I have a lot of work looming, but all I feel like doing is writing on my blog. I spend so much time punishing myself when I’m happy by doing things I hate, so today, I’m going to indulge by doing what I want.
I’ve been riding the subway a lot this week, because it’s been too cold to ride my bike, and I’ve had to attend many events. When you don’t ride the subway regularly, and especially not during rush hour, you can really appreciate it. Maybe not so much if you’re that Chinese man who got pushed off the platform by a mentally ill homeless man earlier this week. As he tried to crawl off the tracks, screaming for help, an approaching train hit him. There were many spectators; none of them rushed to his aid. He died. I don’t know how to say that elegantly. The whole thing makes me physically sick.
More often than not, however, the subway is a realm where people can display their humanity, some of it flawed, and some of it heroic. This week, for some reason, I was especially attuned to noticing it. Here are a few vignettes of what I saw.
A Hispanic man sits down next to me on a crowded F train. He looks like he’s in his mid-40s. He’s wearing glasses and a parka. He’s clean cut. He seems, inexplicably, like a good man.
He pulls out a big textbook. I look over his shoulder, and notice that it’s an elementary school math workbook. He’s reading a section on counting coins. How many nickels are in a dollar? How many pennies in a nickel? I’m not sure if he’s reading the book because he’s learning English, or because he’s learning basic math.
Either way, it makes me cry.
It’s rush hour, and I’m waiting for the F train at Carroll Street in Brooklyn. The platform is chock full of well-dressed, 30-something-year-old white people, many of them happily coupled. You kind of feel like you’re trapped in a Republican man’s wet dream, in my neighborhood, even though everyone voted for Obama.
The train is very delayed. Ten minutes go by, and not a single one arrives, which is an eternity at 8:30am on a Tuesday morning. When the first one comes, it is packed. On 42nd street, people would have ruthlessly shoved their way into the car, until the entire platform was empty. The nice white people in my neighborhood just look inside, and decide to wait for another, less crowded train, even if it means they’ll be late for work.
I’m not in a hurry. Four more trains pass by before the platform empties.
I get on the subway, and see an empty seat next to a woman dressed entirely in red. Red shoes, red pants, red turtleneck, red coat, red hat. I wonder if she has to dress like this for work, or if she just really likes the color red. Regardless, it makes me happy, because I think it’s for Christmas.
I sit down. She has her headphones on. I nudge her, and she takes them off. “I like your red,” I tell her.
"Thank you," she says.
A few stops later, before she gets off, she tells me to have a nice day.
I get off the 6 train in Grand Central, and follow a little lady with white hair into the main corridor. She has a terrible limp, but she moves so fast it almost seems like she’s flying.
I’m walking down the stairs into the subway on Canal Street when my heel catches and breaks. I fall down five stairs, limbs akimbo, bags flying everywhere. A middle-aged Chinese man helps me up, and makes sure I’m ok before descending to the platform. I eventually limp down myself. I’m out of sorts, and wander in both directions before I find a spot to stand and wait. I spot the Chinese man. “Thank you again,” I say to him, and he nods. Then we both quickly avert our eyes.
(Most of the images on this post I stole from the Retronaut. They were taken by Stanley Kubrick in the 1940s.)