I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Tag: Commuting

The Beautiful Subway Singer


Finding Love Right Where We Are

Monday, instead of walking across town in my usual commuter bubble to catch my train home, I decided to take the subway. It was hazy, hot, and humid and the sky had turned ominously black while all our cellphones were sirening the alarm that a storm was near. I’ve been caught in that 5:30 pm summer downpour.  Not today.

I headed down the tunnel below ground and just missed a shuttle. In my bubble, I headed toward the next train. Everyone was standing, crowded in the entry way, even though there were plenty of seats in the middle. I made my way through the crowd to sit by myself in my bubble. When the train started moving, the beautiful woman next to me started singing. Well, at least I think she was beautiful because she gave off a beautiful vibe. Beautiful energy. I didn’t actually look at her. I didn’t actually make eye contact with her. After all, I was in my bubble in the city where I was taught not to make eye contact with strangers. Somehow connecting with others was threatening and could incite danger. This was understandable advice to the young single woman I was many many years ago, but it doesn’t really serve me that well any more. I am capable and savvy, unlikely to be accosted by strangers, and far more inclined now to make a warm connection with someone who could use a smile (and usually that someone is me).

I was startled out of my bubble. Listening. She started out tentatively, a little out of tune. It was a hard song, Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud. I certainly couldn’t sing it. I certainly wouldn’t have the nerve to burst into song in the subway. I don’t even sing at home if anyone else is around. I just listened. She gained confidence and strength. I suppose she does this all day long and this was just another iteration for her, but it was magical for me. It is such an intimate song. Her timing was impeccable, singing the climax “We found love right where we are,” just as we pulled into Grand Central. One of the more exuberant souls on the train exclaimed “Beautiful!” And it was. She was.

I went back today to the same shuttle train to see if she would be there again. Of course she was not there. That anonymous, ephemeral, magical moment could not be repeated. Imagine, finding love, all around, on the subway – in this stormy time.

I Need Nothing More

Red Ribbon

‘Tis The Season for Kindness

In this hectic, busy busy busy season – a time of year when I rage against the crowds, the spending, the too high expectations I set for myself, and counter the stress each year by gradually allowing myself to do less and less and buy less and less – I dashed out of the house without my wallet yesterday.

This realization hit me, hard, as the train conductor came by to check tickets. Damn! I cursed, frantically searching my bag. I explained my predicament. He recognized me, pondered what to do, walked away to check more tickets, came back, and gave me a bye. My seat partner, a complete stranger to me, offered me her subway metrocard. Who does that?! I thanked her profusely and told her I didn’t need it. We smiled. A connection made.

I walked to my office. One of my office mates noticed that I seemed disconcerted.  I explained my predicament. She and every other colleague proceeded to whip out a $20 for me. I was turning away money! At the office holiday party that afternoon, my Secret Santa gave me Adele’s new CD and B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga. Now that is a thoughtful person who knows me. Music and yoga? I need nothing more.

I was pretty sure my luck would run out on the commute home. I arrived at Grand Central at 5:03 and ran to catch the 5:04. The conductor came by to collect tickets. I explained why I didn’t have my monthly pass. He muttered, “Show it to me next time.”

And there you have it. A day filled with kindness. I need nothing more.

Thank you.  Thank you everyone.

Photo Credit:  Red Ribbon by SK Pfphotography

Commuting Community


Maybe It Was An Accident

We take the mundane habits of our lives for granted, unless something goes wrong, and then we complain bitterly. Like our commutes. They are too long, too crowded, too much traffic, too hot, too cold, a time-suck. For the most part, I like my commute. A lot. Yup. I do. (I am so boring and suburban.) After our meticulously choreographed-to-the-minute morning routine gets us all out of the house precisely on time, I head to the train. Sometimes I catch a neighborhood bus where I catch up with the other working women of the neighborhood. (We have a special bond.) Usually I get a ride from my husband who commutes by car. (Commute by car? Blech!) We get a few moments to catch up before our separate days take hold.

Ah, there’s the man who stands on the platform eating his muffin for breakfast. Every day I wonder if he enjoys this rushed, mindless, unnutritious meal. Ah, there’s the gaggle of women – a bit younger than me – who spend the entire commute talking, loudly, about their kids who are younger than mine. They annoy me, seeming so privileged and superficial. I remind myself that I’m quite sure I’m equally annoying when with a gaggle of my friends. Ah, there’s the man who sits hostilely in the middle of a 3-seater, aggressively daring anyone to ask to share the seat. So selfish! Why? Ah, there’s the young married couple who seem so happily absorbed in each other. She is a redhead with porcelain skin and a lovely elegance, taller than him. Ah, there’s the older man who operatically sings. Out loud. Loudly. Is he crazy? Or maybe he just doesn’t care what people think of him? And who, I wonder, flossed their teeth on the train and threw the flossing tool onto the floor.  Really!  Gross!

All the quirks of humanity are on full display. I don’t know these people, but I see them every day. They are part of my life. Some of them have become my friends, the community of commuting.

Like most commuters, I sit in the same place, see the same people, and do the same thing. Morning after morning. Evening after evening. I read the New York Times in the morning. Paper edition. I still stubbornly prefer the serendipity of flipping through each page, scanning the headlines, until I settle on something that interests me. It’s usually not something that would show up in my Facebook feed. Long live print newspapers! My evening commute has become more oriented toward listening to music or catching up on social media. I try to read magazines or books, but, like everyone else these days, I don’t seem to have the attention span for any heavy reading on the ride home. Sometimes I get a little catnap in on the ride home. It’s a welcome transition from the fast pace of my job to whatever the evening has in store.

On Tuesday, commuters everywhere went about their day and headed home that evening. Six of them did not survive their commute. A woman a bit younger than me, with a husband and three precious teen daughters, found herself caught in her SUV in traffic on the train tracks, of my commuter line, at an intersection where my husband commutes by car. No one is quite sure what she was thinking, as the warning lights sounded and the gates came down and the train slammed on its breaks and blared its horn. She must have been terrified, confused, panicked? The train hit her, killing her and five train passengers. It’s amazing to me that more people did not die. To see the photos and videos of the fiery crash, it’s amazing that only six people were killed. My people. My community. Of commuters. I don’t know the people that were killed. But they are like me and all the people I see every day. My heart goes out to them and their families. Their spouses, their parents, their siblings, their friends, their children. Their children. Can you imagine? Mommy is not coming home because she was hit by a train? Daddy is not coming home because his train burst into flames? Unfathomable.

Everyone is looking for a reason. Something to blame. Someone to blame. The gates weren’t working properly. The warning lights weren’t working properly. The train was going too fast. All grade crossings should be eliminated. Why didn’t she move? I don’t know that there is a reason. Maybe, it was just an accident. We think the habitual mundane activities of everyday life are safe. Until they’re not. And then we remember. Life is fragile, with no guarantees. Appreciate the commute. And all the quirky, annoying, beautiful strangers who share it. Kiss and ride. Kiss deeply.  Ride safely.

Photo credit: Albert Conte/The Journal News/lohud.com

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