On the train.

20 07 2008

“I don’t know how y’all do this everyday,” he tells me. “It’s just crazy! We got lost on our way over here, train took us all the way out to Queens! To the end of Queens!” 

I’ve just gotten on the train at Grand Central, heading downtown to SoHo to find a store I love and a bookstore I love even more. Not long after the doors close, I hear two thick as molasses Southern accents and know in an instant they’re not from around these parts. It’s hard for me not to overhear their conversation—-they’re trying to figure out if Canal Street is a stop on this line—-because I’m crammed up into their armpits. It’s a busy train. The two men lean forward to see whether or not Canal is a stop, and it’s then I decide to offer them certainty.

“It is,” I say quietly. But they don’t hear me and continue poking their heads around me to see the map. “It is,” I say louder and only then do they see me. 

“Well, we’re tryin’a get down to Little Italy and Chinatown, then on over to the World Trade Center site. We’ve only got four hours ’cause we’re in’a army and we gotta get on back.”

I ask them if it’s their first time in the city and they nod their heads affirmatively, a little wide-eyed at the ordeal of trying to take on New York City in four hours. Having gotten lost once already, to the end of Queens, they’d had quite a day. And with this heat I’m sure they were eager to get back into an air conditioned car and head out of the city

“I don’t know how y’all do this everyday!” The older, shorter soldier from the Georgia hills, smiled wide and remarked at “our” ability to take these trains. “We driiiive ever’where we wanna go,” he said. I didn’t have the heart to break it to him that I wasn’t really allowed to get grouped into the “y’all” yet, seeing as I’ve only been in the city for three weeks. Instead I smiled and told him I liked being here a lot. 

“You know,” the older soldier reflected, “For the most part, everyone here has been real nice. It wasn’t like we thought it was gonna be.” And while I smiled with encouragement at that idea, I didn’t have a second heart to tell him that just two days prior on the train a woman—-a fairly high class one at that—-brought a train car to absolute silence when she screamed at a man who’d pushed her onto the subway. And by “push” I mean probably a light shove because I was standing directly behind them and didn’t witness a single thing that would warrant more than a “Hey, man” in response. This woman went on a rampage yelling at the man, “HEY! THAT HURT! HOW DARE YOU PUSH ME! THAT HURT! YOU ASSHOLE! GOD!!” and she continued yelling half-way down the length of the car (all of us still silenced by her sudden anger, and watching her as we might a side show at a carnival), “NO WONDER NO ONE WANTS TO COME TO THIS COUNTRY! NO WONDER NO ONE WANTS TO VISIT AMERICA!”  Never before had I seen such a small encounter, one that could have been quelled by a simple “Oops, I’m so sorry,” so quickly become a matter of international proportions. I had the heart, but not the balls, to thank the woman because up until right then, I hadn’t encountered the stereotype of the angry, middle-aged, New York City professional woman, and I could finally check that off the list of Things To See. I’m not saying she was wrong to say something to the Pusher, but come on, lady. Have a little class. It was an embarrassing moment for women everywhere because you know the Pusher’s going to go back home and talk to his buddies and say something else about women in New York. And now I’m a woman in New York, and this kind of thing matters. I just think it’s a good idea to be nice to people, to say Please, Thank You, and I’m Sorry. I think it’s a shame New Yorkers have the stereotype of being cold and nothing made me happier than hearing that soldier say it wasn’t what he was expecting.


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7 responses

20 07 2008
kilax

And I bet their short time there was even better because they met someone as nice as you willing to help them out🙂

21 07 2008
tico

Gina, if the world could have a few more billion people like you…
This episode brings to mind a couple of others. This one I’ve told before: When Henry (your cousin) attended Guilford College in Greebsboro, NC, he was told more than once that he was the “the first Yankee” they ever liked. This from a college started by Quakers. Some kids there weren’t allowed by their parents to travel as far north as NYC because of the “danger”.
Also, a funny comment came from my friend Treva Griffith, daughter of Peach Pie bassist, Ben. Last Thanksgiving their family drove from Kentucky to visit cousins in Boston. One afternoon she and her sister Carrie took their first trips on the subways around the city and successfully managed a day’s worth of sightseeing, which they loved. “But,” she said with her delightful accent,” we just kept thinking how great it would be if all the neat places we went had Kentucky people in them instead.”

21 07 2008
Susan

What a relief to those men to encounter someone like you instead of the other woman you described. I’ve been “made fun of” by my northern relatives more than once for the southern draw I’ve adapted since living in Arkansas, but I will have to say its just as odd to hear northern accents in my ears. Specifically NJ or Boston.😉

21 07 2008
lilikaofthelake

Your a lot like your mom😉 growen on people yall.
I bet you will get your fair share of meeting the ladies who launch over time in your teaching life.
Good luck with that.
I’m glad you encountered nice soldiers – On the town types. Any singing or dancing per chance?

22 07 2008
lynne cheslin

being a native New Yorker, I of course have always known that New Yorkers have always gotten a bad rap…we are friendly and always ready to assist. I still think this years later…..I’m glad you’re experiencing this first hand. You and Dennis are going to have some not to be missed memories for always….The Big Apple rocks…..also, have you and Dennis viewed the waterfalls throughout the city? They’re amazing and quite lovely I think.

26 07 2008
Jen

That woman would not survive life in Korea where pushing happens on a daily basis – everywhere! Pushing in the subway, pushing in the grocery store, pushing on the street. And there is certainly no “excuse me” used… it’s unfortunate when a small group of people can cause the rest of the people in the group/city/country to look bad!

26 07 2008
ginacoggio

So maybe they were images of Korea that I saw on a commercial for the website howstuffworks.com? For like 30 seconds there were officers pushing commuters onto trains, like it was their job to do this. Is this true?

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