The subway conductor--the man or woman, in a tiny compartment in the train's middle car, whose head emerges when the train stops in a station--is the one who bear the brunt of harried commuters' dissatisfaction with the vagaries of New York City's transit system. (""Conductors don't like sticking their heads out,"" Swerdlow tells us, ""because they get deliberately hit by people on the platform."") This unusual glimpse of the other side of life on the tracks reveals how things look from the conductor's point of view. In 1982, Swerdlow, then a graduate student in sociology, became one of the city's first female conductors. This personal account has both humor and drama. She faced shootings and stabbings on her train and sexual harassment from male riders, tells of track fires and signal problems and the lack of women's toilets, underground romance with a fellow conductor and his variegated past, work rules and union organizing. Reading this, straphangers will gain a little compassion for subway conductors--and maybe stop whacking them on the head.