out in the cold

As I headed to the subway this morning, I didn’t expect to spend over an hour on the above ground platform. But there I stood, with my fingers and toes getting colder and colder and the crowd around me getting larger and larger. I kept thinking about the fact that I left my arm warmers (which come close to being gloves) sitting on my desk at home. I didn’t think I would need them.

So there I stood, with hundreds of other people, not knowing why the trains had stopped. In this situations, where nothing can be done, I find it fascinating to watch the reactions of people around me. Some people get really mad, some get upset and some just seem sad. I understand all of those emotions. It’s irritating to feel helpless, to know that the one way you get to work isn’t… well… working.

Initially, I knew that I had lots of time to make it to where I needed to be in time. I was leaving super early to run a few errands but they could keep. But 30 minutes passed and then an hour passed; suddenly I was going to be late. And the aforementioned fingers and toes were really starting to freeze. When this happened, as it does whenever I face some kind of physical discomfort and I start to bemoan that fact, I thought about Everest. Wow, I would never make it if I can’t handle some cold toes on a subway platform in NYC. I know that I’d be better dressed for the weather on Everest so maybe that’s an inaccurate assessment. I do really want to see base camp.

After a few trains rumbled passed completely empty (what?), a train finally stopped and hundreds of us piled in. Cold and late, the train was a symphony of grumbling. But since it was so many people, there was no real solidarity, no sense of community in the experience. And for some reason that made me sad.

Let me explain.

I have experienced a few NYC transportation moments- those times when confusion or upheaval has connected a group of strangers. One was where I almost had to perform CPR on a woman who collapsed in our card- I had recently taken a CPR course at the theatre I was working at and for some reason I was honest about it- but I noticed that she had a medical bracelet that indicated she was diabetic so someone’s donated jug of orange juice from Whole Foods became her savior instead of me. And in that stretch of 10 minutes, the entire subway car bonded. We were a team, strangers taking care of one of our own. And it made me feel connected and less alone.

One other time a train lurched to a stop right after pulling out of one station on its way to another. Not completely unusual. But then someone came running into our card saying that a homeless man was attacking the conductor. Suddenly, all the guys in our car (I know, but some things are genetic and I think the men just moved faster and it tapped into some innate instinct) got up and rushed to help.

This morning. There was no sense of solidarity, no “we’re all in this together” feeling. It was hundreds of cold people running late. And maybe it was circumstance, there was no unifying factor (anger at the MTA doesn’t really count because that tends to be a rather common emotion when on the trains). We WERE all strangers. Nothing more.

Although when a seat became available near me (rare and super exciting because it was PACKED), I gave it to the girl next to me who was juggling a coffee mug along with her bag. I wasn’t trying to hold anything so it was easier for me to stand. And she seemed hesitant to accept it so I said “You have coffee” which made her smile. So there’s that. A little something. My way of connecting to someone during this incident.

Maybe we are only as alone as we make ourselves. And maybe we are only cold if we leave our gloves at home. And both of those things are our choice. There’s something reassuring about that. So next time I will remember my arm warmers and maybe I will engage with other people (but not the guy who was screaming obscenities at the booth agent, he doesn’t deserve my community outreach… there have to be some boundaries!).

I hope you are warm and safe. And if you see me on the train (I have this purple Kangol hat), please say hello.

Until next week,

Louise

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