N.Y. Tells Subway Riders No Food,

But City Draws Line at Coffee Ban

Skate-boarding on New York City's subways, not to mention riding a bike, wearing in-line skates and riding between the cars as trains rumble through the tunnels, now are officially nixed.

The city's subways long have been a sort of subterranean home on wheels, where one can sleep, eat, smooch, maybe even cook. But the Transit Authority announced last week that it would impose a touch of order, proposing fines of between $25 and $100 for such behavior.

Now, to a Red Line-riding Washingtonian, this might sound like common sense. As Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member Barry Feinstein said about riding between subway cars: "It's dangerous. It's not smart, and you shouldn't do it."

But a certain anarchy attends underground in New York. This might explain why the Transit Authority felt constrained to point out in its new regulations that: " 'Rules' means these rules."

It also explains why the Transit Authority waited just a day before loosening one proposed rule, against sipping coffee on the subway. "New York's a caffeinated place," acknowledged an authority spokesman. "It seemed smart to let the coffee be."

-- Michael Powell

Texas Teenager, Aiming to Sing

Soprano, Told to Lower His Voice

In Texas's All-State Choir, it's "No Boys Allowed" for the soprano parts, the Texas Music Educators Association has decreed.

The association denied a request from 17-year-old Mikhael Rawls of suburban Fort Worth to audition as a soprano for the All-State Choir. Only girls are allowed to try out for soprano and alto parts, while boys may audition only for tenor and bass parts, association spokeswoman Amy Lear said.

"Because we have these gender-specific ensembles, it is necessary to have gender-specific voicings," Lear said.

But for Rawls, who is the only boy in his high school's a cappella choir, it seemed only natural for him to audition as a soprano. He says it hurts his voice to sing lower parts.

"I always felt more comfortable singing in higher soprano voice range," Rawls said. "When I sing higher, it requires no physical manipulation."

He said he wants to develop his counter-tenor voice, a male soprano or male alto part made popular in the 17th and 18th centuries when women were excluded from singing groups.

"He's a very brave kid to do what he's done -- just to have the guts to stand up and sing soprano in the first place and not get hit over the head," said his mother, Michelle Rawls.

-- Caroline Keating

Chicago's Fireboats Are Enlisted

To Help Save City's Parched Trees

Chicago's trees aren't burning; it only looks that way.

City Hall, fighting back against a long stretch of unusually hot and dry weather, ordered fireboats to douse parched trees along the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. With the grass not growing, parks workers will shift from lawn mowing to tree watering.

"We've had hundreds of thousands of new trees planted, so we have a lot of young trees, which are far more vulnerable," said Bob O'Neill, president of Grant Park Conservancy, referring to Mayor Richard M. Daley's efforts. "But we do have a lot of water, with Lake Michigan. It's very doable if everyone pulls together."

Chicago, with a population of 2.8 million, was named one of 18 American Dream Towns in the August issue of Outside magazine.

Among the criteria are a commitment to open space, healthy job markets and "green-thinking mayors." Daley's challenge this summer is to keep green from becoming brown.

"Normally, we don't water trees. We count on Mother Nature for that," said Jessica Maxey-Faulkner, spokeswoman for the Chicago Park District. "We're working with the fire department to identify some really at-risk areas. The trees, especially the young trees, need care."

-- Peter Slevin

Planned Monorail Extension

In Seattle Stalls as Costs Soar

The 1962 World's Fair that gave Seattle its signature architectural landmark -- the Space Needle -- also left behind a space-age train line. The Monorail was just 1.2 miles long and was all but useless as a transportation system, but it looked cool and Seattleites loved it.

They loved the Monorail so much that they voted four times in the past eight years to tax themselves to build a longer, cooler and more commuter-friendly one.

Financing for the new Monorail, though, collapsed last week after word got out that the projected $2 billion commuter line would cost at least $11 billion -- and that Seattle residents could end up paying for it until 2078. It is unclear now if the new Monorail will ever be built.

Good riddance, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Robert L. Jamieson Jr., whose vitriolic columns help sink it. Jamieson wrote that the Monorail exploited the city's "inferiority complex" as a second-tier metropolis.

-- Blaine Harden