Train Stories

Missed Connection

I don't know what he was trying to say to me, but I know feeling vulnerable on the train, feeling like you know someone when you don't. I know sitting helplessly as eyes brim with tears, being unable to control your face.

I was on the N for an afternoon of exploring a neighborhood that is not my own. I watched out the window as rows of homes flipped by like a shuffled deck of cards. I wore headphones that filled my ears with sounds I selected.

He was young, a little scraggly looking. He seemed nervous, and I caught him eyeing my phone. I stuck it under my purse. That's when he motioned to me that he wanted to talk. I pulled my headphones down.

"I'm sorry," he said. I didn't know what he was sorry for, but he seemed genuinely regretful. 

"I'm sorry?," I said it back to him as a question.

"This is embarrassing," he told me, and with the side of his flattened palm he wiped his eyes.

I didn't know why he was embarrassed. I didn't know why he was crying.

"Are you okay?," I asked him. 

"Yeah, I'm sorry. Ugh. I'm sorry; I'm embarrassed." He dabbed at wet eyes with the sleeve of his shirt.

"You sure you're okay?"

"Yeah."

And so I put my headphones back on, even though the exchange chilled me. I didn't know what else to say. I didn't know what he wanted. I didn't know what caused his tears. But I know succumbing to them in public on a train beside a stranger. I know what that is like. And I know what it feels like to try to communicate something you can't. And to feel ashamed. 

Was he seeking solace? Did he have a story to tell? A request to ask?

The young man watched as I deboarded at the next stop. His face looked ripe with things to say.


No One's

It wasn't until the dog got off the train at 16th Street that I realized he'd taken it by himself.

I saw him first at the 24th Street stop. I thought he was a rat. He's a tiny thing.

He was wearing a nice, new-looking collar, so when he boarded the train behind a young woman, I assumed he belonged to her. Then he began prancing up and down the aisles, balls proud and in tact, sniffing the feet of the passengers.

An older gentleman with a sour yellow shirt sat beaming at the small dog. He was obviously delighted by the pup's presence, and looked about the train car for faces of recognition, people who were as happy as he was about this small animal with free rein.

I wasn't going to be one of those people. 

I didn't pet the dog when it sniffed curiously at my shoe. I didn't smile back at the man in the sour yellow shirt, either. I wanted no part in the pet sitting that was being forced upon all of us in that train car.

Watch your dog. Use a leash.

The train halted. For the first time I noticed that the dog's nails were either curled and long or jagged and broken.

The doors slid open, and eight blocks away from where he boarded, the tiny dog looked out to the right, then out to the left, then trotted off the train alone.


Growing Up Urban

Grand Central, the 6 train headed downtown. People form puddles near where they think the doors will be. Backpacks, rolling bags, oversized purses compete for space. Heads all turn to the right in search of the vehicle that will take them to where they need to be.

There is also a baby in a stroller dressed in pink from head to toe. Three layers of warmth around her smooth face with butterfly socks stuffed into flowered Mary Janes. She sleeps. In the midst of the noise and the shuffling and the jostling and the impatience, she dreams. Her tiny hand opens and closes and she kicks her little foot. Perhaps she is dreaming of cookies or grasping for a toy.

Large shoes barely miss her. The train lurches forward and passengers strain to remain upright. The stroller rolls a few inches and then back, and still the baby sleeps.


How to Take the Subway and a Cab When You Can't Find a Cab

On the NI woke up late. It happens.

Even the cotton candy sunrise could not entice me out of my air mattress on the floor, so I hit snooze five times and took in 30 minutes more sleep. I told myself a ten dollar cab ride to work was worth the extra slumber.

Once ready to go, there were no cabs. All full. It was rush hour after all.

After a good 7 minutes of failed hailing, I hoofed it on up to Times Square, keeping my eye out for an available taxi all the while. One guy stole one right out from under me, and I just missed another outside of the Port Authority. I texted my boss, and hit the underground.

God, is it hot down there. I scanned my MetroCard, hightailed it to the S train that goes to Grand Central with the plan to transfer to the 6, which takes me just 3 blocks from work.

Downtown or uptown? Shit. I really had no idea. I visualized a map in my head, decided on uptown and scooted on to a 6 train headed out of the station. There is a lighted stop map that showed my unlit exit was next. But it wasn't. I was going the wrong way. (Now I know: uptown means the street numbers go up.)

I hopped off at 54th, and tried to find a way to get to the other side to take the 6 downtown but decided fuck it. I climbed the stairs to Lexington Avenue to find a cab waiting as though it were put there just for me. The morning's first transit blessing.

I crawled in back and put down the window to dry my now sweat-drenched hair, and shoved my jacket in my bag. Once at 30th, I swiped my card (love that all NYC taxis take debit cards), then jumped out and headed on foot...in the wrong direction.

I was 25 minutes late.

And that, my friends, is how you take the subway and a cab when you can't find a cab.


4:20 p.m. San Francisco Train, 1/5/2008

As we stand waiting for the train's arrival she pulls away from his kisses, which are short pecks at her mouth and cheeks, though she is clearly enjoying his lips on her. The wind has smacked bright pink onto her pretty, pale skin. A white scarf is wrapped around her neck.

His eyes are wide when he moves in to kiss her. He has her hands locked in his, their fingers entwined. His grip on her fists is tight; his fingertips press deep into her flesh. The lines he makes with his face might be mistaken for anger, but she recognizes it as lust.

She rocks back on her heels, never kissing him with as much vigor as he wants, but each time she tips her body backwards she brings her hips back a little closer to his.

On the train a pretty girl with messy hair swept up into a barrette tries to balance a large bouquet of flowers - lilies, daisies and roses - between her feet. When the car lunges forward so does she to keep the large glass vase from tipping over. She soon gives up and puts the flowers in the empty seat beside her. The cut blooms look several days old, as if the bouquet found her early in the week, and she is just now taking them home. She is fresh faced and thin, and she seems very nice. But the flowers do not seem to make her happy. Her face droops like the browning petals beside her.