Tuesday, October 25, 2005

E Train on the R Track.

I entered the Union Square subway station and hustled down the stairs to the downtown NRW subway stop. After about a five-minute wait, longer than usual for the yellow line, an E train pulled up ready to take the downtown bound passengers south. The E train has a much gloomier appearance with its long gray benches, unlike the Broadway line’s bright yellow and orange seats. I sat next to a twenty-something woman and settled in for my ride all the way to the tip of Manhattan.

As I sat there, zoning out as I stared straight ahead, my attention was captured by a pair of people sitting opposite me on the bench. A high-pitched strained voice squealed, and a man’s laugh rattled the car. I glanced over at the pair and observed a black woman and a white man, probably both middle aged, rocking back and forth with amusement. The woman had a bandage that covered the area between the bridge of her nose and her upper lip; it looked as if she may have had plastic surgery or sustained an injury.

The woman was wearing all black except a white wife beater peaking through her button down black collared shirt, white socks, and of course the dirtied white bandage that wrapped her nose. When an a cappella group boarded the train and began a rendition of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” she giggled with delight and they both shoved a dollar into the brown paper sack that was traveling the car, though it didn’t appear that either of them had money to spare.

The woman was rambunctious, and she kept asking why the E train was running along Broadway. The man would explain to her, in a slightly irritated tone, that “I already tol’ you, thuh E is runnin’ on thuh R track, but we’re goin’ downtown, and it stops at whitehawl.” She didn’t seem to grasp this. After asking him several more times, she received a “yuh such a stupid bitch,” and a roll of his eyes. This didn’t phase her- it looked as though this was a normal exchange between the two siblings of the underground.

The other passengers in the car were clearly uncomfortable. The man who was seated on the woman’s right had moved to the other end of the subway car; he had chosen to stand rather than sit by the two rowdies. A pair of strangers on the bench to the left of the duo discussed the annoyance that these friends were causing to “the rest of us.” I felt the discomfort creeping in from my toes- the parts of me that were nearest them- but I couldn’t move, it would have been rude.

After my observation of the other passengers I noticed that the pair was each diving into their own little carry-on to grab a brown paper sack and take a swig from its canned contents. Ah, it made sense. The man smacked his lips with pleasure and continued his lecture; “The president stays at the Whitehouse, but did you know he buys the food? Did you know he pays the help?” The woman sat quiet for the first time the entire ride and sipped her beverage from a straw.

“What time is it?” her hoarse voice croaked.

The man looked down and opened one dilated eye as wide as he could, staring at his watch for a moment. He visibly deflated.

“Never mind what time it is. Who cares what time it is. I’ll get you home.”

I wondered at this pair- I even had to remind myself not to stare, not that they would have noticed. Where were they headed? Where was home?

The subway stopped at Whitehall Street, I came above ground to be greeted by air fresh off the Hudson. I glanced at my watch to see which ferry I could expect to catch- the next one would leave at 11am.