A new feature begins today, here at Meanderings. It’s looking for a name, so suggest one in the comments, but the idea goes a little something like this: people in major cities spend a lot of time on mass transit; by my rough estimate, most New Yorkers spend an hour per day, 7 hours per week, 30 or so per month, and a dozen or so full days per year on a transit vehicle of some kind. That’s a lot of livin’.
So, hopefully with your help, we’ll be chronicling those 12 days of life. This is not meant for “Weird Shit That Happened on the L Train.” This is meant for the everyday, the normal, the poignantly average.
For my part, for now, this will mean short stories, typed out on my iPhone during subway rides to and from various places. They’ll be entirely written during the ride, lightly edited to rid them of fat-fingered nonsense, and presented here for you. Some will be long, some short, some funny, some sad, some engaging, some boring – and all of it will be true, as best a passive observer can tell.
I hope to add one per day during the week, and hope you’ll help me by sending yours along (E-mail: email@example.com). Photos, songs, writing, painting, etch-a-sketch – from New York, and especially, elsewhere – are all encouraged: whatever tells the story of 1/24 of your day.
Here you go:
July 31, 9:48 a.m.
Q Train – 7th Avenue to Times Square
The fans are out in the 7th Avenue station today, where a muggy morning above ground has turned into a blast furnace. One woman has her head covered in a multi-colored wrap and furiously flaps an all black, lacy fan. Another has one that wouldn’t be out of place in the Met’s Asian collection. Or, for $2 bucks, on Canal Street.
The Q train is a welcome force before it’s even visible or audible, as the 40-miles per hour’s worth of air compression blows through the station.
It’s even better inside the air-conditioned car. Two native Brooklynites in t-shirts are talking loudly across the train. We’re in one of the newer cars with fewer seats and more space for standing, so the two men, both overweight and in their 50s, must speak up to reach across the aisle. They talk about a dentist. Gary – in all black, from bandanna to shoes – is looking for a referral. He’s not on Medicaid, but his union pays part of his fees, so he’ll have to pay 50 dollars in deductible. He wants a good dentist, and one that will take cash. Frank pulls out his wallet, wondering if he has a business card for a guy he goes to in Brighton Beach. He’s wearing classic blue wranglers and white sneakers, with sunglasses hanging from two silver chains around his neck. Gary reaches into his backpack and pulls out a stick of Trident gum, ear phones, and a small notepad full of drawings, mostly still life’s and landscapes, some in color. He pulls out a blue pen and starts sketching.
Gary puts his wallet away after a fruitless search. At DeKalb, several women get on board and block the space between Gary and Frank. They hadn’t been talking for a minute or so, and Frank leans slightly to the right, peaking around the women, and says to Gary, “Hey, have a good day.”
Most in the train are looking down as we cross the bridge. Two men read newspapers, both the Times, but different sections. A 20-something couple read separately, their backs against each other. They had held hands, briefly, in the station. Now she has a book, while he has a magazine and large studio headphones striping his shaved head. He pointed to an article in his magazine when they entered the train, and she smiled, but they hadn’t spoken since. A middle-aged black man looks down as well, but outside the train, southward along the East River, and down at the Manhattan-side projects that both sit below and rise above the bridge.
Frank jumps up suddenly after we go back underground. He had been texting someone in the bridge, apparently to get the name of the dentist. He crossed the car and opened his flip phone in Gary’s face, telling him “That’s the guy.”
“Thanks,” Gary says, genuinely, writing the name on the back of a drawing. He underlines it, twice. Frank steps off at Grand St., and Gary goes back to drawing. It’s a seaside scene, 5×7 in size. Sit yellowish sand sits beneath a smattering of gray clouds framing an orange sun. There’s a lighthouse on the right side of the drawing, and from this angle it’s either slightly covered by the clouds or the clouds are actually smoke billowing from a yet-to-be-drawn multi-alarm fire in the tower. Both seem possible. The waves are drawn in blue and white streaks, and there’s already one sailboat. Gary is finishing a second one that will fill out the scene, but flips his book shut at half-mast as West 4th street approaches.
The car’s other, younger, only slightly more amorous couple has taken a seat. She leans in to him, her right knee against his lengthy thighs. They remain silent as does everyone else in the car: one person reads Pynchon, another the Daily News. A 40-year old woman holds a pale blue suit jacket in her lap as she scans pictures on her digital camera. The couple departs, along with most of the train, at Times Square. He walks four steps ahead, even up the stairs, and keeps his earphones in, only taking them off above ground. He holds the door for her then keeps walking ahead. At the intersection of 42nd and Broadway, they stop, turn, say a few words, and kiss. They disappear into the crowd, together.