Front of the Train

by

05/31/2006

1 Columbus Cir, NY, NY 10019

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

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When I take the subway I like to stand in the front car and look out the window. The window is long and narrow and through it I begin to watch the moving narrative of traveling through the underground on my way to wherever it is I want to go. I must keep my balance standing or else sit with the rest of the crowd on hard orange seats never quite big enough for you and the pregnant woman sitting next to you and never quite spacious enough for you to turn away from the woman to your other side who wears so much perfume you wonder if you’ll ever again be able to smell anything other than the Chanel #5 that she chose to douse herself with that morning. I prefer the window. When we pass by scattered lights on the sides of the tunnels I can make out graffiti and look around to see if any of the artists loom in the dark corners of the tunnel--but they don’t. The geometry of the scaffolding makes public transportation into abstract art.
When the tunnels are all black, the fluorescent lights of the subway car make looking forwards into the tunnels impossible and instead, by looking forwards through the window, I am really looking backwards at the reflection of the people sitting behind me: the suited investment banker who has loosened his tie and is trying to skim the headlines of that day’s edition of the Wall Street Journal while he inches away from the sleeping man’s head that keeps falling onto his shoulder; the two brothers who kick each other sitting not quite properly on their seats but rather sideways and backwards squirming and peering outwards to try to see what lay beyond in the untouchable space outside the window; the preaching gospel man who raises his hands up towards the emergency exit escape on the ceiling impassioned by the words of God and certain of man’s treacherous sins, quoting the Bible without ever looking at it while it remains clenched in the fist of his left hand. As we pull into 50th Street, 59th Street and then Lincoln Center, craned and impatient heads peer over the edge of the platform and then at the site of us, oncoming, they instinctively pull their necks back behind the yellow line, smug with the knowledge that their waiting is about to end. As we approach the station, the shuffling of people in a rush looks almost inhuman, as constant as the sequence of waves in a set, like movement not quite settled but perpetually going somewhere else. Like the naked lady emblems on the mud-flaps of semi trucks, I become part of a vehicle moving through landscape. I’m not the only one who stands in that place by the window. A tap on my shoulder and I look up to a long Rastafara beard and a smiling man with a look on his face meaning ‘move over.’ I tell him it’s my birthday and that this is my favorite place. He keeps smiling. "It’s my birthday too," he says, "and this is the place I want to be." We stop talking and look again out the window and into the darkness and the once-in-a-while lit-up scenes of the underground. Subway workers in neon-orange bibs hold lanterns fixing the tracks nearby, bare 200-Watt bulbs jut out from century old wooden slats and only at 14th Street do I realize I am moving to the beat of the Spanish pop-rock that a teenager is blasting from the middle of the car.»

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