My whole life, I’ve lived on the not-so-far-away but vastly different Long Island. I had a standard suburban childhood: my friends’ moms drove minivans, I went to the mall, I lived on a block lined with identical Levitt homes, and I not only ate at Denny’s but also enjoyed it. So, when I stumbled upon the Macaulay Honors program, I found myself persuaded to go to a city school by the endless list of perks. I would get to start my college life with exciting, new, and cliché experiences, and I’d also to take on the greatest city.
So, here I am… “taking on the greatest city.” Or that’s what I like to think. I’m actually just trying to find my footing in a whole new world where there are no Denny’s in sight to comfort me with eggs and hash browns in my time of need. I have faith in myself, but everyday, I am reminded, “You’re not from here.” So, here’s my story on how I am attempting to become a New Yorker.
My first initiation to the much-coveted New Yorker status is the subway system (which on certain levels is more emotionally harmful than some sorority initiations and occasionally more costly than commitment fees). Having functioned on GPS for a good portion of my life, relying on a map and my not-so-Sacagawea sense of direction, I am terrified.
In the past few weeks, I’ve learned a few things about the subway system and a few ins and outs of being a New Yorker.
1. To begin with, a little part of me dies when I swipe my card to pay for my $113 monthly pass. I don’t think, no matter how much of a New Yorker I become, that I will ever be able to accept this.
2. HopStop—an app that’s supposed to help you navigate this maze of underground tunnels—does not work underground, thus rendering the seemingly helpful app useless. However, you will occasionally find a very kind and established New Yorker to point you in the right direction. (Thank you, sir with the ear gauges and beard taking the 5 train home last week.)
3. When it comes to subway lines and the system in general, “the man” will always have control. The MTA is the puppet master and my train, the puppet. For example, little perpetually lost me is on a Brooklyn Museum–bound 2 train. Just as my confidence in where I am going builds, despite the fact that I am squished between a very sweaty man and a woman with some bountiful and lush hair (which I’m sure is better when it’s not suffocating you), the conductor announces in an almost indecipherably muffled voice “chh… this train is now changed to a 5 chhh….” With a higher anxiety than oxygen level, thanks to my wild-maned friend, I am now standing utterly confused as a bustle of people seem to know exactly where they are headed. Thank you, MTA.
4. No matter how hard I try, the people who announce their stories on the train in order to collect money will always pull on my heartstrings, and I will always find myself giving my snacks away.
5. Always leave yourself extra time. Trains are not always on time so they may take a little longer to come than expected. Damn train traffic. So leave 15 minutes early or you may find yourself running like a complete idiot, dodging people and strollers, trying to get to class on time.
6. On a more positive note, the fear of “the gap” is not nearly as pronounced on the subway as it is with the LIRR. I do not have to secretly fear for my life every time I step off a train. After my countless trips on the LIRR, I have developed a semi-irrational fear that I might, in some freak accident, fall through the gap. I know that it’s not exactly the most terrifying thing, but I feel insecure in the fact that I don’t know what happens after a person falls in. I am happy to say that I don’t have to face my fear everyday.
7. Now my most noticed lesson: NEVER make eye contact. I am sitting semi- awkwardly with my arms on my bag as if they were a fort over my sacred backpack. I have not yet been mainstreamed into the fact that everyone wears headphones or reads or pretends to do both. So, I sit. And I watch. Until I lock eyes with a pleasantly plump woman wearing purple lipstick, and I mistakenly smile. Stink eye. Creep. Then, again with a taller man who’s standing. Eye contact, smile. Looks away quickly. Everyone on the train works so hard to ignore the dozens of beings around them and to ignore the chaos that is the city, even though they are completely submerged in it. This is something that I am truly astonished by. Coming from an area where everyone knows everything about everyone, it’s hard for me to believe that in such a populated area, all we try to do is ignore each other.
So though I may not be making a best friend on the train, considering the whole lack-of-eye-contact thing, and I may be forever confused (disclaimer: I have gotten a lot better at the number trains… let’s not talk about the letter ones, okay?), I do owe the subway a lot for bringing me closer to my goal of becoming a true New Yorker, and for bringing me from point A to point B.