Writer’s Note: Listen to Eric Clapton’s Reptile while reading. while reading. (Photo by Samantha Neudorf)
I waited right outside the establishment that she interned. The guard stared at me from behind the glass door entrance. He must have thought I was crazy standing outside in an uncharacteristically humid autumn day. I pulled out my phone and scrolled through old messages as if I had an important email to answer.
When she got out, we walked up towards 34th street so that she could catch the LIRR bound towards the East. She lived out in Hempstead and attending Hofstra, which was accessible by blue beetle every hour only during the commuting peak hours in the morning and in the afternoon. Her class was at 6 in the evening, so you could imagine the rush that she had to go through every Tuesday and Thursday she came into the city.
“How was your day today?” I asked.
“Same old thing,” Sam said. “I ran around and did errands for the editor.”
Since she always had to catch a train within the half hour she told me about her day as we walked uptown. If we were lucky, we would be able to stop by the corner store to pick up a few goodies that would get us through our evening classes.
On this particular day, the Flat Iron on 23rd did not gleam with a stern brightness that could be seen from a few streets up. The wind picked up, bringing a certain heat that was not uncommon in the autumn. It was the same kind of humidity that followed you underground and made you sweat like a pig before its death.
I wiped the beads forming on my head with the sleeve of my coat. I turned towards her and noticed that she kept walking with an urgency. As always, it slipped my mind that we would be going our separate ways in just a matter of minutes.
“Did anything else happen?”
“Well, I talked to the other intern. Did you know she commutes all the way from Jersey?”
“Is she in school?”
“She’s taking a break.”
We stopped at 25th and waited for the green man to come on the scene. I checked my phone to see what time it was. It was 4:30, which meant I had an hour to get to my own class.
The crowd started to pick up the more we walked up. From 23rd to 30th the convenient stores emerged. Sam and I walked past the Trader Joes on 6th, and when the automatic doors opened I noticed that the line wrapped around the inside of the store. There was a YogurtLand further up that whispered for my attention. I stopped and asked if she wanted to grab a cup to eat. Then I looked at my clock again and realized that it wouldn’t be feasible.
We crossed two avenues over. Unlike uptown, there weren’t many trees that stretched over our heads. Old tenement buildings that rusted since forever ago stood like stoic statues. They were witness and testament to the history of the city.
As we approached Penn Station on 34th, we both held on tighter. The swarm of people flocked towards the underground station in hopes to find a seat to sit in for the lengthy commutes. Sam had hoped to snag one, because it took her a good hour and a half to get to her school.
I led her to the LIRR station and waited with her for the track announcement on the overboard ahead. When her station started to blink, she leaned in and gave me a smack.
“I’ll see you this weekend, okay?”
“Okay. Have a good class.”
After I bid her farewell, I exited the station and headed to the nearest E train, which was just a transfer and swipe away from where I stood. While I floated towards the turnstile, I thought about the readings that I had for today and whether or not I took the time to actually take notes. It was a good thing that the class consisted mostly of discussion, and if I was lucky, I could get by without saying a word.
The train would arrive soon and whisk me away to 59th street. From there I would walk nine streets up to my school. On my way, I could also grab a slice if I wanted to I thought. I leaned on the pillar and put my hands in my pocket. I felt the air hit the left side of my face. The screech of the train shook the pillar, and I straightened my posture.
As usual, the 4:30 commute proved to be as crowded as ever. I entered and went to the nearest open spot. I put my earphones in and let the music take over the sound of the train zipping through the city’s wormhole.
I changed the track and the music picked up on the next song. I let go of the rest pole that I was holding onto. Feeling the floor beneath me, I got a grip of my soles as best as I could, balancing the weight of my backpack with the speed of the train. The train jolted and jerked and eventually slowed down.
The voice over the intercom began to speak. I stopped my music and took out my earphones to listen.
“Someone ahead of us just pulled the Emergency Break. So everybody has to get off at 42nd street. We’re sorry for the inconvenience. But please do transfer to . . .”
The train car felt more humid than usual. I felt a full sweat bead slide down my back, and I knew that something wasn’t quite right. Deep inside of me, a little voice in my head started to scream.
I pulled out my phone. It was now 5:01. At this time I didn’t have any time to think about anything else but getting to class.
I jolted towards the next C train that was just a transfer away. If I went downtown one stop, I could transfer to the F that would take me to 63rd street. Then I would run five streets up to get to my school.
I tossed my leg into the door just as it began to close. The voice over the intercom began to speak.
“This is a Uptown C express train. The next stop is 103rd street.”
If it weren’t for the crowded car, I was going to toss my pack across the aisle towards the driver’s direction. The train rumbled at a fast pace and in between the coughing passengers, the rickety rackety of the train doors, and the crying babies, I checked my clock for my status. By the time I reached 103rd it was 5:15.
I scampered to the downtown C train across the track. When the doors closed, I felt the walls of train close in. The humidity had been chasing me since 19th.
The train arrived at 59th street Columbus Circle 5:20. From there I transferred to the F towards Queens.
But when finally got onto the train, the doors wouldn’t close. For what felt like an eternity, me and the sea of disgruntled men and women began twitching and fidgeting. The intercom began:
“Everyone step into the train so we can get a move on it!”
Still the doors stayed open.
“Everyone step into the train so we can start to get this train moving.
Still, it went on.
“STEP INTO THE TRAIN!”
The train became more humid. I looked at the doors close and never felt so happy to feel the smothering warmth of the outside world and its millions of people.
The F ran like a track runner at the last leg of a race. Although it is a crippled train in many ways, it trekked on towards 63rd like it was any other day. The doors opened, and I pushed my way through the blocking crowd. I saw that the platform was empty.
Clutching my bag, I sprinted towards the escalators at the far end of the platform. I ran up the first set and bolted through the second and third sets of escalators. The humidity welcomed me back to the surface, where I raced against the pedestrian lights. Whether it was a green man or a red man, I ran through.
Once I saw the sight of the school, I took bigger strides, and I even pulled out my ID to swipe in in time. Without thinking, I tapped my card on the sensor and ran up some more escalators in my school. To this day, New York’s love affair to the beloved escalator has never been more apparent.
My class was in the north building, which meant I had to cross bridges between the school. I ran past the crowd of students and even did a spin move that would make any professional waiter proud. The last obstacle, 4 flights of stairs proved to be the most crucial moment. I boosted myself up on the first step, and within 30 seconds, I was on the 4th floor. I turned the corner like PacMan, and ran towards the end of the hall where my class was at.
I crossed the ribbon and burst into the room like a messenger. I went to my chair and launched my bag to the floor. I pulled out my phone and read the time: 5:29. A number of messages were also on my phone, which I could not access underground. They must have been from Sam.
Looking around, Some of my classmates were not in class. I sighed and began taking out my notebook. My professor walked in with his usual demeanor and asked us “What’s up?” And for the very first time, I really did not have the breath and brevity to answer such a wonderfully broad question like that.