I'd forgotten that riding the New York City subways brings out your inner warrior, that being deep inside you with an innate will to survive. Yesterday I got a harsh reminder.
I had a job interview at 10 a.m. at Two Park Avenue. That meant trains from Queens to midtown Manhattan in the midst of rush hour, an exercise in frustration that I recommend you avoid if at all possible.
It started in Astoria where I bounded up the stairs at the Broadway stop along with the rest of the city's worker bees. I left my apartment an hour before my interview was to start, which gave me ample time to arrive and get there early. I wasn't in a rush, but still I walked along at a brisk clip, my Metrocard at the ready.
Just as I was about to enter the turnstyle, I heard the Manhattan-bound N train barrel into the station overhead. The guy behind me heard it too, because he stuck his long, lanky arm around me and across my chest in an attempt to thrust his body in front of mine.
It didn't work. I continued through the turnstyle, shot him a side-eye that could cut glass, all the while mouthing the word "wow" at him. His brutish attempt to cut me off was unsuccessful and unnecessary. We both made it onto the crowded N train, both jostling for space to grip the vertical pole that prevents a puddle of people on the floor upon take off.
I know that commuting in a car is maddening. Rush hour car traffic is a nightmare that I'm glad I no longer have to endure. But at least you have a bubble. In a vehicle you have steel mass surrounding you, a barrier between you and men who think a forearm across your breasts is a good way to get to work earlier.
I had to transfer to the 6 at 59th and Lexington, so I squeezed my body through the throng of commuters and flung myself onto the platform. I could move again. And no one's coffee breath was hot on my face.
I checked my phone. There was plenty of time to make it to the interview without being late.
A sea of humanity practically carried me to the downtown 6 train. When I arrived at the platform I saw a crowd of people six deep and sighed knowing a battle was about to ensue. There were significant delays on both the uptown and downtown 6 lines, with significant anger from the masses to match.
Within one minute a 6 train screamed into the station, packed with bodies and bags. I watched those on the front lines wait impatiently for people to disembark, then hurl themselves inward, despite there being no apparent room to do so. Most of them fit, like some kind of subway voodoo, but a couple of riders still had their butts and backpacks hanging out of the doors, which held the train up even further.
"If you cannot safely board this train and fit all the way inside the closing doors, please consider taking the next available train," the conducter groaned over the loud speaker.
I'd already decided to wait for the following train said to arrive in five minutes. It's why I'd left early. So I didn't have to have my butt crushed by subway doors.
By waiting for the next train, I'd found myself right along the yellow safety strip at the edge of the platform, a sure spot for safely boarding the next subway car. As I stood waiting, a young woman with a mass of curly hair snaked her way in front of me and along the edge of the platform, treating it like a balance beam. I held my breath and she precariously navigated the front lines, risking life and limb to find a better position. I hoped I would not see someone die that day.
Another train crushed full of humans entered the station and when the doors opened, people spilled out with great force. Once the last person got off, I took a step to board, when suddenly I felt an elbow in my ribcage.
An elderly man, though not infirm, was literally elbowing me out of his way. He was behind me, but was unsatisfied with that position, and so he was physically and painfully using his pointy little old man elbows to take my spot.
I spun around, mere inches from his face and said, "Excuse you!" He jabbed me in the ribs again with an elbow like a knife, at which time I bellowed, "EXCUSE YOU!"
He was unfazed. My yelling in his face seemed to fall on deaf ears. His mission was to make sure he got on that train, and no chick with a job interview was going to stand in his way.
You can't be in flight on a packed subway car, so you immediately move to fight mode. I was ready to brawl with a man who gets senior citizen discounts at his local cafeteria.
There was no way I was letting this man bully his way onto the train before me. I squeezed my way in and grabbed the pole with both hands and tried not to continue with a tirade of expletives.
At the next stop, when it would seem there was no way another body could squeeze onto the subway car, about a dozen or so did. A short, bald man in a Rangers jersey began ordering people around.
"You in the middle! Move down! Now you next to him! Move down! I can't stay cramped up in this position!" He was giving orders and people were actually following them. Save for the lady who shouted, "If you can't fit, you need to wait, sir!"
I felt a leather purse jab into the small of my back. A man pushing 300 pounds stepped on my foot. Another man leered and winked in my direction, then began looking down the blouse of the woman to his right.
I was so relieved to finally arrive at the 33rd Street stop, my final destination. I said excuse me in order to politely exit the train, but a man standing in a trench coat would not budge.
"Excuse me, please," I said more assertively.
"If you are not getting off, you need to chill," he said without even looking at me.
"This is my stop!," I said, then shapeshifted in order to make it out the doors before they closed.
The relief of exiting a train packed to the gills is glorious. I could move! I could breathe! I shook my hair out and readjusted my belongings, so grateful to be walking onto the streets of Manhattan, even in pouring rain.
I fished my compact umbrella from inside my purse and opened it just as I crested the stairs onto Park Avenue, at which time a fierce wind promptly turned it inside out.
(photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ianqui/1547118909)