Category Archives: commuting in nyc

Thoughts From a Wise Old Fish

Last week, as I scrolled through my feeds on Twitter and Facebook, I came across a flurry of posts with links to lists of the best commencement speeches from the last three decades. One that appeared more than once, that I had heard of, (having found it in book form a few years back), but had not actually ever heard, was David Foster Wallace’s 2005 address to Kenyon College titled “This is Water.”

Having been curious as to what it was about since thumbing quickly through the hardcover version, I decided one night after settling under the covers before bed, to listen to the twenty-two minute video of it on YouTube. When it was finished, beyond feeling disappointment that it hadn’t been the speech at my own graduation, I wished that somehow it could become required listening—or the transcript, required reading—something that every human being, in order to move along, onto adulthood was required to ingest. The speech begins with Wallace bringing up the cliché that a liberal arts education is about teaching students how to think, and from there he moves on to talk about how, how to think translates in what to think about. He talks about how in order not to be ‘dead’ while here on this earth, we need to redirect our thoughts from being focused on ourselves and be aware of the people and the world around us; need to veer away from the automatic tendency to see everything as being about us and thus be bothered or irritated when things are a way we don’t like, or an inconvenience to us.

I was tempted to play it again, it was that compelling, and though Mr. Wallace starts out by saying he is not a wise old fish, his are words of wisdom. With my eyes falling shut, I decided that instead of listening again right then, I might schedule a monthly recurring appointment to play it, so to always have it in mind, and because it’s probably one of those things that every time you hear it, you get a little something different out of it. My take-away that night was recognizing that yes, living in this crazy, non-stop, crowded city, I am constantly irritable and maybe, it would be worth my while to try to not be. I would actually love to become good at walking into an annoying situation (hmmm, let me think of one) and not be bothered by it… to maybe even find some morsel of joy in it.

So I decided that the next morning, I would start practicing. I would try, as Mr. Wallace said, to take the focus away from myself and really be aware of my surroundings. And I would make a conscious effort to reprogram my automatic reaction to whatever it was I was confronted with, and maybe look at it a different way. So I started with a situation that on a daily basis drives me almost to the point of insanity. And that is my commute.

I have written about life on the L before. Of all the trains that have been part of my quotidian ritual throughout my nearly two decades of living in New York City, I think, in terms of the morning rush hour, it just may be the worst. This is no exaggeration. The morning L train commute was one of the first cons on my list years ago, when I was struggling with the decision of whether or not to finally make the move to Brooklyn. The early-morning crowd is almost always near intolerable, with people clogging up the doorways, unwilling to move so that others can board. And the bikes and backpacks! Let us not forget the bikes and backpacks.

So there I was waiting on the platform. When the train pulled up and the doors opened, I did as I normally do and pushed my way into the car in search of an empty patch of floor. Once in place, I rearranged my bags, taking one from my shoulder and positioning it in between my calves so to make room for the surrounding bodies. And as others behind me did the same—pushing to get in too—I noticed one area that appeared empty and had me thinking “Why isn’t anyone filling up all of that space?” I realized soon after, that it was occupied by two small people who didn’t stand tall enough to immediately be seen. It was a pair of little girls, the older one probably nine, the little one maybe six. Their mother stood a few inches away.

I guessed from their attire that they were Orthodox Jews, the mother with no visible hair on her head, wearing a turban and the girls dressed, not in neon jeans and sparkly sneakers like most of the mini-gals I see in the city, but sweetly—or conservatively—in long skirts, tights and Mary Jane-style shoes, and blouses with cardigan sweaters. They both wore glasses and had their fuzzy, wheat-colored curls, pulled back in short ponytails.

 

When the train leaves the Bedford Avenue station in Williamsburg, it traverses the East River to Manhattan and does so underwater, which makes for a rather bumpy ride that lasts a solid two minutes at least. As I always make sure to before this long stretch, I reached for what empty space there was on the pole next to me and held on with a strained grip. The mother, standing right beside me, was barely secure, at the same pole but instead of holding onto it, leaning against it with her shoulder. We took off and soon the car was shaking turbulently as the train barreled through the tunnel. I saw that neither of the girls was holding onto anything. I wasn’t sure if this was out of comfort or fearlessness, the two of them—little New Yorkers—likely accustomed to riding the subway, or if it was them simply being aloof. I thought immediately upon seeing the three of them, that they sort of looked to be in a world all to themselves.

We rode along. And about midway through the river, I noticed the mother reach into her bag and begin digging around. Of course! Her daughters were hungry. After a few seconds of rummaging, she pulled out and handed to each of them, a peeled and ready-to-eat hard-boiled egg. A pungent, sulfurous odor entered the airspace. Faces winced as the waft hit them. But not one of the three so much as batted a lash. So with eggs in hand—as if it they were microphones, because that’s how kids hold hard-boiled eggs—the girls simultaneously sunk their teeth into the soft whites.

The ride through the tunnel was beginning to feel eternal what with some stranger’s pillowy backside resting too comfortably on my hip, and my hunger intensifying at an uncomfortable rate as it often does at this hour of the morning. As we sped on, the older girl continued to eat slowly. She looked to be enjoying the snack, or at least that she was satisfied by every bite and eager for the next one. But she was captivated by something else within her view, not paying attention the dry, 13-minute yolk that crumbled onto her hand and down to the floor that I, or one of my fellow passengers might later step on and track across the train car. The younger girl, though still holding onto her egg, had given up on it and was instead, half a finger deep into her nose, digging like it was the bottom of a frosting can, trying to scoop out the last of the sugary goodness. And then, just as I expected, though I will never understand why they do this—kids again—she pulled it from her nose and stuck it in her mouth and began to suck, as if it were a lollipop direct from Candyland. And then, as if she hadn’t quite gotten her fill, she repeated the whole thing in the other nostril.

Finally, I felt the train’s deceleration underfoot as we approached First Avenue. The mother lifted her shoulder from the pole and signaled to the girls that this was their stop. The little one was stuck in la-la land excavating. The older one was still munching on her egg, but as the train transitioned from the dark tunnel into the illuminated station, recognizing that break time was in fact up, she pushed what remained of it into her mouth with an open palm, where it settled into one cheek, producing a comical bulge from underneath her paperwhite skin. And concerned perhaps, by how far from ladylike this emergency act was, she moved a delicate hand in front of her face as she worked to finish chewing.

As the mother ushered her daughters out of the train at First Avenue and the new batch of commuters stepped in to merge with the rest of us, I made eye contact with a guy who I had noticed earlier, who had witnessed the whole thing alongside me. He smiled and then we quietly chuckled.

There I was on the L, not annoyed, but actually smiling. I made an effort to look at the situation differently and managed to find a morsel of joy. And really, it wasn’t so difficult.

So…Thank you Mr. Wallace for your thoughts. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that you are missed. Likewise, I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that you were, whether you ever thought it or not, indeed, a wise old fish.

Advertisements
Tagged ,

The “Crazy” Tunnel

Following my last post about my thoughts on a simpler life– a little recap of some everyday NYC craziness.

Last week my friend D was in town from LA. Thrilled as I was to have a visitor, I wasn’t able to get any time off work, so while I was chained to my desk, she went about on her own, and in my off hours we met up. Over the weekend we traipsed around the city—touring, shopping, eating—and at one point we were strolling through the pedestrian tunnels between subway stations…underground. We were strolling because it was a Sunday. I have the pleasure of walking through one of these tunnels every weekday in order to get myself to work. And I am hardly strolling. My friend had never been in one of the tunnels, didn’t really know they existed.

Well it sort of just happens when people visit—I often take on this persona of tour guide as opposed to just friend. I tell little anecdotes about my New York life that might be pertinent to where we are or what we are doing at a certain moment in time. So we’re there, in the tunnel and we’re walking a speed I am normally appalled by—like a negative two. As far as she knew, that was the norm. So I told her: “I walk through one of these every day, but I never walk this slowly,” I said. “I’m usually speed-walking.” And I zoomed off to show her. I stopped and she caught up to me. “I actually think of the stretch, as a race.”

She looked at me, puzzled. “A race?” she questioned.

“Yeah,” I said. “I pick someone who is a little way’s ahead of me and I make it my goal to beat them. It’s as if the minute I climb the stairs from my first train’s platform and enter the tunnel, I’m in this mental zone where nothing else matters. I consciously engage my leg muscles and I take off. My feet are moving so fast, my heels clicking in double-time on the concrete corridor. My heart is racing. I’m weaving in out of the other commuters, some walking with me, some towards me, many displaying little urgency in getting from point A to B. A woman with a stroller is up ahead, I wiggle around her; I’m stuck behind a man reading his Kindle while walking, I pass him; another swinging his arms with an umbrella in hand that nearly stabs me in the abdomen, I do a side step to get out from behind him. A woman is coming head-on with a bag on her shoulder and just before we collide I scoot to the right. Clear. I’m flying, under the low-ceiling with fluorescent tube lights past the dots of dried gum on the ground. And then it’s uphill for a minute at the end past the guy handing out free copies of AM New York shouting the morning’s headlines and a daily greeting like ‘Happy Monday’ or ‘Thank God It’s Friday’.

“No way,” she says in response, her eyes wide like I am ABSOLUTELY CRAZY.

“Yes!” I said. “And I’m not the only one.”

“What do you mean?” she asks.

“A lot of us do it,” I tell her. “We never say it out loud, but you can feel it. All of us in a race, speeding to get to the other side. It happens all the time, someone with me from start to finish, our feet in unison the whole way, in an unspoken competition. I usually get them in the end on the uphill.” I continue. “Unless they cheat and run.”

She’s looking at me, still in shock. And yes, she thinks I’m crazy.

And then a day goes by and she’s talking to her sister who visits New York a lot for work and, now used to city life that she does things like a New Yorker. So when D tells her, “Yeah, Andrea races in the subway tunnels,” laughing about how nuts I am, her sister looks back at her and says, “Race in the tunnels. Oh yeah, I do it all the time.”

A Good Hair Day

I have this friend Alysa, who for almost a year now has been trying to get me to go for a haircut with her to her stylist Topher. There’s a deal her salon offers where clients bring a friend in and each get a cut or color for half price. “A two-fer with Topher.” She’s told me a gazillion times, “You have to come with me, you have to come with me. You’ll love him.” So, finally two weeks ago, knowing I’d soon be due for a ‘do, I said yes. The appointment was this past Thursday at 1:45.

Having planned for this well enough in advance, I chose a day that I knew my boss would be out of the office. Because of course when he’s away, I have a little more freedom to run a long errand, or as in this case, sneak off for a little afternoon beautifying. Still, I was anxious stepping out of the elevator on the ground floor of my office building as I took off for the salon. Will I have to wait long? Will I go over my one hour? Will I end up being late getting back to the office and be forced to explain the metamorphosis that has taken place from shaggy hair to shiny new cut? I really, really didn’t want to go. Of course yes, haircuts are great. They freshen you up. Make you look better and feel better. And everyone gets them. I know some of my office mates also sneak off for their own lunchtime hair appointments and no one cares.

I wanted the haircut, but just not right then, in the middle of a workday when I’d be crunched for time. I like the after-hours appointment or the Saturday morning appointment, because I know that a weekday lunchtime appointment brings out ‘Paranoid, Ridiculous Me’. I worry worry worry and forget that this is okay once in a while. I typically take no more than a mere twenty minutes to eat lunch…at my desk, still answering the phone and responding to emails, not really taking a break. So I’m on the subway platform, waiting for what seems like an eternity for the train to arrive and bring me to the salon. I can feel the anxiety bubbling inside me as I watch the minutes pass and I stand there wasting precious time. And finally I say to myself, “Shut up. Go for the haircut and enjoy the experience.” Enjoy the experience! Well, this is a pretty cool salon after all. They pride themselves on making the experience enjoyable.

So I arrive. I go in and I’m greeted by this bright-eyed girl who brings me to the changing room. I get into my robe and follow her to the chair where minutes later Topher comes by. He’s as great as Alysa described. He’s easy-going, has a big smile and most importantly listens to what I am telling him. Bright-eyed girl brings me to the sinks and washes my hair as we chat away about her move to NYC and working at the salon, and I agree that it does look like a fun place to come to everyday. Then it’s back to the chair to Topher and his scissors. We begin to chat away and lo’ and behold, I have not looked at the clock once. Before I know it, Topher is finished and I’m looking into a handheld mirror to check out the back view of my head. And then in the reflection I see this girl walk by and my mouth drops. No way, I said to myself. That’s the girl.

Let me flash back.

It’s nine o’clock the same morning, when I should’ve have already been at work, but was still in the middle of my commute. I was standing amongst the crowd on the train, people-watching as I do, when my eyes were drawn to this girl a few feet away from me. She had a punky hairstyle, candy apple red lipstick, a black mini poodle skirt (sans poodle but that I think might have even had a crinoline underneath), a cropped black tee shirt with cut-off sleeves—a band t-shirt, like Sex-Pistols or something—, black and white striped Keds-style sneakers and white, nylon socks with lace trim. I secretly admired her crazy style. When the doors opened at First Avenue, after the usual reshuffling, I was lucky enough to find myself a seat. And right beside me, standing, was the punky girl. She is now talking to two others girls that she found in the reshuffle and were then sitting on the bench beside me. They’re having this conversation that’s laced with bits of gossip, and laughter and an impersonation here or there about their boss. So I find that they all work together. Yes I was listening. Their chatter just happened to be so much more entertaining than the book I was reading. And so there I sat eavesdropping—if you could even call it that—trying to pick up clues as to where they might work. Wherever it was, based on their outfits, and the aforementioned hair and makeup, I’m there thinking it must be a really fun/cool/awesome place to work.

 

Cut to that very afternoon and there’s the cute, punky girl from the subway, in the very salon I had an appointment at. An appointment I didn’t want to go to! It was meant to be. Indeed a very cool place to work, I’m sure. A very cool place go for a haircut, even if you have to squeeze it into a weekday lunch break.

One of those super cool New York stories. And a pretty awesome hair day I would have to say.

Tagged

The L

Can you be in early? my boss asks the other day. Sure, I reply with my brightest can-do smile while on the inside I cringe. What he doesn’t know is that I try to [be early] every day. But… I take the L train to work and therein lies the problem.

The scene on the L train platform at rush hour is never a calm one, but I know my effort is truly doomed when from halfway down the stairs I see a three-tier pileup of commuters. It’s a daunting spectacle—the density of the herd I mean. The people themselves are the salt and pepper of the morning with their gossip and their garments. It’s your typical motley crew of twenty, thirty and forty-something Brooklynites. Some are fresh-faced, others are still half asleep; some, it’s clear are passionate about their day ahead, and others, I surmise, just need the paycheck. Regardless, each and every one needs to get across the river.

We wait. I squirm my way through those who have been there already, trying to get closest to the edge, in with the earlier crowd. I tell myself that I will need to push. I don’t have a choice. I must board the next train. A recording comes over the loud speaker. It’s a woman’s voice, programmed to sound friendly: “The next—Manhattan-bound—L train will depart in approximately—two—minutes.” The first wave fits. I have not succeeded. They’ll make Manhattan by quarter of. I will not. There are huffs and puffs and a shuffling of feet. Curses are exchanged on both sides of the sliding doors:

No one else can fit. Wait for the next one lady. A red-faced girl who stepped in steps out. She is late. I feel her pain.

Move in people, we on the platform think and sometimes say aloud. There’s a ton of room. Right there and there and there. They don’t move. They’re in. Their ride is secure. They’re forgetting our desperation. The idea of New York camaraderie is tossed by the wayside during these morning hours. It’s dog-eat-dog once again.

We continue to wait. The voice comes to the loud speaker again, this time with a hopeless message. The—Manhattan-bound—train now arriving—will not stop.

This is the story of the morning. This is why early almost never happens.

Third time’s a charm. I’m city bound at last. We’re packed tight like sardines in a can, only upright. We share air, the dozens of us, breathing in one another’s breath. No such thing as personal space here. There’s a woman in front of me. I wonder—oblivious or selfish? Her head is in a book and as her eyes move and her head turns, her ponytail whips me in the face. Wisps of her flaxen hair stick to my lip gloss. There is no room in such cramped quarters for reading today. She doesn’t realize this? A man to my left. Doesn’t look like he’s showered—greasy skin, musty-smelling clothes. I’m close enough to a woman on my other side to see that the stitching on her jacket is ripped. Another’s face is so close I can see the blemishes hidden under a layer of makeup. And someone had eggs and onions for breakfast. Someone else bathed in powder-scented perfume. My position in the middle provides me with no bar to grip, so I sway with the crowd. I’m safe—they keep me standing. A man falls into me. He has a bony back. Next I fall into a girl. Luckily she has a pillowy front. Sorry she says, even though it is me that is unbalanced. We share a smile. It’s all we can do. We know this is not a joyride.

This is morning on the L train.

 

Tagged

Loot Magnet and Luckiest Chick on the Planet

* To those of you who might be paying attention: This post was written over a month ago, when Ben Affleck’s movie, ‘The Town’, was still playing in theaters. Sometimes I move slowly. Hence, I am only now getting around to posting it.

Last night, after an interesting taxi ride, I was reminded of a great New York story that I never wrote about. It was my own little version of “Cash Cab”. Only, instead of there being any trivia, the money was sort of just…mine. It happened years ago, long before I started this blog—long before WordPress even existed. 

I was out one night with my friend Adam. We had met up for a couple of drinks and then decided to call it early and head to my apartment to watch a movie. Outside, the rain was falling in sheets and the wind was whipping angrily. The idea of trudging to a subway, even if only mere blocks away, was just plain miserable. So we hailed a cab. The driver pulled up to the curb and I, being nearest the street climbed in first, Adam following close behind. So I’m one foot into the car and I pick my head up to slide across the seat in front of me and there, strewn across it, is a literal mess of money. Instantly, a voice inside my head began to shout, “Pick it up! Pick it up!” So I did. And as I did, I realized these weren’t ones. They weren’t fives, or tens or even fifties. They were HUNDRED DOLLAR BILLS. And there were seven of them!

For a second I thought I should say something to the driver, as if it were maybe his, or as if someone might be calling to claim it. And then my street smarts kicked in and told me to keep my mouth shut; that it wasn’t the cabby’s and that whoever it was that so carelessly dropped seven Benjamins in the back of a New York City taxi, probably wasn’t missing it anyway. So I bit down on my tongue and stuffed the wad of cash into the bottom of my bag. The excitement was killing me. I leaned over to Adam and calmly whispered the news, to him. He looked at me as if to scream, when I quickly threw my palm up to cover his mouth. For the rest of the ride we sat in silence, about to burst. 

After what seemed like a far more treacherous than usual climb up the stairs, we finally stepped into my apartment where I pulled the fortune from my bag and spread it out on my kitchen table. For fifteen minutes we jumped up and down screaming, “We’re rich, we’re rich!” And then I divided it—$400 for me, $300 for Adam.

Now this kind of thing doesn’t happen often to a gal, I know. It’s even less likely, that it would ever happen twice.

So my friend Milda and I go to see Ben Affleck’s recent movie, “The Town”. If you don’t know, this is a story about bank robbers. And mind you, they are dealing with insane amounts of cash. The movie gets out and we decide to go for a glass of wine. And the one turns into two. An hour and a half has passed and at this point it’s too late for me to take the subway. So I hail a cab. (And I sigh, that yet again I’m spending twenty bucks to get home instead of two and change.) But ah yes, safety first! So we arrive in Brooklyn and we’re approaching the intersection near where I live and because I speak too late, the cabbie misses his chance to turn and drop me right in front of my building.

“That’s ok,” I say to him. “I can get out here.” But instead of getting out via the left door, (which I would have, had he dropped me in the right place) I got out via the right. And as if this was playing out according to some master plan, as I squeeze the handle to exit, I see, in the side pocket of the door, a neatly folded WAD of money. And I think to myself: “Holy shit! Again? I have got to be the luckiest chick on the planet.” Having been through this before, my instincts kick in immediately. I nonchalantly grab the wad, close my palm around it, say my farewell and thank you and exit the vehicle.

But recall—I just got out of seeing this movie, “The Town”. It centers around people stealing money. So my mind starts racing. And I quicken my pace. I get the to the building and because it’s past ten, the outside front door is locked. I turn the key viciously, as if someone is behind me. Because someone must be following me. Someone has to have set me up. They know I have this money. And it’s not just money. It’s dirty money. It’s drug money. Or murder money. Someone needed to get rid of it, so they set me up, because I am the perfect target. The innocent victim. (Don’t ask me to explain the logic behind this! I suppose sometimes my imagination can run a little wild.)

So I get into the building’s front door. And I look behind me again. No one is there. I make it through the second door. Still, the coast is clear. I run to the elevator and enter vigilantly, in case someone is hiding inside. Come on Andrea!! Really. The elevator door opens, I run down the hall, unlock the door to my apartment, slam the door behind me, lock it and run to my bedroom to take a deep breath. Safe.

And then I start to smile, remembering that once again fortune has found me. What will I buy with the money? How much is even there? It looked like hundreds. It had to be at least $500. Should I buy the leather motorcyle jacket I’ve been eyeing? The yummy leather bag I saw at J Crew? Expensive highlights? Dinner at Daniel? Ahh! There’s so much I could do.

And then I take the money from my bag and look at it…more closely…and see…that it’s fake. Phony bills. Some advertising gimmick. As I realized that this meant there would be no leather jacket, no new bag, no dinner at Daniel, my smile started to fade. But then I laughed, thinking of my panic minutes before, and the whole scenario I’d dreamt up. I might not be cut out to ever really rob a bank, but a good game of cops and robbers? That I think I’d do quite well with.

Tagged

My Favorite Things – No.1

I read, the other day, on a fellow blogger’s post, a comment about struggling sometimes to find inspiration to write something good and solid. I know the feeling. So in thinking about how I could solve this roadblock when I find it standing in my way, I remembered what someone once told me: to write about anything. And then I suppose if my audience finds it dull, well then ok. At least I’m writing. So my idea, along with writing about anything, is that whenever something comes along that really makes my day, I’ll share it here. I’ll call these things “My Favorite Things Today”.

Here goes…

1) I was on the subway this afternoon and noticed at one point, standing near one set of doors, a young father and his son who looked to be about five years old. Now I think most kids are cute, but this one was topping the charts. He was a little Mexican boy I guessed, with dark tan skin, and a head of jet-black, chunky hair in a just less than perfect bowl cut. He had on a pair of blue jeans that I guessed were hand-me-downs because the waste of them was folded over his belt so that he wasn’t tripping on them. Over his t-shirt he had on a jean jacket that again was a little too big, so he was more or less wearing a denim suit. At first I thought he was just leaning up against his dad, but then when I looked again I realized the dad was holding him under his armpits. As in holding him up. The child was standing, fast asleep. His chunky-hair head would be upright one second and then suddenly fall to swing like a pendulum. And his little legs kept buckling at the knees. The kid was out. I looked at the dad with a sympathetic smile and took a scan of our surroundings to see what could be done. A pair of girls in seats in front of me were gathering their things, as if to be getting off. So when the train stopped, I ushered the dad over trying to save the empty spots for him and his son. Of course some oblivious woman sat herself down, so only the boy could sit. Better than nothing, I supposed. At least the buckling knees would no longer be an issue. But the head. His poor little tired head. Of course, there he sat and there the head fell. And then his body fell, and next thing he was leaning up against the girl next to him. She was in a semi-trance, in deep meditation it seemed, listening to her ipod, with her eyes (lined in yellow pencil) closed. I waited to see what would transpire, hoping she would let him stay leaning on her. She woke up and shuffled, and the dad, obviously not wanting to bother anyone, once again moved the boy, still sound asleep, to position him upright. And then the whole thing started again.

2) I was on the phone with my friend today and as usual,  after checking in about work and my newest living situation, she asked about my dating life. We got to talking and I mentioned to her that I had met someone several weeks before that I really liked but that he unfortunately has a girlfriend. I said to her, “Why does that always happen to me? I finally find one I like and he’s taken.” And her response was: “Well because there are too many stupid relationships in this city. So if they would all end and everyone get down to business, all the right people could be with eachother.”

I shook my head and thought, “Well, yes, that just about sums it up.”

And lastly…

3) My bag hunt. I am in desperate need of a new one for fall, as the one I am currently carrying I think, after two seasons, finally needs to be retired. But since all the ones I’ve seen and loved are over 300 bucks and I would feel really bad spending that kind of money – even though I so want to—I have decided that I might just make do with a simple canvas tote. So I left the lovely Olivia Harris one on the shelf at Bloomingdales and hit the street to find some basics. I went to Uniqlo. They’re good with basics. But I wasn’t even sure they sell bags, so I went up to a sales guy and said, “Hi. I’m looking for bags. Do you have bags anywhere? Or purses?” And his reply to me? “We have man purses…”

Tagged

“Oh, You Want Me To Drive?!”

Living in New York, I can get by very easily without having to own a car, thanks to the MTA (despite its faults and fare hikes) and my trusty feet (despite their cuts and calluses). This doesn’t however mean that I don’t drive. I do whenever the need arises, and think I manage pretty well—once even maneuvering a 14-foot, windowless U-Haul truck down a Soho street to move myself from one apartment to the next. It’s been a while though, since that escapade—so long I can’t really remember the last time I took a seat behind the wheel on these mean streets. Well, that was until this past weekend, when my parents were in town.

My mother, a native New Yorker had an itinerary planned chock full of little adventures during their stay—a visit to this long lost relative or that old favorite place. Only instead of her or my dad doing the driving, like they did all on our of my childhood vacations in New York, it was my foot on the gas pedal. Their lives in my hands!

When I saw the car, (and once I regained my vision following a near-blindness set on by its neon blue exterior) I felt quite at ease, it being a Ford Explorer as opposed to anything in the 14-foot/windowless category. I climbed in, adjusted myself in the seat, acquainted myself with the dash and set us on our way. And then pulling out onto Second Avenue, suddenly (as my friend says), part of a massive school of fish rushing upstream (or uptown in our case), the nerves hit me. In this school there is no room for error; no guidance through your hesitation; and no allowance for quitting. It was me against the world– or at least me against the driving contingent of the upper east side on that particular Saturday. And in all truth, I was a minor basket case.

In the backseat, my mother toggled between her Tom Tom (which was clearly having issues, still stuck in Florida) and my blackberry, as I scolded her for rattling off too much at once: “One line at a time mom. I can’t memorize all of this. New York City driving is stressful, remember?!” In the front, my dad did his best at navigating us through the immediate—reading road signs, directing me in lane changes and so on. Poor man, if he even so much as replaced a windblown hair from out of his eyes I would yell at him: “No moving Daddy! You’re making me nervous.”

Over bridges, through tunnels, on parkways from one borough to the next…they we were, the brightest blue fish, keeping up with the rest of ’em.

I don’t really know how—perhaps it was the memories of family trips as a kid, or the stories my mother was telling that day—but somehow, soon enough, the knot in my stomach was gone and I was actually loving it, this crazy New York City driving thing. I thought of the million and one times we drove over bridges from my aunt’s house in Long Island to my uncle’s place in the Bronx and I remembered how funny I thought all the names sounded—the Triboro (before I realized what it meant) and the Throggs Neck (which of course I thought was Frog’s Neck). I remembered looking out the window as we would be approaching a bridge, hoping that there was really another side to it and that we wouldn’t end up in the water. I remembered the time I fell asleep in the back of the van next to my cousin Michael and how by some very bad stroke of luck my green Chewels gum ended up in his brown-black hair, and then my mother had to comb it out with peanut butter once we got to Uncle Dave’s.

Our minds collectively drifted in and out of memories and before long we arrived at City Island where my grandparents owned a neighborhood grocery store fifty something years ago. My mom reminisced about her days growing up in the Bronx– days at Orchard Beach and news stories of “mafia activity” in Pelham Bay Park. I imagined what it must have been like and thought how different from my New York life, but in some ways, how very much the same.

If I hadn’t actually had to pay attention through it, I could say it was a joyride. Definitely the best drive I’ve taken in a while. And despite how nerve-racking it can be, I actually think its something we non-driving New Yorkers (licensed of course) should force ourselves to do every now and then—to really feel the energy and craziness of this city that just isn’t the same on foot.

Hi-Ho the Cherry-O

The thing about New York City is that you don’t have to make this stuff up. It really happens. You just have to be tuned in to catch it.

So earlier tonight, I was en route home after a post-work late workout, on the train, with little fuel left in me. I could feel my face hanging long. I was simply not interested in still being out and about and I could think of little, if anything that could amuse me in this state.

The train was semi-crowded, everyone doing their thing, and out of the blue this man breaks out in song. Now mind you this man looked like Humpty Dumpty. Yes, Humpty Dumty. Imagine the fairytale egg man, only…imagine a real man. He was about five feet tall, wearing ratty canvas sneakers, high-water jeans that were nearly pulled up to his chest, a white Hanes t-shirt tucked in and he had a circumference the size of a California Redwood. Okay, so maybe that’s pushing it, but with the Humpty Dumpty reference you get the idea. He lacked some fashion sense sure, but he appeared an average Joe, pretty normal, not in any way harmful or crazy.

So he started singing, ‘The bride cuts the cake, the bride cuts the cake, hi-ho-the-cherry-o, the bride cuts the cake.” He continued. “The groom cuts the cake, the groom cuts the cake. Hi-ho the cherry-o, the groom cuts the cake.”

Suddenly I’m back in the game. My head turns. I look at him, look around, I notice eyes are rolling and people are moving away from the guy to get their distance. And there I am wondering when it turned from ‘derry-o’ to ‘cherry-o’. Mister Dumpty isn’t bothered. He goes on. “Theeeee (dragging that out so as to introduce the next step the happy couple is about to embark upon). Theeeee bride feeds the groom, the bride feeds the groom, hi-ho the cherry-o, the bride feeds the groom.” And then things start getting loopy. “The groom feeds the bride, the groom feeds the groom, hi-ho-the-cherry-o, the bride cuts the cake.” I was sitting with my head to my chest, biting my tongue so not to burst out in laughter. And to him it all made perfect sense.

Thanks mister, for making my night.

Manic Monday

At work this morning, I started my day—over coffee of course—in my inbox, going through yesterday’s emails, checking to make sure I’d addressed everything that needed addressing. There I am clicking, reading, clicking, deleting and I come across one in which I was apologizing to this guy for having forgotten to include the necessary attachments. If you can believe it, (brace yourselves people) I actually wrote to him: “Ooops. It’s been a manic Monday.”

Yes, I wrote that!

We all know the song. Susanna Hoffs. The Bangles. I’ve been singing the lyrics since my preteen years, long before I had any business characterizing any of my days as being manic, when my stresses amounted to a heavy backpack of books and having to run suicides at basketball practice. I think, probably like most kids, I was singing because I liked the sound, but in actuality had no idea what this manic life they sang of was really all about. These days, I get it. And yesterday, because Mondays are inherently rough and because I, for some reason was feeling extra flustered—felt like they had written the song for me.

Six o’clock already I was just in the middle of a dream…

At six o’clock I was indeed in the middle of a dream, though instead of kissing Valentino (yeah, yeah—by a crystal blue Italian stream), I was on an operating table getting surgery. Kissing Valentino would have been so much nicer. Kissing any handsome lad for that matter, I know. Surgery? Don’t ask! Nevertheless, I was still in my slumber dreaming, and the alarm that signaled the week’s beginning was the last thing I wanted to hear.

But I can’t be late ‘cause then I guess I just won’t get paid. These are the days when you wish your bed was already made

Right. Can’t be late. This is still a new job. Late = bad and I like getting paid. And yes, if only my bed could already be made. This would save me at least five minutes of precious prep time. Of course some might say forget the bed. Leave it and go. But no, not I. The thought alone makes me cringe.

Just another Manic Monday. And yes, I wished it were Sunday.

Have to catch an early train is the story of my life and yeah even if I had an air-o-plane, I still wouldn’t make it on time. Cause it takes me so long…. Uh huh, uh huh….to figure out what I’m gonna wear. Blame it on the train but the boss is already there! What on earth am I gonna wear? This is the ever-present thorn in my side. Standing in my closet staring at my choices, I feel like I’m in high school again after years in private school wishing that I could go back to wearing my uniform. If only I had one today. Is the MTA hiring?

And so we arrive at the end. I still sing the lyrics but in my mind we’ve come to a screeching halt. My lover, his bedroom voice, saying to me honey, “let’s go make some noise.”  Oh oh oh oh. Oh wait. What? Somehow this part is way off.

Hopefully someday soon it won’t be and Mr. Lover, Valentino or whoever he is, can help me through my manic Mondays for as long as they come. ‘Cause here, I know…they’re not stopping any time soon.

Tagged , ,

WTF MTA?

Apartment hunting in New York is like searching for that perfect person. It’s trying to find the one that meets your very certain criteria, but ultimately, the one that puts a spring in your step as you climb the stairs to get home, a smile on face as you unlock your three locks before opening the door. To make the task appropriately more difficult (because such is New York life), beyond finding a guarantor and paying that painfully steep broker’s fee, the first month’s, last month’s and the security deposit, on any given day there are hundreds, quite possibly thousands of vacancies in this concrete jungle…where dreams are made of. But they’re not just in Manhattan. We have four other boroughs and a handful of locations across the river in Jersey that are brimming with unoccupied pieces of real estate.   

I currently happen to be on the hunt, seeking a new place to live. After over a decade calling Manhattan my home, I’ve thought it might be a good time to venture beyond this particular island. So last night to Park Slope it was to check out a ‘cozy room on a tree-lined block’ with ‘cheap’ rent. The tenant I was going to meet gave me quick directions the day before and assured me it was easy to find. I agreed it would be no problem and the next day left to see it, confident I knew the route.

A preposterous notion!

So I’m on the train, one stop into Brooklyn when an announcement comes on, that due to weekend construction there is a detour and all passengers wanting to get off at such and such stops need to take the shuttle bus at Jay Street. I heard the announcement twice, confirmed my amended route on the map and followed the conductor’s directions. This led me to a bus ride through who knows where that tacked onto my commute another 15 minutes at least. I got off the bus at Church Avenue (as directed by the MTA dispatcher) and headed down to the train to continue my mission. ‘That train isn’t running,’ the booth clerk advises me. Great, I think. So now what? ‘Go upstairs and take the local bus.’ Ok, I thought. Got it.

So I get on the bus, which is parked on the sidewalk, humming. ‘I need to go to 4th and 9th,’ I said. ‘Do you go there?’

‘I’m new,’ he replies. ‘I don’t know.’ He looks at his route and confirms that indeed he does. So we take off. I’m in an unfamiliar corner of Brooklyn, have no idea where I am, so I sit attentively looking out the window, watching out for my stop. We’re driving along and I see this girl– a tough born-and-bred-in-Brooklyn type with an enviable curled, mohawk hairstyle– looking as if we weren’t where we were supposed to be. So she gets up, goes up to the driver and a dialogue of some sorts begins. Next thing, I hear him get on the loud speaker and say, ‘Attention passengers, we are turning around and going back to Church Avenue.’

Clearly the driver has no idea where he is going either.  

I realize then that this chick with the mohawk is navigating. She seems to be the only one who knows the way. And aside from me, she seems to be the only one who is bothered by our clueless driver. Problem is, she’s getting off on the next stop. Again, the driver gets on the loud speaker. This time he says, ‘Is anyone going to the end of the route? ‘Cause she’s getting off here and I’ll need a replacement.’ At this point I’m about to jump off myself. I look around and again notice that I seem to be the only person bothered by the situation. Fine. One couple was having a conversation in sign language— hearing-impaired I presumed; so they might not have been aware of what was happening. And a few passengers looked like they were foreign, so perhaps they didn’t catch on either. But everyone else?

The Brooklyn chick gets off and we’re stopped at a light. Another bus pulls up alongside us and out of his window our driver says to the other one, ‘Hey buddy ok if I follow you? It’s my first day. I don’t know the route.’ So we follow the other bus, mind you, one with a different route number than the one we’re on, so I’m convinced we’re not even making the right stops. As soon as I caught a street sign that sounded familiar, I got off and figured I’d navigate on foot.

Way to go MTA.

Tagged ,