Riding the subway was an ordinary, tongue-and-groove part of my life in New York City. I took the train to all ends of the five boroughs and usually it was the most effective, economical, fastest form of transportation. I didn’t doubt my safety or fear potential biological terrorism or crashes. I also haven’t taken the subway for five years, since I moved just across the bridge, to the land of fancy cars and shopping malls: New Jersey.
During the last year when we were the clown family living on Wall Street, with an 8-year-old and a newborn, we took the subway wherever we wanted to go, but with two kids and the stroller gear, I started to feel cramped and avoided rush hour when the whole “packed like sardines” commute made me feel violated, abused, and sweaty. The service diminished, the riders increased, and day by day, my tolerance dwindled so much by the time we moved, I was happy to ride around in my new SUV, vowing that looking for parking was more convenient than the too-close-for-comfort commute.
I haven’t doubted my decision to say hasta la vista to the metro, having consistently chosen to drive into the city versus taking public transportation. My six-year-old-daughter looks at the subway longingly, like a roller coaster she can’t wait to grow up to ride, but she doesn’t know the heat, the stench, the congestion.
There is nothing I miss about the subway. Well, almost nothing. Deep underground some of the most vivid glorious New York City stories lurk. The metropolis is more than a mere backdrop, it is a heart which beats, like a metronome for the souls who call it home. It also provides endless entertainment.
Here are some notes I found from my notebook during my last year of riding the subway; I read it and felt a pang of nostalgia. (Not enough to start riding again, but enough to smile wistfully.)
From my Notes on the Subway, 2011:
Eating lollipops in public feels like a dare. How did such an innocent thing get so pornographic: Yet, I’m sucking and it seems everyone is staring at my metaphorical blowjob.
I see one other woman with a lollipop and she has long acrylic nails with airbrush designs. The Ray Liotta look alike, the Wall Street broker, and the jock in the backward baseball cap have eyes bulging at her lips. I feel wine coursing through my body and it makes my heart beat quicker and my eyes judge gentler. I’m floating, my head above my body, attached by a thread and I am a bystander.
A young couple is making out – but they are merely background – a billboard on the subway. The people on the train parade off one by one, bumping my dizzy mind. My handwriting is compromised. I look around through a blurry haze. The two glasses of wine have penetrated my body and everything is moving and dancing around me. I want to close my eyes and exist in my darkness, in the dwindling world.
Am I at Fulton Street or Wall Street? The train slows. It’s Fulton Street. One more till my stop; home.