Friday, January 07, 2005

Underground man

I'm usually happiest on the subway in the morning when I get a seat and can read. I don't mind reading standing up, particularly if I'm on an express train (and if I'm on a local and I'm standing something's gone horrifically wrong), but there are a couple of stops before I have to change trains and there might be shifting around that's required (New Yorker's are not forgiving if you're lost in a book when they need to GET IN THE TRAIN) so it's hard to, well, get lost in a book while standing.

(I have started flashing forward to the months where standing and reading on the train will not be possible, since I will have a sling on my arm, but that's for the future.)

Riding the subways requires a certain amount of skill. Yes, sure, you could get on at any entrance and you could just get off whenever you feel like it, but once you've done it enough you know exactly where to stand on the platform so that you can exit at your usual or planned stop at precisely where the staircase is to get you the hell out of there. This is an important and necessary skill and instinct to have during rush hour, where the delay of 30 seconds means you're standing in a huddle of wool coats and fur collars and hats waiting to filter into the narrow escalator upstairs. The exit I usually take has two escalators and a flight of steps at the far end. I marvel at the people who take the stairs. I mean, I work out each morning but the one time I had to walk up that full flight I was ruined. At the same time I marvel at the people who have even less energy (but more time) than I do who stand on the far right of the escalator steps and just wait to be brought to their destination.

As usual, I'm in the middle, trudging upwards, but on the escalator. Woe to the idiot who stands still on the left hand side; they should be electrocuted instantly.

So there I was yesterday morning getting on the express train. It was packed, of course, but I managed to get into the first car, up at the front near where the little booth for the driver exists. Next to that booth is a window, and I spent the whole trip riding into the city staring out the front window as we whizzed down the tracks. That was actually a lot of fun. I wouldn't want to stare at those dark tunnels for a living, but examining the way the tracks fold into one another, the way the tunnels branch off leaving you to wonder: Where does that go? and feeling the sheer speed at which you're going in a narrow grimy hole in the earth, under water and up again -- it's a little like flying. I wondered briefly if anyone had ever invented Underground Man, some kind of superhero who travels the city through the subway tubes and avenges evil and rats. Probably not.

And then the train came into the station and I had to pile out and hurry to the escalators and I felt a little sad that the ride was over.

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