Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Astrosmash For The Masses

Every morning I have to walk a long way through Penn Station's labyrinthine corridors to get to the 1-2-3 subway which takes me up to Times Square. I walk down the stairs into a large underground hall, pass the soldiers standing guard on my right and the cinnabuns shop on my left, then turn down another long passageway that takes me to another set of stairs that takes me farther down into the bowels of the station. I walk down those stairs, moving briskly, pass the starbucks that is always far too crowded with tense commuters to think about stopping there to get a coffee and the bookshops and snack places, all the while deftly avoiding bumping into any of the hundreds of people zipping around in all directions.

I approach the entrance to the subway, a series of turnstiles situated in a line next to the machines where you can by subway tickets and the information booth at which you can ask for directions. This month is the first month that I have purchased an unlimited metro pass that allows me to use the subway as often as I want for 30 days. Because I have this pass all I need to do to get on the subway is to swipe my card through the slot next to a turnstile, wait for the computer screen to flash "go," and then walk through the turnstile, and up some more stairs until I reach the platform where I can catch the train to Times Square.

At Times Square I get off the subway car and rush up the stairs that spit me out into the crowded chaos of the people rushing about to and from the shuttle that travels between Times Square and Grand Central. In the space where people wait for the shuttle, in addition to the crowds of passengers, there are bands of people playing instruments and singing with tip jars in front of them, people selling black market DVDs arranged on hastily spread blankets, and homeless people begging for change. Everyone is walking at the same time in a thousand directions, and it takes skill to avoid head on collisions. It's like a virtual game of astrosmash where the people are the meteors and your objective is avoidance instead of destruction.

I rush through the crowds and the randomly places columns that hold up the ceiling and jump onto the shuttle, always feeling as if I've caught it just in time. The shuttle is a quick ride to Grand Central with no stops, and once I reach Grand Central I'm almost at work and at the end of my journey. At Grand Central I leave the subway car and head for the direction of the 4-5-6 trains, following the green circles that will lead me to the 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue exits. I reach another line of turnstiles, go through them, and walk up the escalators which dump me out on the street level of Grand Central. From there it's a quick left hand turn for the doors, I pass through them and am suddenly out on the street, still in the midst of a boiling crowd of people, but feeling like I can breathe easier because I'm outside in the open and have emerged from the caverns below the streets.

I turn left and head for my office, already picturing the ride in the elevator, the stop to grab my cup of coffee, walking up the stairs to my floor, dropping my bags and coffee on my desk, wincing at the mess, and making my way down the hall to fill up the 1 liter bottle of water that I try to empty each day. Almost to my office I start hoping that the red light on my phone is not lit up this morning, and that when I turn on my outlook I will find a blessed lack of messages.

* * *
This journey from home to work is the same each day. Though I've only been doing it now for about a month and a half, I've realized recently that I've started doing it almost on autopilot. My feet carry me largely of their own volition up the stairs, down the corridors, onto the trains, and through the throngs of people. My body hustles and weaves on its own while my mind goes off thinking of things unrelated to my morning commute.

This morning, as I raced down the first set of stairs in Penn Station I was thinking that Raj looked handsome this morning and that his body felt warm and solid when he hugged me goodbye before we parted, me to head towards the 1-2-3 and him for the A-C-E. He smells amazing all the time, like no other person I have ever met. I was also thinking about my asylum clients and about all of the work that I have to do over the course of the next two weeks. This made me think of my other asylum client and the meeting we had last night with a Tibetan expert that told us that my client was unable to demonstrate convincingly that she was in Tibet as recently as she says she was. I'm concerned, but I still believe her. She has never wavered in her story and I have never doubted her credibility, but it raises a host of questions to have an expert decide that he can not say with certainty that she is from Tibet, as opposed to a Tibetan community in Nepal or India.

All these thoughts were rushing through my head as I approached the entrance to the 1-2-3 and the line of turnstiles. Like usual I headed for the nearest turnstile and made as if to walk through it.


I slammed into the metal bar and was brought up short. I let out a little cry, and then looked around quickly, feeling embarrassed, to see how many people had witnessed me smash into the turnstile. So engrossed had I been with my thoughts, that I had neglected to swipe my card, or even to pause to take my card out of my wallet, before attempting to walk through the turnstile. It didn't hurt, but it was a bit of a shock. Still feeling embarrassed, I backed out of the turnstile and away from the offending metal bar and dug around in my purse for my wallet and metro card. Then summing my dignity, and reminding myself that New Yorkers are far too busy with their own problems to bother about my little embarrassments, I swiped my card, waited for the glowing green "go," and walked through as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

The turnstile let me through without any problem and I continued on my way just as before, though at a slightly slower pace, and with more attention to where my feet were taking me.

1 comment:

Tracy said...

Warm solid hugs are awesome! :)

I know the "thwack" feeling of the unrelenting turnstile! It brings me back to my days in NYC. JLo wasn't the only one "on the 6". That was my line too.