Trying to appreciate the beauty in subway stories. Even if you're tired and sober.
By Rachel James (Treasurer/Writer)
There are few things you can rely on in this city.
- Public transportation will always be delayed when you are running late, and overly punctual when you are running early.
- Your favorite restaurant/coffee house/bar probably won’t be there next week.
- In “The City That Never Sleeps”, the train will ALWAYS be packed at one in the morning.
And I mean rush hour packed; you can’t find a seat, and people are squeezing in. I believe this is a weird combination of suburbanites rushing to Penn Station, Grand Central, and Port Authority to get their last ride out of the city; and city folk realizing that you don’t meet anyone interesting after 2am.
Also, the rent is too damn high. But I digress.
On one of these weird nights, I was out late with some friends in the Village and managed to get on a C train heading north. When I got on the train at West 4th Street, I found a seat and promptly put in my headphones to zone out until arriving home. The train was pretty empty... until we pulled into 14th Street, when it felt like the entire island of Manhattan needed to board this car. There are a lot of crazy characters that ride the subway at all hours, but you can usually spot the ones that you feel might be the most trouble and avoid them. So when I spotted the woman with a full goblet of red wine shouting loudly in French, I almost got off the train. Even though she seemed perfectly harmless, I was just not in the mood. However, I knew I would have to wait at least 30 minutes for the next train, or pay $30 for a cab, so I turned up the volume on my podcast and stayed seated.
This woman with the red wine planted herself, along with her friends, directly across the way from me. Since my French skills do not go beyond “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soi?”, I couldn’t understand them, but they seemed to be having a grand time. As we pulled into Penn Station and a large portion of the train emptied, I could hear two guys start yelling at each other. This is when I pressed pause on my podcast. Because if I start to hear yelling, I want to be aware of my surroundings in case I have to duck, scream, or run at a given moment.
I’m being far more dramatic than necessary. But really, turning down the volume in your headphones on the subway is like checking the rear view mirror and blind spot while driving. Just making sure...
And then, it happened.
New York is filled with a million “This one time on the train, this crazy thing happened” stories. We even talk about them here on Crazytown. But this, I was not expecting. This woman with the red wine, speaking French, suddenly began singing “La Vie en Rose”. She raised her glass in celebration, and her friends joined in. The guys were still fighting, but one of them was leaving. And until the doors closed and the train pulled out of the station, this woman with a glass of red wine and her friends continued singing their song of love and wine and being alive on the New York City subway at one in the morning.
I then thought, “Wow. This is what people mean when they say ‘there’s no place like New York’.” I feel like the moment was wasted on me. I was tired and just wanted to get home. I could see the inherent beauty of these group of people singing to squash out the violence happening ten feet away, but I also was in panic mode about the entire excursion.
It's taking me telling this story to realize just how beautiful and unique and lovely this story is. Because we all panic sometimes. And we all get angry sometimes. And we all sing "La Vie en Rose" on the subway at one in the morning holding a glass of red wine sometimes.
Well, maybe not that last one...
is a native New Yorker and theatre baby. Her plays have been produced by The 52nd Street Project and Starfish Theatreworks. She currently makes a living as a Broadway treasurer.
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