It sometimes gets meshed into whatever you were dreaming of, some sort of signal, phone ring, or just an ear-piercing sound that becomes a part of your dream storyline. It will reach your consciousness sooner or later, after a few snooze buttons (which you probably don’t ever recall pressing), and the sound of your alarm will infiltrate. You’re still in that drowsy pillow-smothered, duvet-constricted confinement from which there is no escape – or so you tell yourself because it suits you to believe you are a victim of some kind of early morning bed-bound situation. But suddenly, without any warning, responsibility stomps in without knocking and smacks the mattress out of your mind.
Start game, get up, execute morning routine, do I have everything? And out the door you go.
The scramble in, to and fro of the subway is a special phenomenon. On one of the first days in New York a friend told me she managed to perfect her subway procedure in such a way that allowed her to be close to her exits by selecting the best subway carriages to ride in with precision. This notion baffled me. How can you plan something like that? There are so many people, so many stations and so many carriages. It must take forever to learn it all. Well, it turns out you can plan something like that and it takes much less than forever.
All subway users can do it, because every subway user is an expert. That’s right, everybody. If you’re not doing it their way, you’re not doing it right. I’m not criticizing; I can’t, because I definitely present symptoms of subway-expertism myself. For instance, it vexes me to know that people don’t pull out their Metro Card as they walk down the stairs as soon as they get a good glimpse of the upcoming turnstile. Why wouldn’t you take your card out earlier? It saves a considerable amount of time, and ensures you don’t hold other people up, or end up standing around in the midst of the morning hustle and bustle scavenging through one of your enormous bags or a vast array of pockets.
And then there’s the logistics of it all. Even the most experienced subway users have the tendency to completely ignore or disrespect protocol. Nothing extreme, just common sense stuff. Common sense is not too common it seems. Why would you stand right in front of the train doors about to open without leaving a path for the people who would greatly appreciate it if they were let off the already crowded train. It’s a win-win – I cannot stress how much easier it will be to get on the train when there are fewer people in the carriage. And even more incentive, the people who stand on the side of the doors actually manage to get in first. Be that guy, not the guy in the middle of the doorway, people don’t really appreciate that guy.
I have to admit though, I love the subway.
Maybe that sounds odd, I mean let’s face it, the subway houses numerous rats of all shapes and sizes, some that probably don’t classify as rats anymore. But there are things to love about it. The rush of air (probably gross air, but nevertheless) that whips you across the face as a train approaches the platform, being squished between 5 people who are squished between another 5 people such that nobody really needs to hold on to anything anymore because we’re all holding each other up. That’s teamwork, and kind of cool – thanks physics. Sometimes you get annoyed at that loud crowd in your carriage, but when you think about it, you become that loud crowd on some occasions when you are with your friends, and you love it because it’s fun. If you’re lucky, you get to experience a couple of kids hopping into carriages late at night with a boombox who are prepared to perform little shows for a couple of bucks from generous passengers.
There are things to love about the stations themselves, like your buddy, the vendor, who most often supplies you with your morning croissant or a bag of chips for the road. Grand Central in particular is great. I’m sure other stations are cool too, I don’t mean to offend anyone, but traversing through Grand Central at 8:45 in the morning makes me smile. You too can end up perfecting your subway journey. My roommate and I are either in the first or second carriage on the 7, because we get on the first or second carriage in the N or Q in Astoria. We take the 7 from Queensboro Plaza because we minimize walking-through-crowds-and-up-and-down-stairs-turning-corners time, and once the doors open at Grand Central we fly out like racehorses from their starting boxes and head for the left escalator. Why the left, you ask? Because all the slow-walking people pile onto the right escalator as it is closest to them (and that’s no good for us speedy folk). We don’t want that. Even when you aren’t in a rush you somehow are in a rush in this city. We take the left-hand-side of the escalator, because who has time to stand on an escalator and wait in the morning? We aren’t at the mall. And we aren’t tourists.
Here’s a great mission.
At the top of the escalators take a scan across the room to map out the path you will take that ensures you don’t get run over by tall people, whacked in the face by a briefcase, or get attacked by someone’s umbrella. Think about the velocity everybody in your chosen path is traveling at and go through with confidence, making as few detours as possible in order to complete your mission. There are also days where this part changes as you are entranced by a beautiful performance held in the station by a musician or singer filling up the entire space with musical heaven and you take a few minutes to stop and take it in. I especially love those days. Not enough New Yorkers appreciate them. Pause on these days. They are worth the break in your mission.
Out of the station, grab the morning paper – if you want it – then power walk across blocks to get to work. Observe traffic flow and keep an eye on the lights so you can start crossing the road right when the cars have a red light and are at a standstill. You’re not quick enough if you wait to cross the road when the little traffic light guy lights up, replacing the red hand which firmly dictates that you stay put. Criss-cross the streets in a perfectly timed manner, you’re now across the station, next you’re on the opposite side of Lex, and you’ve learned that cars rarely come down 41st street so you barely need to check before crossing (I never said that, listen to mother’s voice telling you to look left and right) and walk a little further to arrive at your destination. You’ve soaked in a large portion of a Manhattan work morning before even getting to work. You’ve experienced the head-raising, eye-closing, mmm-worthy scent of hot coffee wafting through the air, successfully navigated through swarms of quick-footed people and perfectly calculated and timed exits and entry into carriages, when to run or walk and how to beat traffic lights.
Level complete. Save game now?