By Troy Patterson
Updated February 13, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

For the two and a half years Randy Kennedy wrote his ”Tunnel Vision” column for The New York Times, it simply seemed he worked the paper’s best beat — a subway system into which 1.4 billion passengers squeeze every frickin’ year. But to read Subwayland, his notes from the underground (and the elevated), is to know that Kennedy crafts city stories on a par with the marvelous Joseph Mitchell’s.

Down among the antipickpocket detectives and the token-sucking petty thieves, the train buffs and the Transit Authority employees who call these fanatics ”ferns” (”the r and the n stand for ‘rail nut’ and the f stands for what you think it stands for”), the seekers of spare change and true love and empty seats, he discovers Gotham at its scrappiest — the most American place in America.