“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.