Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Subway is New York

I decided to start this blog for several reasons. Primarily, I really just wanted to have a chance to keep writing, now that school is over and I can't write for the fine, upstanding Loyola Greyhound newspaper anymore.  I guess I'll go ahead and just admit that I miss writing English research papers as well (although certainly not as much).  Second, I feel like it is a great opportunity to share my thoughts, just in case somebody out there does care (haha).  At the NYU Summer Publishing Institute, all of the panelists really encouraged us to start a blog, as a means of practicing writing and developing our thoughts on things, as long as our musings are an honest attempt to be intelligent, hah. 

So I think I'll make my first post kind of general for now and just go ahead and talk about my adjustment to life in the city- sort of a blog on New York City life coming from a small town girl who came here to break into publishing.  I think my general reflections on the subway may be a good place to start, as it is probably the most interesting facet of New York that I have encountered thus far. On the subway, people are absolutely relentless. The mass chaos begins at approximately 8:00 am, when hoards of angry looking people in their suits and dresses rush towards the 86th street stop in a mob, like rats running from water or something like that. You would never guess that they are simply going to work, because it seems like they're running from something- that there's a dire emergency of some sort that they are worried about.  With ipods in their ears, these people never once look up from the pavement to make eye contact with anybody around them, much less smile- or make any facial expression, for that matter.  For a moment, I feel as though I am in the movie Groundhog Day.  When I first started taking the 86th street stop, I didn't recognize anybody at all, but now that I have been taking it for over a month, I begin to see the same people with the same clothes on, performing the same actions- over and over. For example, I always see this older blonde woman with brown sperries and navy shorts on walking her small dog every single morning at the same time. She is always right outside of Papaya, and chats in a friendly manner with her neighbors, friends, or whatever they are, as if she is in suburban North Carolina. It's kind of funny to see that sort of thing in the morning as everybody else is solely concerned with catching their train on time to get to work. It's a breath of fresh air. I just worry that somebody will notice my routine, because there are enough mentally insane people in this city that there's that chance of being stalked. And of course I'm paranoid enough of a person to have that cross my mind.

As I approach the entrance to the subway, I get extremely anxious- my heart rate soars, and I start to sweat profusely. Everybody is pushing and shoving to get downstairs to the turnstile first, as if one second will make or break their entire existence on this earth. I have noticed myself getting much more pushy in the city with each and every incident that I am pushed out of the way. People grab an AM New York from the various men shouting out random friendly phrases such as, 'Have a nice day', 'get your AM Metro here!', 'yeah girl, you got it goin' on, getcha metro!' Try to stay cool out there ladies and gents!' 'TGIF!'  The rush to the turnstiles then begins- people swipe and run. They bolt towards the six, even though it's directly behind the turnstiles and isn't even there yet, and those trying to make the 4 or 5 express trains get aggressive as they make their way towards the stairs. Once the subway arrives, people flock to the very outside of the doors, usually warranting a comment from the subway director telling them to back off before the others are able to get off. These people jump on to the train as soon as possible and the hunt for a minute space to stand and hold on for dear life.  I don't usually expect to find a seat, but if I ever do, it basically makes my day. However, if being seated means sitting next to a crazy person that smells so bad you can't even breathe, then it's more of a curse than a blessing.  This actually happened the other day and I almost got sick on the train. I had to stand up at the 77th street stop and bolt out to the next car, just so I could prevent myself from being one of those sick people that holds up the entire 6 line (aka one of those hunted down by other New Yorkers late to work and probably pictured on "New York's Most Wanted" list the next day. It is actually hilarious when the subway breaks down, because New Yorkers break out of their daily routine to start complaining to others about "how terrible this system is" and how they are lucky to have an understanding boss who won't be mad about them being late. I am thankful for a kink in the routine, because I know my boss will understand, and also because there's human interaction. Even if it's just complaining, I'm talking to somebody. 

As the train takes off, people start to make awkward eye contact with each other, which is interspersed between reading and listening to music. There's always that occasional obnoxious person who plays their music loud enough to deafen others, let alone themselves. As people begin looking around, I always feel as though somebody is staring into the back of my skull, and it really makes me uncomfortable. It really baffles me how New Yorkers refuse to look at you until they are bored and forced to stand still for five seconds. Then they make up for the lack of eye contact they have experienced over the course of their time in New York- the result is a complete stranger memorizing every blemish on your face at 8:15 AM. LOVELY.

Oh Grand Central. How I adore the 42nd street stop. As the train halts at this particular stop, the train cars opens up and you don't have to be crammed up against random strangers fearing that a creepy man is checking you out or that somebody desperately poor or crazy will rob you.  You can breathe, relax, and sit down. I may consider opening a book and beginning to read just like everybody else, but as soon as I open up my book, people start staring at me and trying to figure out just exactly what it is that I am reading, which also feels like an invasion of privacy. As I sit there, I honestly can't help but look around at everybody else and wonder where they are from, what is running through their heads, and where they work. My privacy is being invaded, but I partake in invading the privacy of others. As far as I'm concerned, I don't have a choice in these situations. The worst thing ever in the morning is couples- couples groping each other and whispering sweet nothings into their partner's ear, loud enough that the entire train can hear them. I think recently I have actually begun to roll my eyes at people such as this, and they probably think I am some rude, heartless, grumpy love-hater, but really, it's just annoying to have people displaying so much affection so early in the morning in public, when you are just trying to mentally prepare yourself for the workday ahead and you are alone all day every day, separated from all friendly human contact yourself- so ok, yeah maybe their assumptions about my angry stare are correct. New Yorkers are incredibly private, except when it comes to the subway. Here, people's entire lives are exposed to strangers in a car with minimal space, causing love to make you feel claustrophobic, and consequently feel like a New Yorker- paranoid of human interaction-wow, what a paradoxical situation. 

On the subway, you also get to to see an interesting slice of the diversity that is New York City. Just the other day, I was taking the express from 86th to 14th, and this fifty-something year old guy walked on with a mountain bike and tattoos covering his entire body. He was nervously shaking, as if he was either on drugs or too much caffeine; he looked paranoid or something. I had enough time to explore his tattoos and it was odd that I could actually discover a few things about a complete stranger whom I would most likely never see again in my life. For instance, he had a Maryland flag tattooed to his leg and also a swiss flag. I got a bit excited when I saw both of these flags, as Baltimore will always have a special place in my heart and so will Switzerland (probably my favorite country that I visited while abroad). I could definitely picture this guy leading extreme excursions in Switzerland in the canyons or something like that. It's funny how you can learn a bit about somebody on the train from body language, dress, or the book they are reading. On other days, I see mexican families speaking Spanish to each other as they ride the train to work with kids in tow. I'll get on the train at 86th and notice that it's only African-Americans sitting down, as the train has just come from Harlem. I'll see Chinese women with kids and can't help but think that they are probably headed towards Canal to sell purses or to their dry cleaning store along with others from their neighborhood or family. I have these impressions (and hope I don't seem politically incorrect), but it is comforting for me to know that all of these people have their communities in America, regardless of how strange they must feel in a foreign country. I always wonder- why are nail shops always run by Asians? Why are the laundromats always run by Mexicans?  These may seem like very elementary musings, but honestly, who doesn't wonder about these things? What matters is that they feel a part of something. And the fact that they feel a part of something makes me jealous. I'm an American and I probably feel more foreign in this city than they do. Just the other day I was doing laundry and three Mexicans were folding wash and speaking Spanish to each other as they put the clothes in bags for delivery. I sat alone with my book and just tried to take it in.

When I step off the train, it is suddenly stripping away the temporary state of comfort that I am in. Oddly enough, I go from extremely UNcomfortable to comfortable throughout the morning subway ride. After 42nd street, it is much more calm and it allows me to almost fall back asleep, as I haven't had my coffee yet.  But then the 28th street stop comes up, and I have to force myself to off the train, trudge up the stairs, and be teased by the delicious smells coming from the coffee and bagel stand directly outside of the stop. I remind myself that there's free coffee in the office and that I have already had enough Kashi Go Lean Crunch to kill a horse (my attempt at being healthy consists of eating five bowls of 'healthy' cereal in the morning). Keep walking, Lauren. You'll make it. "Another day, another dollar", the song "Money" by Pink Floyd, and "Everybody's workin' for the weekend" go through my head. I walk through the revolving doors to my 40 story building and take a deep breath. 

1 comment:

  1. ahhhhh, the musings of a twenty-something's daily conundrums, entice me to yearn, that's right yearn for the days of yesteryear when the only inhabitant of this great sphere titled "planet earth," that I was liable for was the one who entered the bathromm with me each day that created the most clamor - now that's paradoxal, as well as cause for vast, dare I say, astronomical consternation - enjoy the ride ! Love, URB