Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Just Getting Out
There is a very pulled together woman standing next to me on the subway platform. She is wearing the same shoes as I am and I don’t like it. They are a top brand, blue and purple suede oxford. They are simultaneously eclectic and assertive. I bought mine on clearance and was very proud of the find but I imagine she paid full price, not because she isn’t thrifty, but because she could. They were in the window and she knew exactly how she would wear them. I found mine by chance and still haven’t figured out how to make them look right. Now here she is, standing next to me, DELIBERATELY undermining my efforts to take on New York CIty in style. Or maybe I’m just grumpy.
It is 9:00 AM on a bleak morning and I am waiting on an elevated platform near my apartment in Queens. I am trying very hard not to be in a bad mood because this is just the first leg of what will be a 10 hour journey door to door. It is bitterly cold, like it has been so far all winter, and I’m feeling generally unimpressed with the whole of the universe and all of its bountiful wonders. My apartment was a mess when I left this morning but I didn’t have time to straighten up. So I have that to look forward to when I get home three days from now. It really isn’t even my apartment. I live there and I pay rent, but I’ve dropped no roots. I feel no sense of ownership in the space. It isn’t home. When I say “I’m going home”, what I mean is that I am going back to Vermont to my parents house, which is what I am doing today, but that’s not right either. I’m a visitor there now. An insider, but a visitor nonetheless.
I ride the 7 train into Manhattan to Times Square. I walk eight blocks through the center of the universe and duck into Penn Station with 30 minutes to kill before my train. Penn Station is, as always, an ordeal. I don’t have much with me -just enough for three days- but I feel like I’m trudging upstream against a raging current of ankle length puffy coats, rolling totes, and human suffering. We’re all here because we want to be somewhere else, and we’re all in each others’ way.
The most stressful minutes of my life to date have been the minutes between when the track number for my train is ESTIMATED to be posted and when it actually is posted. Sometimes its 30 seconds. Sometimes its ten minutes. I have no idea what side of the station the track might be on so I don’t know where to strategically position myself. I squirm in my skin as other potential passengers start clustering in front of the board. I’ve never had trouble getting an agreeable seat, but I feel an immediate sense of competition with everyone around me. What if they also want a window seat near the bathroom, in a back row with extra legroom? What if I have to sit on the aisle and have to lean over the person next to me to get to an outlet? I am aware that the answer to both of these questions is “nothing catastrophic” but I have a 9 hour ride ahead of me and I will do everything in my power to get the seat that feels right.
My track is posted and I wheel around to find it, almost taking out a few small children in the process. I shuffle as fast as my cross-body weekend tote will allow as it galumphs against my thighs. I scoot in line behind the fortunate bastards who happened to be standing near the right track when it was posted. I present my ticket, which I have been clutching in my sweaty little hand for twenty minutes now, and step onto the escalator which will carry me down to the track. Step One complete.
After worming through the crowd and beelining for my preferred seat, I plunk my bags down, find my computer charger and claim an outlet. On a previous ride of the same length my seat neighbor commandeered both outlets before I was settled and I am not willing to go through that again. I reach into my bag, which fits almost comfortably under the seat and produce a fuzzy blanket and my favorite olive-green oversized cashmere hat. Before most passengers are even down the escalator I am seated, situated, and swaddled in comfort. Because I am short, naturally pale and opted against makeup this morning,I look like I belong in the terminal disease unit at a children’s hospital. I smile smugly at a couple who eye me begrudgingly and they struggle to find two seats together. They obviously like the look of my extra leg room and would like to ask me if I’d be willing to move so they can be together in my prime location. Sorry kids. Not today. Today is the day I get what I want...at least as far as train seats are concerned.