Subway Diary Week #2

In Subway Diary on January 27, 2008 at 2:24 am

I guess she needed to feel safe. Crowded for 4:30pm.

I didn’t mind standing; there were too many older people out and about. So, when we pulled into Columbus Circle I gladly let the mêlée of tourists haggle for the spare seats, as long I was still permitted to retain my spot, leaning on the door.

She brushed on with a surprising amount of force for a woman of five feet and plopped herself into a seat she clearly couldn’t fit into, and wasn’t at all ashamed of spilling over to the sleeping man next to her. She rustled in her bag while I watched a man across the aisle give up his seat so two older women could sit next to each other. “I would’ve done that,” I thought, were I sitting. The doors close and we’re off.

I resume with my NY Times Magazine, and start to lean on the handrail. (A quick sidebar- I only lean on a handrail when it’s obvious that no one around me is going to hold on to it.)

As I’m leaning, I feel something poking into my left abdomen. The five-foot whirlwind, in addition to getting a seat, is holding on to the rail. Her knuckles are pushing into my side. I lean off for a minute and shoot her a dirty look, as if to say, “Excuse me, you have a seat. You don’t get the handrail too. Can you let go? This isn’t a roller-coaster.”

She’s oblivious, immersed in her paperback. So, I re-lean, this time pressing my body into the pole. I’m now realizing that the positive effect of not having to touch those filthy poles is pretty much obliterated by rubbing your entire left side of your coat into it, as opposed to maybe just the corner of your shoulder, but that’s not the point. She’s intruding on my standing space, after I was gracious enough to choose not to sit when I got on in anticipation of someone more needy.

She continues to read and my NY Times Magazine is no longer the focus of my attention. I start to huff, to no avail. I groan loudly. So loudly, that the woman across the shoots me a look. She won’t let go. (She reminded me of my grandmother. For some reason, whenever I’m driving and she’s in shotgun she clings to the safety strap above the window. I’ve never asked why.)

We pass four stops and I’ve run out of subtle ways to make her let go short of asking her, which we all know would be unthinkable. Just as I’m retreating to the less desired spot or leaning on the door, she starts to level herself to move. Her hand lets go of the handrail. I’ll call it a draw. She cranes her neck to me and I think she might speak, but her gaze goes right past me. Her entire head is out of her designated sitting section and in front of my stomach. I realize she’s peering out the door to see what stop we’re at. Once she’s got her info, she returns to her book and the hand shoot back up for the rail.

I admit defeat and curse her inside my head. Next stop was mine, so I pack up. As I’m exiting the train I start to ponder why someone (who isn’t under the age to ten) choose to hold the handrail when they had a seat.

Does she have separation issues? Has she fallen out of her seat once when the subway jerked? Is it a medical thing, her back maybe? Does she not know the rules of riding the subway: if you take a seat, you don’t get a handrail as well, and you can’t get mad if my backpack comes within an inch of your face? Or is she just and oblivious old lady?

Clearly one of us is too neurotic to ride the subway during rush hour.

Monday Jan. 23rd, around 4:30pm, 1 train from 66th Street/Lincoln Center to 23rd Street.

**This is part of a series entitled Subway Diary. These anecdotes are based on my real interactions on the NYC Subway. The basis of Coffee Cup (a theatre co)’s upcoming show in May at the Access Theatre in Manhattan.


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