The Man Who Steals Trains — and Makes Us Kinda Love Him for It
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because he’s living your dream.
By Jim Knipfel
To the MTA and the NYPD, he’s a felonious and diabolical serial thief with a rap sheet as long as your arm. To the rest of us, he’s perhaps the most admired and beloved performance artist in New York.
In 1980, at age 15, Darius McCollum was arrested for the first time after taking the controls of an unattended downtown E train at the 34th Street station and choo-chooing it down to the Financial District. Over the next 35 years, he’s been arrested some 30 times for stealing other subway cars, commuter trains, city buses and most any other form of mass transit you can imagine. City officials have publicly demonized him as an obsessive madman, a danger to himself and others. Even so, McCollum has become a legend, a folk hero whose high-spirited adventures have inspired stage plays, documentaries and countless news features. We just seem to get a little extra spring in our step when we hear McCollum has done it again. Yes, he’s been diagnosed as suffering from Asperger’s, but at the heart of it, he just really, really loves trains.
I’ve wondered for years why the MTA hasn’t simply hired him.
The kicker is this: For all the trains and buses he’s borrowed, for all the lives he’s supposedly put at risk, McCollum’s wacky high jinks have never once resulted in an accident; he’s never run anyone over, and, when called for, he’s always made all the necessary stops on his route. How many drivers working for the MTA can claim such a clean record? It’s left me wondering for years why the MTA hasn’t simply hired him.
When it was reported in 2005 that McCollum was undergoing psychiatric treatment that promised to expunge any lingering desire to steal trains and make him “normal” again, it was a tragic moment, like Alex undergoing the Ludovico Technique in A Clockwork Orange or Don Quixote coming to his senses at the end of the novel. In a culture all but wiped clean of adventurous but harmless outlaws, of folk heroes with a real sense of style, we needed someone like Darius McCollum to be exactly what he was — a gentle renegade who would not be dissuaded. But given that his joy rides time and again pointed out just how lax security is around the city’s mass transit system, well, he needed to be erased. It seemed obvious we would never hear from him again.
That’s why it was such uplifting news this past November when it was reported that McCollum walked into the Port Authority Bus Terminal wearing a fake badge, boarded an empty Greyhound and drove it away. As cops led him off the bus a few short hours later in tony Park Slope, Brooklyn, McCollum reportedly told them, “Next time I’m taking a plane.”
And if that’s not showmanship, I don’t know what is. He was cured, all right.
- Jim Knipfel Contact Jim Knipfel