If you’ve seen any pics/news of the 1/2/3 train’s suspended service from 5:30-7:20am, you will imagine my commute to yoga. I left at 5:30a, was totally drenched even with umbrella, got on a train and froze in the a/c, then got stuck there. Service was suspended while we poor souls were all on it. And it’s not the rich folk commuting at 5:30am—though, interestingly, a lot of construction workers did have blackberries. They told us they were trying to “overcome the water obstacle” at 72nd Street. Fifteen minutes later the conductor announced that it could not be overcome, and we were going back to the last station. After waiting, of course, for the five trains that had piled in behind us to do so. Cold. A/C. Misery.
You might imagine another train was running, but we were told to take a bus. No way. There were hundreds of people on the street waiting for bus or cab. About 3 cabs out at that hour, and they were occupied. So, I walked the next 31 blocks to the studio. When I got there I realized I grabbed the wrong bag and had to practice in yesterday’s clothes, which were damp (from day-old sweat, not rain) and rank. But we bonded, sharing our horror commute stories, and sweated it out.
Last Monday morning at 5:43am, I had a few minutes spare before leaving for yoga. I didn’t intend to read the email that had arrived the night before. I’d planned to wait until I was fully awake, in the bright of day, and perfectly able to take in whatever came next. I would not chance any of the sorrows that so easily take over in the quiet hours of the day. But the sun was up, and I rashly decided I was being silly. Why not? So I read.
Previous caution aside, I didn’t fully expect what I read or the affect it would have on me. I teared. I looked at the time. I collected my stuff and myself and I left.
A friend of mine once said, after her father died, that you can’t schedule grief. You can’t plan it, you just have to take it when it comes. This has been my experience precisely. While anger is fairly accessible to me, sadness tends to hide itself, even when I know it should be there, and feel that it is, somewhere, there. Because it is difficult for me to reach, I try to respect it when it comes.
In the elevator down, the tears started rolling. I walked out of my building and up the street, feeling bittersweet memories and the sheer sadness of an ending, and crying harder. I’ve learned in the past that silent tears often go unnoticed, and New York is mostly asleep before six in the morning, so I didn’t care too much about my public display. When I was midway down the steps to the subway, an MTA guy headed up them looked at me with concern. I recognized him as a night-shift elevator operator, and remembered saying ‘Hi’ to him when I came home the night before, just after 10. He said something. I pulled out an earbud.
He asked, again, with kind eyes, “Are you okay? Is everything okay?”
“Yes, oh yes,” I answered, and he nodded. We kept going. The tears came a little harder, marveling at the beauty of New Yorkers. Marveling that someone who’d spent the last eight graveyard hours in an underground MTA elevator still has the capacity to be genuinely concerned about a stranger passing by.
A few nights before, I talked to a guy at in a club who claimed that Londoners are much more open and kind then New Yorkers. He complained that New Yorkers are entirely self-absorbed and unhelpful.
“Really? You think so?” I answered, amazed. I understand this might be true as far as superficial concerns go, but never have I found a New Yorker to turn on someone in real pain or need. Yes, there is a certain amount of numbing oneself to others’ pain that goes on here, to get through the daily realities of so many in such a small space. But if someone is truly out or ill or in need, someone steps up. No, not everyone, but someone. You know when it’s your turn. That’s how we work.
Last year, just after Andrea moved back to Australia, I was headed downtown on the train during rush hour to meet a friend for dinner. It was packed, and I was standing by a pole between the end seat and the doors. A particular song came on my player and all of the sudden I burst into tears. I’d kept sunglasses on, so I didn’t think it was terribly noticeable. I was silent. My eyes closed in search of privacy, pretending that anyone I could not see could not see me. Because rush hour on the train is so in-your-face, and I respect the right of New Yorkers to have as much space as possible on our confined and difficult commutes (i.e. no one needs extra drama two inches away after a long day’s work), I tried to dam the tears. Just when I thought I’d stifled them, someone tugged on my arm.
“Sit, sit, please sit,” said the man sitting in front of me.
Stubborn, I refused. “No. No thank you.” I shook my head, as accepting meant I acknowledged he was there. That anyone was there. That I was making a scene. His kindness toppled the dam and I cried harder, gulping for air as I tried to regain composure. The train stopped. The man got up. He looked and sounded Middle Eastern. “Sit!” he cried, as he grabbed my arm and forced me down in his seat, seemingly anguished by my pain, and then bolted from the car. The blond woman next to me turned and asked if I was okay.
“Yes, yes,” I answered, humbled by their kindness and totally unable to stop the flow of tears. I refused to make eye contact with anyone else in the crowded car, and refused to acknowledge how many might be taking me in. Finally, by 14th Street, I pulled it together, wiped my face, and prepared to get off the train. It was done. By the time I reached the restaurant, no one suspected a thing.
A friend of mine recently said that NYC is a refugee camp. It takes in everyone who, for whatever reason, can’t or doesn’t want to be where he began (and if not him, it took in his mother or grandmother, and he knows what that means). Given the number of cultural strangers here, it’s a miracle that so little violence takes place, especially considering the behavior and antics of many space-rich middle Americans.
In our own way, we take care of each other. No, we aren’t bubbly or disingenuous. We also know how to stay out of each other’s way, which can be seen by outsiders as rudeness. But on this tiny island of millions, that, too, is an act of kindness.
Yes, I’ve done a lot of complaining about the only place I’ve ever truly felt at home. Yes, I feel a bit less at home here now, but I do still love much about the city. In honor, I’ve made a quick list of things I love about the Big Apple. In no particular order:
♥ Walking. New York is one of the few great walking cities of the world. We really walk here. It’s the only thing I missed when I was away, the movement that’s part of daily life. And if you want to have a stroll around, there are miles to explore. When friends visit, we sometimes walk over ten miles around the city in a day. I took this shot (above) while walking back to the train from a trip to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. You’d never get that in a driving town. It creates moments. It’s fantastic.
♥ Open hours. The cliché is true. You can get almost anything you need when you need it. Except perhaps in the early morning hours around 5-6am, when the city is very quiet.
♥ The Subway. While I also hate it, I do love how easy it is to get around the city. There’s no need for a car, which is great, because it’s impossible to get around, much less park, in one. Many other cities have hideous traffic and little or no parking, but it’s impossible to get around town on public transport. Melbourne’s trams and Sydney’s buses are no match for the subway. (Yes, many Euro cities have great public transit. I agree.) I also think the subways hold a beauty of their own.
♥ Restaurants, of course. I’ve had different favorites over the years. A few are Chola, La Masseria, Saravanas, Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse, Bamiyan, Kashkaval, Café Asean, Zoma, and, yes, Absolute Bagels (only hot & fresh in the morning). Some of these places I love for atmosphere more than the food.
♥ Yoga. I love the studios, the teachers, the schedules, the variety. The yoga scene here can be competitive and intense, but I like the vibe better than in other cities, like Boulder or L.A. A best kept secret? Genny Kapuler, on Wooster.
♥ The Nipple. Known to many as the NYPL, the New York Public Library. Almost anything you want to read (or, maybe, hear or watch) can be located in the catalog and sent to your local branch for pickup. I adore it.
The list has gotten a bit long, so I’m continuing in the next post. And more photos for this one tomorrow. I’m tired. I’ve gotta go to bed.