Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Memoirs from a New York City Subway

My wife and I headed to the wedding of a family member a little early so that we could spend a few days in New York City. We had never been there and we wanted to take in the sites, see a few shows and buy a few gifts. Apparently taking a personal car on Manhattan Island is suicide both physically and financially so we were trained by a friend in the City on how to use the subway and bus system.

Armed with a subway system map, a Metro Card giving us a weeks worth of riding, and our belief in humanity we found the nearest stairway leading into the unknown. I have rarely ridden on public transportation. No buses other than the ones I needed to get to school and no trains other than trams around airports and amusement parks.

I could feel my heart racing as I walked down the steps. They were concrete and swept but still stained black from millions of shoes and ground dirt. The lights dimmed as we descended and then we faced our first test. It was a twisted metal jungle with a turnstile in the middle. I swiped my Metro Card and pushed through the metal thicket to the other side. We slowly merged into the traffic of experienced riders searching for any clue: number, letter, or even color that would take us to our train. Finding the clue we picked up speed and hoped we didn’t look too much like one of those annoying tourists. (Although the wide-eyed Bambi expression, Hawaiian shirt, and camera’s around our neck probably gave us away). We went through hallways, stairways and escalators to find our train and finally there it was.

I stood on the concrete pad earnestly looking down a dark tunnel to see my train. Across the tracks was a tile wall with the name of where I was currently standing “42nd Street” written in different colored tile. I remembered the first Matrix movie where Neo and Mr. Smith did battle and busted up a similar looking subway station. All around me were people avoiding each other’s eyes, in their own cocoon sometimes looking at their watches, sometimes looking down the tunnel but mostly looking into their own little world.

The air was hot and stuffy and so were the people. Then a cool breeze wafted down the stairs in the form of music. Music being played on some kind of pipe flute and it was good. We, my fellow travelers and I, looked up the stairs together to see where it was coming from. When we could not see anything we were about to go back to our own worlds when down the stairs came a young man with his hands raised high yelling “I can fly, Jack, I can fly! I am the king of the world!” All around my smiled and some even laughed out loud as we all now knew where we heard that music before. It was the theme to Titanic. The young man disappeared into the crowd; the people went back to their own cocoon and with a whoosh of air that preceded the coming train my attention was back on the business at hand. The young man filled his backpack with a hundred smiles and a few laughs. I happily gave him a smile and resolved to steal a few from other people that day.

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