From a teenage escape gone wrong to quarreling lovers and a missing ear, writers and illustrators remember their most unforgettable subway rides.
Crazy in Love
By Jacquelin Cangro
They squeezed their way to the middle of the car to stand directly in front of me. Within moments, they began arguing. I’ll be honest—I could only catch about every third word, what with their slurring and all, so I’ve cleaned up the conversation as best as possible.
Guy: Why are you following me? I told you to stay home.
Girl: I can go wherever I want. It’s a free country.
Guy: You better get off at the next stop. I’m not fucking kidding.
Girl: Oh. My. God. I’m going to be sick.
Me, suddenly extremely nervous she was about to unload all the munchies she ate on my new sweater: Uhm…
Guy, to me: No, she’s not. She’s just saying that to get out of it.
Girl: I am. I…am…going…sick.
Guy, shaking his head as if he and I are on the same page: She’s just fucking around. Stop fucking around!
Girl, to the elderly Asian lady sitting next to me: Can you…?
Quick as a bunny, the Asian lady grabbed her orange plastic bags and disappeared like magic. The girl sat next to me and rested her head on the wall behind us, moaning.
Guy, looking at her with disgust and then turning to me: She is such a bitch. You want to see why?
Of course not, but I hadn’t yet learned the no-eye-contact rule. If you take one thing away from this story it should be that.
The guy bent forward so I could get a good look and turned his head slightly. What was that on his earlobe? I actually leaned a little closer. Wait…part of it was missing. Wait…were those teeth marks?
Guy: Yeah, she bit it clean off.
A wittier person would have had a snappy comeback, maybe some kind of Van Gogh reference, but I did the worst thing possible. I continued to stare at him.
Girl, still moaning: Why don’t you say why I bit it? Why don’t you say why?!
Guy: That was like a week ago. But this morning…she’s crazy.
The guy turned his back toward me. I sneaked a look around, hoping someone would help a girl out, but the “Punk’d” crew from MTV was nowhere in sight. There were only my fellow commuters, snickering, either at me or the guy. Probably at me.
He lifted his shirt to reveal a small incision about an inch above his left kidney. It was still bleeding. The blood was dripping down the small of his back and pooling around his waistband. The wound was the size of a pocketknife.
Me: I think you need a Band-Aid.
The guy swiped at the cut with his grimy hand and saw the blood, maybe for the first time.
Guy, gasping: Bitch!
Girl: I’m sorry, baby. I’m so sorry. I think I’m gonna’ be sick.
Guy: I mean, this’ll leave a scar.
Girl, summoning the courage to stand up: Baby? I’m sorry.
She leaned her head on his shoulder. The train pulled into a station while she was cooing and apologizing.
Guy: All right. Just don’t do it again.
Girl: Let’s go home.
With that they got off the train, hand-in-hand. Ahh, love.
Jacquelin Cangro is the editor of The Subway Chronicles: Scenes from Life in New York, which contains 27 essays about the NYC subway system written by notable straphangers, and the author of The Subway Chronicles: More Scenes from Life in New York. She is looking forward to the publication of her first novel We Happy Few.
Melissa Mendes is a cartoonist and illustrator in western Massachusetts.
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A Subway Runaway
By Arvind Dilawar
During my freshman year of high school, in 2002, just before spring semester concluded and summer vacation began, I ran away from home. I made the decision suddenly, at 74th Street, or maybe Junction Boulevard, or one of the stops in between on the local 7 line. My reasons were a combination of the usual suspects, generic enough to be drawn from a Lifetime made-for-TV movie—parents, friends, school, alcohol, drugs, punk rock. I ran away for the same reason all angsty teenagers run away: Because of everything and because of nothing at all.
I had, at the absolute most, maybe $10 in my wallet. But more importantly, I had a student Metrocard. From Monday to Friday, that white-and-green sliver of plastic awarded me three free rides daily. I had already spent one ride that morning to get to my high school in downtown Manhattan and another in the afternoon to bring me here, a few blocks away from my house in Jackson Heights. I hadn’t yet exited the subway station, so I still had a transfer and the third swipe remaining. I could go anywhere.
I got off of that homebound 7 local, walked down into the station and reemerged on the other side of the platform, where I caught another 7, this one heading the opposite direction and, I imagined, away from my home forever.
Because I had been riding the subway for less than two semesters and was therefore a woefully inexperienced straphanger, I took the 7 to the G to the F to the W (which no longer exists, replaced in 2010 by the Q and the D). That elaborate trip brought me to Bensonhurst and the apartment of a friend whose single mother was away at work. There, I announced my flight to an assembled group of friends. Many of them, despite having families and homes of their own, had spent nights on the street. They recommended the East Village or Central Park. When the host’s mother arrived and refused to let me spend the night there, I was forced to choose. I wasn’t excited about sleeping outdoors, so I got in touch with another friend who said I could crash at his place. His mother’s apartment in Park Slope had two floors, so I would be able to sneak in and out without her noticing.
From a payphone, I called my mother and told her I wasn’t coming home, at least not yet. I didn’t know how to explain myself, so I said, “I need time to think.” She chortled and said something like, “Yeah, right.” With my last allotted Metrocard swipe of the day, I got back on the subway, taking the W to the R to Union Street.
I was able to stay in Park Slope for only one night. The next day, my mother, who had somehow divined that I was with that particular friend and was also by some means able to obtain his phone number, gave him a ring. She managed to trick him into admitting I slept there the previous night by claiming I had told her that I was staying there. (My mother was both clever and tenacious; she would ultimately find me the following afternoon, walking to another friend’s house in Bensonhurst. She simply drove up beside me on Bay Parkway, slid open the back door to our forest green minivan and told me to get in, which I did because at that moment it became painfully obvious that the jig was up.)
But until then, I was on my own. After the sun had set, I decided that rather than eke out the night in the East Village or Central Park, I would take to the subway. It was early June, but that night was remarkably cold on the above-ground W train platform and even worse in the oppressively air-conditioned subway car. At times I was close to shivering, with only a hoodie that was annoyingly small. I took the W up to 34th Street-Herald Square and got off in that deep, subterranean station, where it was faintly warm. There, I sat on a wooden bench on the platform for an hour or two, trying to sleep until one of those ghostly yellow maintenance trains rolled in and planned work commenced.
I was one stop away from 42nd Street-Times Square and the crosstown course of the 7 line. Whether it was the desire for a familiar setting or a practical concern for the warmth offered by those older, poorly air-conditioned “redbird” subway cars, I spent the rest of the night riding the 7 line back and forth from Times Square to Flushing. I awoke as it climbed from the underground Main Street station to cross the Roosevelt Avenue Bridge, opening my eyes to the orange haze of morning sun streaming through the scratched windowpane I rested my head against. I felt warmer from the inside out as the 7 barreled on, through Flushing, Corona, Jackson Heights.
No matter how naive the notion, New York City’s magnitude then seemed to hold infinite unknown promise. Indeed, the city has never felt larger than it did during those few days, when it was span-able only by the number of subway lines and hours of time—when the route running away and the one coming home shared the same pair of tracks.
Arvind Dilawar writes mostly about the dumb things he’s done, but has somehow managed to have his work appear on TheAtlantic.com, The Daily Mail and, of course, Narratively. Go figure.
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By Sara B. Franklin
It was the weekend before Christmas, 2010. I was sitting on the 4 or 5 train, one of those on the green line, making the trip from Cornell Weill Hospital on the Upper East Side back to my Crown Heights apartment. I’d spent the previous two nights sleeping at my dad and stepmom’s apartment on the Upper West Side, too tired to make the long trip home, too fragile to be far from my family.
My dad was dying. Cancer. No one had said it aloud yet, but I knew. The leaden feeling I carried in my gut was proof enough, too reminiscent of the way I felt just three years previously when my mom’s oncologist had suggested she give chemo a rest, give her body a break. It was as gentle an urging to let one’s body give out as I can imagine, though at the time it ripped me straight up the middle. It was a similar sense of dread—dread on the brink of searing pain—that I carried around that afternoon as the train rumbled south. I had decided, after two days trying to carve out a sacred space in the sterility and hustle of a hospital room by reading to my dad, rubbing his cracked feet, cracking jokes that weren’t funny, that it was time to go home. Take a shower. Get some fresh clothes.
It was warm on the train, but I was too weary to pull off my red winter coat. I unzipped it and unbuttoned the cardigan below. I felt completely at odds with the bustle and cheer of the colorful shopping bags and flushed cheeks accompanying me on the train. I felt pieced-together, picked apart. Disgusting.
I took out a book, tried to fit in. I was reading The Life of Pi, gobbling down anything with a spiritual bent to it those days. Somewhere around Bowling Green, the train started to halt and lurch. Across from me sat a startling young man. A knit cap, somewhat pointed, sat just above his ears, revealing the bald sides of his head. The skin there was a deep milk chocolate, coffee with a splash of cream. His face was smooth and clean, his forehead and cheekbones strong. He wore a navy blue woolen jacket with a stiff collar turned up, gold stars emblazoned near the lapels. His coat was unfastened like mine, and a matching navy sweater with a luxurious rolled neck underneath.
He, too, was trying to read. A hardcover book without a jacket. We kept glancing up at one another as the train’s fits and starts toyed with our anticipation. After a while, though, he set his eyes on his book, focused. Maybe he knew I was watching, maybe he was just that intent on his subject. I tried hard to concentrate on my own, but could only think of catching his eye again. I wondered where he was going to get off, assuming Lower Manhattan. He seemed like a City boy. But when the train crawled under the river to Borough Hall, he was still in his seat. He remained as we passed through the bustling Atlantic/Pacific hub and began up the slope toward my neighborhood. At Franklin Avenue, we both stood up abruptly, I gathering my frayed backpack onto my shoulder. He tucked his book under one arm and raised his eyebrow at me as we moved toward the open door and nearly bumped into one another. I smiled.
It could have ended that way. Just day-to-day, life brushing up alongside millions of other souls, walking that tightrope between anonymity and desperation for connection. Communion. But it didn’t.
On the platform, I stopped him. “Excuse me, I couldn’t help but wonder what you’re reading,” I weakly offered.
He asked if I really wanted to know. I didn’t, but I nodded, and he launched into a long description, something about Eastern spiritual philosophy. We talked for a few minutes. I don’t remember much, only that he mentioned graduate school. He had studied math, had a keen interest in finance. At some point, he asked my name and we shook hands. I heard him introduce himself, a name beginning with a D, but couldn’t catch the exact word, even after he repeated it for me.
“Are you getting back on the train?” he asked. I chuckled. Of course not. Even for a beautiful man, I wouldn’t have gotten off at the wrong stop, not in my state. Together, we climbed the filthy steps to the turnstiles. He asked if he could walk with me, and I complied, trusting him implicitly, though I didn’t know why. Maybe I just needed to practice faith in something.
We walked the two and a half blocks down Franklin Avenue, barren in late December, save the garish mural on the corner of Eastern Parkway. He chatted on, pointed out a building a block from my place where he had lived until recently. When we reached my door, I told him I needed to go up, that I had things to do. The short conversation had exhausted me. I was so withdrawn from everything by then, having retreated into a world of sitting and waiting. We stood there at my door in the raw cold. He asked if there was a way to reach me. I gave him my number. He had been gentle, and I was craving softness.
One sticky afternoon the following July, we were lying in bed together, naked and languid. One of us brought up that day, our first meeting. The cold that had shrugged our shoulders up to our ears seemed an impossible memory in that heat. We argued over which of us had initiated the conversation, who started making eyes at whom. We wondered about the nature of our books that day, both of us seeking to make some sense of the senselessness of life. Two months after our subway meeting, we didn’t have a living parent between us. We talked lazily, using words like serendipity and coincidence, not caring much to parse their meanings. It was a gift of the city, we agreed, a product of the strange alchemy of the underground. Where we’re all moving through it together, really.
Sara B. Franklin is a Brooklyn-based writer, cook, and multimedia storyteller. She’s currently working toward a doctorate in food studies at NYU.
Gigi Rose Gray is an illustrator, designer and overall image maker, born, bred and working in New York City.
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By Daniel E. Slotnik
I am generally pretty jaded about crazy subway stories. I’ve seen my share of car-clearing, passed out, incontinent, stink-so-bad-it-clings-to-your-clothing homeless folks; witnessed brawls in trains and on platforms; and have even been denied a seat and nearly pushed down the stairs when I had a broken ankle and shoulder. New Yorkers like to think of ourselves as a hardy, almost callous breed, unfazed by disruptions that would horrify people from more tranquil locales. I was secure in my hubris and inability to be shocked by the subway, especially after I experienced the shirtless, pantless guy swinging from bar to bar over a lumpy puddle of his own vomit on a downtown F train (I calmly made my way to another car at the next stop), and another incident involving what seemed to be a rather large piece of human excrement lying daintily next to a corner seat on a crowded 6. (People would walk toward the seat, begin to sit down, realize what it was and recoil. The whole thing was actually kind of funny and I became suspicious that it was perhaps a practical joke or a piece of performance art.) After that, what could possibly upset me on the subway?
Then I bumped into a woman I’ll call Patient Zero.
I first made Ms. Zero’s acquaintance on a regular commute from my Spanish Harlem apartment to work in Times Square. The first leg of the journey, to 59th Street on the 6 train, was very crowded but otherwise ordinary. I was listening to music and reading The Times on my phone, but I recall hearing someone sneezing violently nearby and seeing a small space clear on the train. No matter—I rushed out the door to transfer to the N-Q-R line below. My new train was held momentarily, and I was able to press my way to an open spot next to the door between cars. I refocused on the paper and had successfully tuned out when two new passengers squeezed through the closing doors.
The first was a tall man in shabby clothes who stood near the center pole. The second was a woman wearing ratty green Syracuse Orangemen sweatpants and a long, shapeless jacket. She shuffled unsteadily onboard, dragging a two-wheeled handcart stacked high with disarrayed packages. Lank hair the color of dirty snow hung around her face, which looked wizened and wrinkled but oddly plump, and she clutched some well-worn brown paper napkins in the hand that wasn’t pulling the cart.
She pushed towards the center of the car, stopped, and, as if on command, launched a forceful, spittle-y sneeze full into the face of a man wearing a red skully cap and leaning against the door. No napkin, no hands—just pure snot all over him.
“Jesus Christ!” He exclaimed. “What the hell is wrong with you, lady?”
The woman, who you’ve by now realized is Patient Zero, did not reply. She started making a dry hacking sound and, doubled over from the force of the sneeze, began to shuffle towards my corner of the train. The train’s inhabitants recoiled like water from a drop of oil. Ms. Zero bumped into me, and I heard her making quiet snuffling sounds. She was shaking slightly, and seemed on the verge of sneezing again—she was clearly not well. I stepped around her and pressed towards the middle of the car. The tall guy who’d gotten on with her pushed closer to where she was standing.
She started to sneeze again, wracking, doubled-over and spraying in a wet circumference, splashing everyone near her. Between sneezes she hacked and spat with an audible, plosive “PUH!”—bystanders be damned.
We hadn’t even gone a stop when the murmurs that had begun after the first sneeze escalated into a full-scale evacuation. The people in the seats nearest her stayed for a second, but soon got up and pressed as far away as they could. The man who had gotten on with her sat down in the empty seats, and most people left the car at the next stop.
Patient Zero was still hacking and sneezing. I began to wonder if maybe she wasn’t exaggerating, and immediately felt guilty for the thought. She opened the door between cars and leaned out, spitting and coughing even harder. She was basically slobbering now, spraying phlegm all over the place.
Those of us who stayed in the car looked at each other, sharing a grim camaraderie. There was a lot of shrugging of shoulders, head shaking and smiling. People looked incredulous—this was a bit much, even for New York.
“I’m going straight to the doctor,” the guy who was hit first said.
None of us went over to ask if she was alright.
Patient Zero closed the door and walked back towards the vertical pole in the center of the car. All of us shrank away like she was a leper. The sneezing stopped. And then, for no apparent reason, she started to scream. She was shrieking with so much effort that she doubled over.
At the third stop she ceased screaming, took her cart and walked off the train matter-of-factly, as if she had reached her destination—normal commute complete, just like the rest of us. Her companion got off with her, and the two walked away calmly, as if nothing unusual had happened.
When I got into work I rubbed Purell all over my hands and arms. I’m not usually a hypochondriac, but I felt like I’d been exposed to Ebola.
I wish I could say that was the end of it, but I’ve actually seen Patient Zero twice since. Once, I was walking in the 80s on 2nd Avenue, with headphones on, when I heard a shockingly familiar sneeze over the sound of my music. I looked to my right, and she was standing in a phone booth. Her companion was there, too. She was sneezing and spitting again, and passersby were ducking away from the booth as they realized what was happening. I sped up and think she still might have hit the back of my coat. Then I saw her once again on the same train line another morning. I hightailed it out of the car.
Every time I see her, part of me wants to ask why she was screaming on the train that morning, how she came to be doing this and how she’s connected to the man who stays with her, but I haven’t yet, and probably won’t. The incident stuck with me—as much as I love New York, it can be a hard and unforgiving place. How far is each of us from screaming nonsense at commuters on the yellow line?
I do hope that she feels better, and that whatever she has isn’t contagious.
Daniel E. Slotnik is a contributing editor for Narratively. He has worked at The New York Times since 2005, has written for several Times sections and blogs, and is a frequent contributor to the obituaries department. Follow him on Twitter @dslotnik.
Bill O’Rourke is an artist who lives and works in the Tri-state area. He has recently finished creating cartoons about the 2012 presidential election, and despite the overflow of material, is glad it is finally over. His latest project “RESTAURANT: 101″ is a cartoon series based on his adventures working in restaurants in New York City. You can follow Bill’s work and cartoons on Facebook and on Twitter @billartistguy.
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Alphabet City, Alphabet Soup
By Daniel Scheffler
My sneakers peep and grind as I run down to the bottom of the smallest steps in the world at the 2nd Avenue F stop. Why are these steps so tiny? Some town planner must have forgotten that the city is not just made for kids. The hot August air clouts me straight on the nose, and then coats the rest of my body as I journey further into the bowels.
Backpack on and endowed with headphones, I have made a conscious effort to always stay stationary near train tracks. “Mr. Clumsy,” I say to myself with what I’m told is my signature eyebrow tilt. I halt and find a pillar to lean on. A heart with two sets of initials is wounded through the paint—D.S. and J.T.—one of them matching my own.
He is definitely staring. No doubt that’s a stare. But at me? Really? Just me, silly, rough-and-tumble me? Yes, definitely. He is jabbing my eyes with his darker-than-Heath-Ledger-as-Joker peepers as he leans too deeply back against the platform wall across the tracks. Moisture runs down my cheek as I fight the perspiration and struggle to ignore the subway system’s signature miasma.
But I don’t stop rubbernecking the well-over-six-foot blonde. I think out loud, “you have to be a Dutch athlete with a body like that.” I think he hears me as he smiles that Euro-trash peek-a-boo my way. He throws himself across the subway station and all over me just with his goggle. It jars me, and I feel like I’m falling through the floor.
Arriving trains bring release from the heat, and release from the stare, as simultaneous machines nearly headbutt between the platforms. I mount the machine, as my mirror does too from the other side, regaining the stare. Doors slide, lives change. Our faces are now a few feet apart but double glass prevents me from speaking, or breathing for that matter. He kisses me through the glass. A sucker punch.
My fingers look for a writing instrument, a way of giving him my number, my name, my heart, but he beats me to it. He starts to write the letter J, the letter T…the initials on the pillar I call to mind; the other set matches his. The train rattles and without warning disappears in its usual way.
Daniel Scheffler is a writer living in the West Village, Manhattan and Cape Town, South Africa. He is currently obsessing about, and totally consumed by, his first novel.
Chelsey Pettyjohn is an artist living and working in Brooklyn. You can see more of her work at hideousthings.com.
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Making all Stressful Stops
By James Folta
I am particularly prone to vivid stress dreams, even when my life is relatively stress-free. It seems my body’s natural resting position is stress. But this one stands out as the worst my unconscious mind has yet concocted, and I think it’s no coincidence it took place in a subway station.
In the dream, I found myself in front of a turnstile, nervously watching the track, and trying to get the system to recognize my Metrocard. I am greatly ashamed when I can’t show my native status by nailing my first swipe, so I emoted with a series of can-you-even-believe-this-I-mean-come-on faces. Of course, there were lots of people waiting to get through. I estimate that there were hundreds, perhaps thousands crammed behind me. I was occupying the only turnstile and I could feel their judgmental, sharpened glares: who is this guy, with his fancy suit (I was urgently rushing to a posh event) and his bad Metrocard skills? I was trying so hard, but in a stress dream, sweat counts for nothing.
The stakes climbed higher; the station rumbled from an incoming train. I redoubled my efforts: “PLEASE SWIPE AGAIN,” again and again and again. My zeal was so great that the card slipped out of my hand and fluttered to my feet. A groan from the onlookers. I quickly bent to retrieve the card but my slick suit leaked like a dapper sieve and everything began falling out–my keys, my wallet, my phone, as well as miscellanea I didn’t even know I owned. And they didn’t merely fall out, but completely deconstructed themselves. My wallet emptied far and wide, my keys individually disentangled from the ring, and my phone exploded in a cloud of chips, springs, gears and other tiny parts that my dream mind thinks cell phones are made of.
Before I could even stand up to stop this rain, before I could even register the depth of the clean-up job before me, my clothing followed suit and fell from my body. Another groan from the crowd. And the final shame, as I struggled to redress myself and refill my pockets, was seeing the train’s doors open and close. I watched it leave, tangled and bound both hand and foot in a chaotic heap of turnstile, clothing and belongings.
And then I woke up, with the familiar dread of being late.
In hindsight, my dream logic perfectly chose the setting for this tale of stress. At that moment in my life, I was preparing to move across the country to San Francisco–a new coast, a new city, a new job and only a half-contact of a friend waiting for me there. Freshly graduated and leaving behind many knowns for many more unknowns, I was a teetering pile of anxieties. I never do well with change and it was pouring change that I didn’t completely want. I was caught in between, like a straphanger on the subway.
The subway is a pressure cooker, a stress accelerator. When you’re in the subway, you’re always anxious to be leaving. The subway is a state of anticipation. You occupy a space on the spectrum of missing where you left and dreading where you’re headed.
James Folta lives in Brooklyn, New York, where he work as a carpenter, comedian and writer.
Andra Emilia Fenton is a Brooklyn-based writer and illustrator. She is currently working on her second children’s book.
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Off the 6
By Jennifer Mascia
In 1999, Jennifer Lopez named her first album “On the 6,” after the train that runs from the Bronx to Brooklyn Bridge, because it represented the artery that took her from her working class roots in the Bronx to beckoning stardom in “The City.” And it worked—I doubt JLo has seen the inside of a subway car in at least 20 years.
The next year, in 2000, I found my first apartment, a rent-stabilized one-bedroom in East Harlem, two long avenues from the 6 train. When I got the phone call from the management company accepting my lease application, I ran out of my Russian History class and jumped up and down in the hallway, howling and whooping, shocked and exhilarated that I had finally found a place in “The City” to call my own. I was moving to Manhattan from my parents’ apartment on the North Shore of Staten Island—quite the leap.
In the weeks leading up to the move I’d sit in classes I should have been paying attention to and whip out my notebook—the one emblazoned with the Manhattan portion of the MTA subway map—tracing the green line from my new apartment on 2nd Avenue and 103rd Street to Hunter College: four short stops on the 6 train. Seven minutes. My old commute had been an hour-and-a-half.
I was in heaven.
Suddenly, I was as cool as JLo, taking an iconic line every day. Even Mayor Bloomberg took the 6, making a big show of standing alongside his fellow commuters. (Of course, that image was tarnished when the Times revealed he cheated and drove partway.)
What I didn’t quite realize is that the green line is the sole artery shuttling thousands and thousands of people north and south along the East Side every day. Full-to-the-brim trains routinely skipped my local stop because service was backed up on account of the sheer mass of people. A few months later, when I graduated and entered the workforce, my seven-minute commute evaporated and I was left at the mercy of a train line that could either shuttle me to civilization or leave me stranded. Because when you live off the 6, you become a slave to it.
When the system is deluged by a sudden rainfall, the train shuts down, and then what? A West Sider could simply walk from the C to the 1, but what other options are there for us, save an expensive taxi—if we can find one? No, to access the West Side I had to take a crosstown bus, and those are notoriously slow. When I attended Columbia for graduate school, the M96 routinely took 45 minutes to chug west through Central Park, packed as tightly as sardines, a mass of humanity fogging up the windows and turning my commute into a sauna, even in the winter.
Oh, how I’d gaze enviously at the other side of the subway map, with its orange and blue and red and yellow lines, and wonder what the East Side did to be cast aside so casually. We needed a reprieve.
Mid-decade, rumors bubbled up that the long-abandoned 2nd Avenue subway, first proposed in 1920, would finally be resurrected. One morning in 2007 I awoke and gazed across the street to see then-governor Eliot Spitzer posing for photos atop an old subway grate with a shovel in his hand. Suddenly, it was on.
And it was loud. Five years of bone-shattering construction followed at all hours of the night. Suddenly I didn’t care about the needs of the Straphangers Association—I wanted out. So when my management company called in October and told me they had “other ideas” for my building— read: demolition—I jumped on the chance to transfer to one on 124th and Madison.
So now I’m off the 6—kind of. I still have the option of walking two blocks east and taking the 4, 5 or 6, but I can also walk two blocks west and take the 2 or 3 line, which gets me to work in 17 minutes. After a decade of longing, I finally have West Side access. I’ll take it over sardines any day. But still…
There’s something about the 6. It was the first line to get the sleek new trains that replaced the old redbirds, a concession, perhaps, for being the sole East Side line. The stations along the 6 were the first testing grounds for the countdown clocks that cities like San Francisco and London had already enjoyed for a decade. The 6 was my foolproof excuse for being late to work; “I live off the 6” was enough to elicit a nod of understanding from every restaurant manager and newspaper editor I toiled under. The 6 was where I’d doze on my way home at 4 a.m., the dependable ride home I could always count on, even if I was on tipsy autopilot and counting the stops in my sleep. The 6 was where I hid behind big black sunglasses and wept after my father, then my mother, passed away, my only comfort being Dr. Zizmor’s gentle, ageless face offering me the smiling prospect of acne treatment. When it was empty in the middle of the night I’d swing on the poles like an exotic dancer, giggling and breathless. The 6 was my constant, just as much as my little apartment was. Because of its shortcomings, it was an underdog. Perhaps only a New Yorker could romanticize that.
Jennifer Mascia is the author of Never Tell Our Business to Strangers. She works in the Op-Ed department of the New York Times.
Melissa Raimondi lives in Washington, DC, where she edits for Science magazine.
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