Monday, December 29, 2014

Short Story: The Underground Connection

Moments seem still but are constant, fluid in nature, always changing yet perceived as single froze pictures of time in our heads. These perceptions that freeze us also illuminate oneself to a new dimension of understanding and observing. It is in these moments when the ordinary is ignored and the smallest details scream out the most interesting stories. Some of these moments change lives, others allow for self-evaluation, and still some just are. Not everyone is attuned to the various moments in their lives and as a result miss out.

One moment all began with a song, as I race down the seemingly always crowded steps of Grand Central subway station to go uptown on the local 6. Standing on the platform, taking in the grotesque yet beautiful character of the New York City subway; Headphones on, cell service gone, a reprieve from the constant connection to the world, yet surround by hundreds going in all different directions. It seems as if in my own introspective way, as music blares into my ears and no one else’s I attain a new perspective on the environment around me. As the everyday noises are drowned out by my personal theme music, I view people in a different light. It could be the music but as I wait for the 6 train, I observe the people around me and assign background stories to them all. Some are anxiously waiting, some impatiently, while others seem relieved by the long wait for the train. Certain characteristics show you a story behind each and every one on the platform. From the way they dress, to what they’re carrying and how they stand, it all gives hints to a life out of the tunnels, in the city above. 

To my left stands a young man, around my own age of 24. Although he looks composed from a distance and put together in a wrinkle-less suit and leather messenger bag, small details give him away. From the subway map in his hand and the brief moments of confusion on his face, it is easy to tell that he isn’t from the city and hasn’t worked here either. Perhaps he is here on an interview, dressed in his most sleek outfit, resume freshly printed and stored in his newly bought messenger bag. If he is where he’s suppose to be, he must be going to midtown, maybe Park Ave or Lexington for an interview. Then again with the glimpses of confusion on the otherwise confident look, he may be waiting to go uptown when he really needs to go downtown.

As I turn to look down the tracks to see if the 6 is coming I see a woman slowly walking down the platform, on the yellow edge might I add. She is older, gray hair sticking out of her small hat, a dark brown wood cane on one hand and a classic style purse on the other. Her back is hunched and legs look weak but this woman is not vulnerable at all. From the sneakers she wears on her feet and lack of uneasiness in her tired eyes, you can tell she’s been taking the subway for years, if not decades. Her wrinkled exterior is a hard coat of armor, a testimony of years in New York. You know she expects a seat on the subway but only out of respect not pity. 

Also amongst the crowd is a girl in her late teens, most likely a college student. She seems to be average, not too tall, not too short, not thin but not heavy either. What grab my attention are her clothes. Her outfit seems to be a mismatch of bohemian meets punk meets emo, with some additional flamboyant colors. She’s trying to be unique but in doing so she is just like every other ‘unique’ person. Expressing individualism through fashion is something everyone does. However, if you copy trends, even the one that make you look different, you still can lose yourself in the exterior image. She seems to by trying too hard and it will only backfire, placing her back at square one of self definition. The confusion and mystery of her own identity can be seen in the quick glances around the station, followed by the smallest glances of insecurity and body language that lacks self confidence. Although she seems young, she’s probably still in school with plenty of time and opportunity to find herself. 

Soon the dim light of the oncoming subway car caught my attention as it slowly began to light up the darken tunnel and align with the subway platform. The crowd began to swarm to the demarcated areas where the doors open every time. The ones that take the subway daily know not to block the doors but to stand next to them in order to miss the outgoing flow of people and slide in from the side. As everyone crams on to the subway car, the very over used expression comes to mind, the car is truly packed like sardines. Headphones still in my ears, music blocking out all noise except for the incessant beeping of the doors, which are constantly closing and opening for the last of the passengers that can’t clear the threshold. Frustration grows in every one’s eyes, including my own as the doors continues to open and close due to that one passenger standing in the doorway. As I survey the crowd, the faces that I can see show frustration and restraint all ready to scream at that one passenger causing the delay but hey it’s New York no one is suppose to care. 

Finally the subway pulls from the station, embarking on my ten minute subway ride. I relax a little knowing that I'm on my way and focus on where I stand. Fidgeting with my music to find an appropriate song I take a quick glance in the darken window of the door. As I hold on to the center pole, my reflection, although not perfect, is clear enough to straighten my jacket and give me a boost of self esteem. Once I establish confidence that I look ‘put together’, I begin my quick yet subtle glances around me, close by and far away. I see the older woman who did get a seat, sitting straitlaced with her purse on her lap and cane on her arm commanding her own space. The young man standing nearby trying to stay wrinkle free as he constantly looks at his service less phone, most likely late for his interview or meeting. The teen girl, in her unique outfit, stands back by the door looking around like myself. It’s crowded but not jammed packed like a mash pit at a heavy metal concert, which it can be some days. As I look past face after face, I look for the ones that grab my attention, the beautiful, the unique, the ugly, the confident and the confused. They all tell stories and enlighten the imagination. In a way it’s a silent community of mixed races, occupations, ages and beings all sharing a small moment in time that seems displaced in the rest of the day, beneath the surface and in between point A and point B. 

As the car pulls up to 51st street, an exchange takes place; some people leave, some get on and others shift to a different position. There always seems to be one person slithering through the crowd to either get off or find a better spot. As the doors close I take another glance around to see the newcomers. This stop is predominately suits and shoppers. It’s amazing to see some of the men and women dressed in business attire, not a hair out of place, faces stoic as if nothing can penetrate their business exterior. The shoppers on the other hand look thrilled at their latest purchases, which reside in the multi-colored bags hanging off their arms in the most precarious positions, at least for fellow riders. Then there’s the other shoppers who may have just bought a whole new wardrobe but still they look bored out of their minds. I guess retail therapy doesn’t work for them or perhaps they shop so often its lot its effects? 

As I look beyond the shoppers, I see a young woman, her royal blue dress, zippered up her back and dark brown hair catches my eye. Her attire makes her stand out, it’s bright yet not over the top. Her dress looks like something that could be worn out on the town, yet it has a business vibe to it as well. She’s wearing high heel sandals that accentuate her legs perfectly. She holds the side bar with one hand, while her other grasps onto her phone, which is acting as her mp3 player, headphones resting against her body from her ears to her hand. Her purse is small yet goes with the outfit; it’s tucked up under her arm. This woman is put together. As I continue to look at her from across the subway car, I see her head slowly turning. I get a good look at her face, an angelic face confirming that she is beautiful from head to toe. She’s looking around as if surveying the crowd, probably the same way I do. As she scans in my direction our eyes meet for a brief moment before I look away. I don't want to be one of those creepy guys. I try to see her in the reflection of the door but the guy next to me is in the way. I causally look over at her again, her heads turned but wow she is beautiful. I briefly look away for a second, as I turn back I notice she is staring back my way. Now there is no way to tell if she is looking at me or just in my vicinity but I feel some eye flirting going on. I can see her checking me out from the corner of her eye. This causes me to grab my iPod and pretend I’m searching for a song, just to do something so that I look relaxed. As people begin to gather their belongings and inch towards the doors as we get closer to the nest stop, 59th street, our visual connection is interrupted. I noticed she seems to be getting ready, releasing the overhead bar and gripping her purse. As the train comes to a stop at 59th street, we share one last look before she is consumed by the flow of people exiting the car. For a brief moment, the dreamy romantic in me ponders, who knows what could have transpire between us if we had moved passed the eye flirting. One day I’ll say hi and make conversation, it might not lead to anything, but to have the experience to speak to a complete stranger on the subway just seems interesting, it would be like Rick and Ilsa but instead of always having Paris, we would always have the subway...

As the doors closed at 59th street I begin to move towards the door, positioning myself to be the first one out. I politely push and squeeze through the crowd like a cat, contorting my body as I slide between people. I make it to the doors, which is perfect because now I can check on my appearance. Once again I look into the clear glass window and as the bright light of the station turns to the black mirror of the tunnels I reevaluate how I look. I fix my shoulder strap to my canvas messenger bag, move my headphone cords to a safe place so not to snag on anything or one, I straighten my tan jacket, popping the collar because it looks better that way. Once I’m all straightened out, my eyes quickly look at the mirrored riders standing behind me before I begin to glance down. As I look down the window, the black mirror begins to become translucent again, allowing me to see the bottom of the tunnel. I hypnotically stare at the support beams as they fly by. Then I focus once again on the music blaring in my ears, only to realize its Jay Z’s Empire State of Mind. A great song for the Yankees and the city but to listen to it in the subway on a weekday makes me feel like a tourist. I skip it hoping for something less stereotypical or at least more of a classic. As I skip through the songs without looking, the tunnel begins to brighten, the car begins to slow and as always the speaker blares out: 68th street, Hunter College. As the doors open and my reflection is replaced with a stranger waiting to get on, I step off the subway at 68Th street Hunter College and begin my trek up two flights of stairs to the street, focusing on my objectives above ground but not before briefly remembering the confined space of the underground connection. It is a place where lives cross paths during a reprieve from the world above bringing about a sense of self evaluation and knowledge all in a series of moments. Moments where the smallest details around you as well as those from within will tell a story. Take a moment and discover a plethora of stories around you

No comments:

Post a Comment