On Board #51

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Feb. 18, 2009, 8:54 p.m.
W Train – 23rd Street to Union St.

From exactly 8:54 to 8:56, I am alone. I can see one man who looks homeless in the car ahead, and two or three behind, spread out, in the car behind. But in this car, it’s just me.

As far as I can remember, I’ve never been completely alone on a subway car, and the first thing I notice is the air conditioning. You don’t realize just how loud the air conditioning is on the subway. The X-Wing-like drone as the train accelerates and brakes are surprisingly loud and distressing. I’ve heard them all  before, but with nothing around to focus on, no one to look at, the noise is that much more apparent.

At Whitehall St., a man boards with a brown paper bag. Three minutes later, after crossing under the mouth of the East River, he departs and I’m alone again.

It’s not so much that the car is any more quiet than it normally would be – most subway cars aren’t filled with conversation – but there is simply a vacuum of attention-holding material. No sounds, sure, but no open books, pretty faces, tapping feet, happy couples. I start to notice the geometry of the car, with silver bars crossing diagonally an horizontally and vertically, and the rounded rectangles of the windows. The AC is seriously loud now. Loud enough that I can barely think. Reading isn’t an option. Something isn’t right. I consider loosing a fart.

A man boards at Dekalb and accompanies me the rest of the way. He plugs an iPod in to shield himself from the madness.

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