Lost Loves Week: 50 Street/Broadway

May 25, 2009

Faced with a hot, lazy Sunday, Herbie and I spent the morning trying to think of something different to do while Moo read books in the playroom.  We listed all the regular activities: library, mall, uh…mall?  BORING.  Then Herbie had a flash of inspiration and suggested we ride the light rail downtown and have lunch.  Moo and I hadn’t been on the 5-month-old light rail yet, so I I thought the idea was pretty brilliant.  We took the train (can I call it that? is it technically a train?) to the Phoenix Art Museum and had lunch in their cafe, then light-railed our way back home.  Moo really got into it on the homeward leg, gluing herself to the window and shouting out everything she saw: “Clouds!  Birds!  Air!  ABC’S!”

We had a very fun afternoon, but the trip made me mysteriously melancholy, and it took me a while to figure out that riding the light rail made me nostalgic for my days of riding the subway in New York.

Every time I return to New York, I’m dismayed by how much it’s changed.  My old neighborhood, once a bit scary and notable for a deli open 25 hours a day and a hole-in-the-wall Italian joint with incredible garlic rolls, is now an uber-hip conclave of hipsters and coffee bars.  Times Square, as well-documented, is now corporate-branded, and it even smells better, which somehow seems wrong.  Living there, I grew to love that mysterious Manhattan scent of baking bread, piss, Indian food, and hot dog water.

But there’s still one place I can go in New York and feel like nothing’s changed – the subway.  Sure, it costs more.  But it’s the same trains, the same turnstiles, and the same stops, with the same names.  The same orange plastic seats, even some of the same advertisements plastered overhead.  The same rush of hot air as the train approaches.  The same unintelligble announcements, the same inexplicable stops in the middle of the tunnel when the lights go out, the same sense of we’re-all-in-this-together, but for God’s sake nobody make eye contact and acknowledge it!  The same crazies – ones that preach, ones that sing, ones that rub their thigh against your ass during the body-crushing rush hour.

I always loved the subway.  I never took a book on the subway, or a Walkman.  Didn’t seem safe to zone out so entirely.  So I read the subway poetry (right next to the ads for cosmetic dentistry), I secretly people-watched, I wondered whether to believe my boyfriend’s story of witnessing a man shooting another man on the shaky platform between subway cars (probably not).  I memorized lines, went over dance steps, imagined my perfect lover and dreamed big ol’ Broadway dreams.

One time, I had a lover freak out at the very existence of our relationship (our relationship being rather taboo) and dash out the closing doors, jumping onto the express on the other side of the subway platform, shrugging as I chugged away.  One time, a girl told me she loved my necklace and I lit up, thinking, “Hooray! Human contact!” And then she tried to convince me to join her cult.  Once, after a boring date in Chinatown, I boarded the subway with my date, who sat next to me yammering about dim sum.   I looked to my left and there was this beautiful boy, holding a book, standing at the doors and waiting for his stop.  Remarkably, we made eye contact, and could not break it.  For one minute, I had found my soul-mate – then we got to the next stop, the doors opened, and he hesistated for a second, holding my gaze.  He smiled and shook his head, and got off the train.  Later, I took it as a sign that, while that boy wasn’t my soul- mate, he was out there somewhere, and I should never settle for a yammering dim sum dimwit.

That’s all very different from holding a two-year-old in your lap and pretending to be a caterpillar-snake while hissing, “whooa, whoooooa!” every time the train stops and starts.  I wouldn’t trade it for a million billion anything’s, of course.  And luckily, I found my real soul-mate, with whom I can share a gaze over our chattering daughter’s fuzzy head. 

But I do still miss the subway sometimes, so very much.  Almost as much as I miss New York.



(photo from Urban75)


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