I can’t help but think about The O’Jays when I ride the C train. And not just because I used to commute back and forth from my boyfriend’s place on 105th and Manhattan to my studio on Suffolk and Houston. The C train officially became the Love Train one day four years ago somewhere between Manhattan Valley and the Lower East Side.
As I made my way through the turnstile at 103rd Street, a woman tapped me on the shoulder to ask if she was on the downtown side. When I confirmed she was, she laughed – relieved – and then told me how she’d been so wrapped up in the sheet music she was studying that she missed her stop completely. I commiserated and, though I’m typically a failure at small talk and such, we chit-chatted like old neighbors about this and that until the train pulled up. The doors opened and – just as dreamy – the handful of faces on the car we stepped into were smiling in the same soft manner of my new musician friend. All of them. Like every one of them had told themselves a funny story. Or they were all each holding some special secret.
The doors closed, we settled into two seats that beckoned, and a bright-eyed man in his seventies who’d been on the train recognized another woman who’d just got on at 103rd along with us. This woman — who must have been in her early 40s, I suppose — waved excitedly and greeted the older man from across the car. She made her way to his seat and asked where he was headed. With the tone of someone who’s giving a carefree attitude a test spin, he responded, “Just here and there.” Eyebrows lifted, she smiled and asked if he’d cancelled his classes today. “Nope. I’ve left that school,” he announced. Then, grinning more daringly: “I’m still teaching at a number of other places, though.”
His old student seemed delighted. She nodded and told him, steady and sure: “You are a good teacher.”
“Thanks very much,” he said. Then he flushed pink and lowered his head to unnecessarily steady his briefcase between his feet. “What have you been up to these days?”
“Oh, not much. Same stuff, really.” She thought a minute. Head lowered, but eyes tilted flirtatiously at him, she ventured “I still don’t like Plath.”
“Well, you can’t like everything.” He shook his head, laughing. “You sure can’t.”
The woman I’d met at 103rd Street and I silently drank up this delicious scene together until the train pulled to a stop. And then she got up to rise at 96th street, turned to me and remarked, “A good thing happened when I missed my stop. I met you. Such a pleasant person.” I thanked her, smiled, and joined the others as the doors chimed shut and we continued on.