We think we don’t want to be on the subway.
I’d rather be on the local than the express when I’m not in a hurry. There’s way more to see in the subway car than there is in my apartment, unless you think TV is better than the lighting and the faces and the clothing styles on the subway car.
I like to see what people are reading.
In Washington a few weeks ago, I couldn’t figure out how to buy a Metro ticket from their big machines. I went over to the information window and told that to the woman in the booth in a uniform and she came out from her office and pushed the buttons for me. It cost me more than $11 to ride out just past the Bethesda Naval Hospital and back. In a magazine article with the right photos and lighting, they could make the Metro look like something we should have here. I didn’t like it at all. No interior list of stops. No easy signs out the window when you’re pulling into a station. Terrible, hard-to-hear voice telling what stop you’re at. You had no idea.
I like the way the machines here take your card when you hit the refill button. Not everything about the system is that quick. Why is there always a Shake Shack-long line downstairs at Grand Central to get subway information? It’s mostly tourists who just got into town. That’s their first impression. In the summer it’s insanely long.
You seldom see anyone reading the ‘Times’ or the ‘Daily News’ or the ‘Post’ on the trains.
Walker Evans did a great book, ‘Many Are Called ‘ of photographs of people on the subway in the Depression years. He hid his camera in his overcoat, lens hardly peeking out. You could put it on hold at the library. It’s worth looking at, those black and white photos that you stare at.
I pretend I’m looking at my iPhone for another song to play. I snap a photo instead. A lot of people do that, I’m sure.
I would never listen to music on the train. Too much other good stuff going on.
Sometimes the 6 train goes express form Bleecker Street to Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall. Some of the older Asian people can’t understand English and miss the announcement that the train won’t be stopping at Canal Street.
Here’s how Don DeLillo’s legendary novel, ‘Libra’ about Lee Harvey Oswald, begins with Oswald on the subway:
“This was the year he rode the subway to the ends of the city, two hundred miles of track. He liked to stand at the front of the first car, hands flat against the glass. The train smashed though the dark. People stood on local platforms staring nowhere, a look they’d been practicing for years. He kind of wondered, speeding past, who they really were. His body fluttered in the fastest stretches. They went so fast sometimes he thought they were on the verge of no-control. The noise was pitched to a level of pain he absorbed as a personal test. Another crazy-ass curve. There was so much iron in the sound of those curves he could almost taste it, like a toy you put in your mouth when you were little.”
I see some of the same people every day on the train. You see some kids go from being there with a parent or a nanny to going by themselves.
When my son first started to take the subway, my husband and I used to follow him to make sure he was all right, and then we had to stop following him and let him do it by himself.
I read a book on the train. I keep it in my backpack. I don’t read it at home. Just on the train. Best book I read on the train was ‘The Snow Leopard’ by Peter Matthiessen. So good I read it twice on the train.
I love the comfort of daily life’s routines: things like being able to read a paper on the subway. It’s no accident that my favorite word is ‘quotidian.’
I find crossing the threshold to get on the train exciting and unpredictable. It’s really a concentration of the city. Runners heading to Central Park. Students heading to Hunter College. Couples with tickets to a concert at Carnegie Hall. European tourists with scarves on and good haircuts. None of that is going on in my apartment.
I feel most like a New Yorker on the train. I feel lucky. I like that.