Back on the Subway
I resumed commuting recently. Now I have a love-hate relationship with the subway. My eyes and ears almost burst some nights, amid the thunderous trains, the too-sweetened nut roast smell, and crowds banging up against me.
Working people. Frazzled mothers dragging kids. Teenagers in hooded sweatshirts. Loud girls in pointy shoes. Crazy people mumbling, toting old newspapers in shopping bags. Whether it’s Orange Line homeboys, or Kendall Square yuppies, the intimacy of riding with strangers offers mystery.
I got to the subway late one night, finding only stragglers. A Chinese couple sat entangled on a bench, oblivious. Sitting on his lap, she wore a short pink coat, and her dumpling legs were all over him. They spoke quietly, laughing and kissing. When they got off, I imagined them strolling towards a cafe, an intense romantic knot, separate from the world.
On another night, Downtown Crossing was particularly bleak in the overhead glare, and the young accordionist who so often played there, was gone. He’d always stamp out the rhythm as he played, and in his brown fedora, the slight, solitary figure seemed like he’d stepped straight out of a Milan Kundera novel.
He played a Paul Simon tune one night, and I found myself quietly singing the refrain, “they’ve all come…to look for America…..Cathy, I said, I am lost, but I know you are sleeping….We smoked the last one an hour ago….”
I hadn’t sung that tune in so long. Standing there, across from the huge Toyota billboards, I felt old, but beautiful, if only in my own head.