah. See fur yerself."
He reached the crone and opened the double doors to demonstrate his more acute sense of reality. "Now, you see. There's noth....Well, I be damned six ways. Of all the iron nerve of you. Come out before I get my pistol. Miz Grassner, you fetch the law, and I'll hold off these poltroons."
"What? The police? Gawd no. Not me." The suddenly spry old woman spun on a heel and tore out of the store, her stockings, bagged at the ankle, fluttering in the breeze created by her haste.
Alone, Artie Mulligan turned to face the invaders. "Now you can just back right out of there. If it's the bank you think you're tunneling into, you've missed it by a block. Kindly replace my beer and soda, brick up my wall. You have a minute before bullets begin."
But, by then, enough of the bottles had been cleared to allow Ernie Robson to poke his head through. "Hold on. Forget the police and the shooting. We're not breaking in."
"Not breaking in are you? What then are you doing in my soft drink cooler? Rowing a bleeding barge?" Artie's face was glowing red, but the poet in him had grown curious enough to shove aside some remaining root beer bottles.
Ernie stepped through the cooler from Massapequa, followed by an equally excited Wally Busward. "I'm Ernie Robson, Frigicooler dealer for central Long Island. This is Wally Busward."
"Morning," Wally said in a tone intended to be cheerful, but which came out sounding more like a chirp.
"That's wonderful. A bit out of your territory, aren't you? Don't think I'm sad to see you. Fastest repair call I've ever had."
"We're not here to repair your cooler."
"No, I feared you might not be. Then you'd better explain why you've shunned the front door. Did you have to carve a slice from my wall? You still have some quick explaining because I'm thinking it's the police I'll be calling."
"That's the point. I'm not sure we can explain," Ernie offered. "We were kind of hoping you could offer some help in that department."
"I? Explain? What the breeding hell do I have to explain? You come traipsing into my store, through my bloody cooler, and have the great Greek gall to ask me for an explanation. You're both. stone daft."
"No, please, listen. We're as much in the dark as you," Wally began tentatively, looking to Ernie for help.
"Right. We didn't cut this hole in your wall. We were going to ask you..." and then he proceeded to quietly explain all he and Wally knew about the coolers. When Ernie finished, Artie sat on a stack of cans and whistled.
"Massapequa? Off it now. You two are having a good go at Arthur sure. Must be Candid blessed Camera. That's it, isn't it? Where've you hidden the camera?"
"No, we're serious," reasoned Ernie. "Come see for yourself." Having nothing to lose that morning but time, Artie locked the front door of his store and followed Wally and Ernie through the coolers into Busward's. They showed the Irishman around the store and then took him out to the street where the Old German Shoe Repair Shoppe was just opening.
"Well, if this doesn't beat all," said Artie. "Massapequa! Who'd have bloody thought it? Massapequa? What the hell and damnation am I supposed to do with the back of my store in Massapequa?"
Wally seemed to follow his reasoning perfectly. "I've been thinking the same thing all night. What are my customers going to do when they find out my frozen-food section is on Eighth Avenue? Hell, everything would melt before they could get it home. Nobody goes to Manhattan for frozen spinach."
Ernie, who had been sitting thoughtfully inside the shell of the back-to-back coolers, with Artie on his left in Manhattan and Wally on his right in Massapequa, finally spoke up. "I know I don't really have a stake in this. It doesn't seem like such a major problem."
"A flipping disaster. What the hell am I supposed to do with my Coke bottles?"
"And my TV dinners?"
"It amazes me," Ernie exploded, "how the two of you can be so concerned about Coke and TV dinners when you seem to be partners in a real miracle. Not to mention an absolute gold mine. Your minds can't be that narrow.
"What is it then," asked Artie. "Look at it this way. Here I am, sitting between you two. Wally, you're in Massapequa. Artie, you're in Manhattan. Maybe 60 miles apart and yet I can touch both of you without stretching. Give you a clue?"
Both shopkeepers shook their heads.
"I thought about this all night. Going through these coolers certainly makes getting from Massapequa to Manhattan a real snap." He clicked his fingers to demonstrate. "Takes even less time than, say, getting your ticket punched on the Long Island Railroad. I'm sure a fair number of people who spend four hours commuting to and from New York every day might be very interested in learning about these coolers of yours. Maybe a hundred thousand of them."
Wally looked at Artie before he looked at Ernie. And then he looked at the six-by-five tunnel. A slow smile spread across his face, followed by a look of comprehension, which broadened into a positive glow.
"Breeding hell," crowed Artie, just beginning to grasp the full implications of Ernie's conjecture. "You've definitely got a fair idea there. And think what a tiff people blew when old Moses split the Red Sea for a couple of minutes." He clapped his hands together in glee. "That ain't even a blessed candle to our blaze. An instant commuter service. Marvelous. Truly bloody marvelous. Park Row, here comes Arthur Mulligan."
That was how the Massahattan Snap Tube Corporation was founded.
Of course, a few preliminaries remained before this bombshell burst on the world of Long Island commuting. Artie, Wally and Ernie, henceforth known as the Massahattan Snap Tube Corporation, quietly arranged to buy the small brownstone which housed Mulligan's Midtown Market. Wally had cleared his store of mortgages years before.
They engaged carpenters and cryptically gave instructions to partition off the frozen food aisle of Busward's. Another entrance was knocked into the parking-lot wall. The partition and entrance were finished off with nice brickwork. The entire corridor was painted a cheery shade of Good Morning Sunshine yellow. Soft fluorescent lighting was installed. A walkway was built through the coolers, and the whole passage was floored with heavy-duty, green outdoor carpeting.
When the contracts for Artie's building were signed, permission was obtained to remove the entire first-floor front wall. After the carpenters had finished installing the two banks of five-gate surplus Port Authority turnstiles with the change booth in between them, they removed the brick and glass work from the front, leaving the store front open on Eighth Avenue.
The total expenditure, including the purchase of the building, came to just under$50,000. Six weeks after the tunnel had appeared, the Massahattan Snap Tube was ready for the public.
It took them a bit of time to settle on a fair fare. Artie held out for a dollar per trip, pointing out that the normal monthly commutation pass was pushing a $150 and the one day round trip was $8. One dollar each way wouldn't be too much, he reasoned.
Wally reminded him that the cost of running the service was minimal, a couple of attendants for the change booths and electricity for the lights. "I can't see any reason to charge more than a quarter a trip."
In the end, Ernie sided with Wally, and the fare was set at quarter each way, which also made change making simple. The turnstiles were set to accept quarters, and in the end, even Artie agreed. "Sure, commuters have been taken for a ride for years. You both are straight on. We'll give them a break."
They took out ads in all of the local papers. Artie, the wordsmith, was in charge of writing the ad. Eventually, he came up with something that looked like this.
THROW OFF THE TRACKS WHICH SAP YOU.
LET US SNAP YOU.
MASSAPFQUA TO MANHATTAN IN 30 SECONDS!
25 cents per trip-
CONTINUOUS SERVICE FROM BUSWARD'S
Obviously this stellar piece of advertising met with total incredulity. Harried commuters, taking no refuge in miracles, figured the ad to be a practical joke in particularly poor taste.
Eleven people showed up at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Six of them were Mulligans. Four were Buswards. They cut the ribbon, emptied a couple bottles of champagne, and officially opened the Massahattan Snap Tube.
Fourteen people used the Snap Tube the first day. All were regular customers at Busward's Nine Aisle SuperDeli who strolled through the bright corridor thinking it was a new entrance to the store. You can imagine their surprise at suddenly finding themselves in Manhattan. In fact, all 14 were back in Massapequa before they had really realized what had happened. A most inauspicious beginning for the Snap Tube, perhaps, but the word spread.
Thirty-seven disbelieving commuters passed through the turnstiles the second day, all having heard of the amazing corridor at Busward's through local grapevines. All were astounded to find themselves strolling up Eighth Avenue less than 30 seconds after entering the corridor in the parking lot.
One of them happened to be an assistant reporter for a local television station with the courage to do a three-minute story on the "Snaps," as she called it. The story ran after the weather on the eleven o'clock news. By midnight, the station had received three thousand calls.
On the third day of operation, 5732 people made the trip through the corridor. Joe Pistronk, who ran the change booth that day, ran out of quarters six times in one hour. Commuters quickly learned to bring their own change.
By the week's end, more than 32,000 quarters were being collected each weekday.
The gross receipts for the first month's operation came to just over $300,000. Operating expenses were $1,869.45. The bulk of that was salary for the two change booth attendants. Con Edison's share was $11. The profit margin for the "Snaps" was enormous.
At the end of six weeks, the center of Massapequa had been turned into a shopping mall. All private cars were forbidden within two blocks of Busward's Nine Aisle SuperDeli. Eleven bus companies were operating thriving express service to the "Snaps" from various points on Long Island. The expression "snap to it" had taken on a new meaning.
Surprisingly, few commuters expressed the least interest in how the "Snaps" actually operated. Not that anyone would have been able to give a real answer. Most commuters accepted their good fortune as stoically as they had formerly resigned themselves to deteriorating rail service.
The Massahattan Snap Tube Corporation found business a cinch. As they had no real labor force, they had no labor problems. Equipment breakdowns were nonexistent. There wasn't any equipment to break down. The station stayed clean, as Allie Schwartz seemed glad to sweep it out every night. With a constant flow of traffic, there was no vandalism, no graffiti and no insipid advertisements to read. It's idle feet and inane ads that attract trouble.
There were problems. Most occurred during the rush hours when up to 400 people a minute passed through the corridor. Delays of up to three minutes weren't uncommon. But people kept their tempers and eventually worked out a system of one-way traffic themselves, which they enforced during the rush hours.
At one point, Wally proposed widening the doorway slightly, but neither Ernie or Artie agreed. "Hell," Ernie said, "we don't even know how it happened." So the "Snaps" remained a six-by-five passage through what had once been two Frigicoolers.
Not all the advantages of "Snaps" were immediately obvious. People were slow to notice the effect it had on their stomachs. The ulcer didn't disappear completely, but its incidence did drop sharply as Long Islanders discovered the time for an extra few moments of morning relaxation before the trek to the office. Coffee and tea sales soared. Maalox sales plummeted, as did the divorce rate and juvenile delinquency.
Other subsidiary benefits accrued. The air over western Long Island and Queens, formerly dark with pollutants, began to clear as the twice-daily inundation of Manhattan traffic ceased. People discovered that they could get as much mileage from their tempers as they could from their cars.
Needless to say, the Long Island Railroad staggered under the tremendous loss of revenue, as the vast majority of its passengers switched to the Snaps. The LIRR responded in typical fashion. To cover the lost revenue, they raised their fares. One year after the Snaps began to operate, the monthly LIRR commutation ticket between Massapequa and Manhattan had risen to $375. Those few remaining rail riders had no trouble finding seats.
The railroad, reacting to the hot breath of bankruptcy, filed dozens of lawsuits to stop the Snaps from operating. The grounds of these suits ranged from unfair competition and restraint of trade to insufficient ashtrays per passenger. A defense fund for the Snaps was organized by its passengers. The railroad won no friends, and succeeded only in making itself look ridiculous. After two years of competition with the Snaps, railroad service between Massapequa and Manhattan atrophied altogether, although it did pick up from further out on Long Island to Massapequa.
At the end of the third year, the directors of the Massahattan Snap Tube Corporation, meeting at their weekly penny-ante poker game and board meeting voted to change the fare on the Snaps. The following Monday, a large sign appeared over turnstiles.
THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF THE MASSAHATTAN SNAP TUBE WISH TO THANK ALL YOU WONDERFUL PEOPLE FOR YOUR PATRONAGE. AS OF TODAY THE FARE OF A ONE-WAY PASSAGE WILL BE FIVE CENTS.
A national television report quoted Ernie as saying, "What the hell. A nickel almost looks like a quarter, doesn't it? We've made more than we know what to do with. We're just three Joes who happened to get lucky. Why shouldn't we share some of our luck with our neighbors?"
That fall, Wally got almost half a million write-in votes for governor, despite announcements that he was running for no political office. "What do I know about being governor? I'm happy right here. Who needs the hassle?"
Wally, Artie and Ernie ran the Massahattan Snap Tube for five years before being swallowed up by the Federal Transportation Board, the semipublic corporation created by fiat from the wreckage of failing railroads, airlines, steamship and bus companies.
Desperate to find solvent operations to offset the cost of running the huge bureaucracy supported, the FTB was hungry for the most profitable venture them all. While the bill to nationalize the Snaps was being debated, the Long Island Citizen's Lobby, anxious to preserve their unique transportation system, fought the case all the way to the door of the Supreme Court before realizing the cause was hopeless.
So Snaps tumbled under the control of the Federal Transportation Department: Eastern New York Bureau: Rails and Ways Subsection.
The director of FTD:ENYB:RWS, or "Any Bruises," as it was known among the commuting public, was a very tight-lipped career bureaucrat, Archibald P. Leggo.
Immediately after taking over the Snaps, Mr. Leggo announced "several major improvements to the Massahattan subsystem." The station was repainted and re-carpeted in gray. High-speed turnstiles were installed, along with computerized directional signals. The express buses to and from the station were color-coded to match the station decor. Finally, the Snaps was merged with the Manhattan transportation system, which permitted free transfers to buses and subways. It also meant that the Snaps fare had to be increased to bring it in line with the Manhattan fares. Resigned commuters accepted the $1 .33 fare stoically. They had, after all, no choice.
They also had no choice when the edict from "Any Bruises" came to remove the change booths from the Snaps station. Exact change would be mandatory.
Of course, when the change booths went, along with the attendants, the vandals returned to the turnstiles just as they had returned to the gates of Rome 2000 years before. Skeptical voices augured the end of the Snaps as an effective means of transit.
At the time few heeded these pessimistic voices. Politicians pointed proudly to the fact that eight months of FTD:ENYB:RWS control had produced not one breakdown of Snaps operation despite two city-wide subway strikes. Their claim, for the moment, was valid.
While the people who actually used the Snaps daily seldom questioned the unknown principles on which it operated, thoughts in other circles were directed towards this perfect method of transporting things and people.
Highly respected scientific papers were written, all positively explaining the phenomenon known as the "Massahattan Rift." Unfortunately, despite lavish government funding, dozens of experiments attempting to duplicate the Snaps failed.
The most commonly accepted theories about the "mechanics of the rift" swarmed around formerly discredited ideas about spatial distortion. The coolers were compared to, among other things, giant electromagnets mounted several feet apart on a carpet. It was postulated that if enough electricity was applied, the two magnets would bow the carpet up in the middle till they locked together through a "spatial variance." -
Another popular theory simply substituted the words "fourth dimension" for "spatial variance."
Several southern ministers also had some rather pointed observations about the origins of the Snaps.
Science fiction cognoscenti had a "field" day.
Scientists, who can become obsessive fanatics when the real hint of mystery is involved, had difficulty accepting their own slapdash theories about the Snaps. Petition after petition had been filed with the Massahattan Snap Tube Corporation asking for permission for "responsible members of the scientific community to probe closely into the mysteries of the Massahattan Rift."
Ernie, always dead-set against such threats, had always managed to get the board to deny the petitions. Archy P. Leggo attempted to continue this sage policy, though more to guard himself against interdepartmental competition than to preserve the sanctity of the Snaps.
Pressure from the scientific lobbies eventually cost him his job. The technicians got their chance at the rift.
One Christmas Eve, a traditionally light time for commuters, a sign appeared on a plywood barrier at both ends of the corridor.
A TEMPORARY INCONVENIENCE TO ALLOW US TO SERVE YOU BETTER IN THE FUTURE
So, in the middle of the night, a marauding band of "responsible scientists" slipped into the Snaps station. The result of their incursion is well known.
A barrage of excuses were thrown up to deflect the recriminations which followed. A grand jury has been formed to investigate the situation.
The simple facts are clear. Two doctoral students ran a coaxial cable through the corridor to test for gamma ray emission. They heard a "high-pitched tintinnabulation" followed by a whir and a clink. The long-lost brick walls irised in, a portcullis which cut the cable and separated one of the doctoral students scrambling in Massapequa from his foot in Manhattan by some sixty-one miles.
In the following month, Maalox sales on Long Island quadrupled.
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