NEW YORK, NEW YORK--Today was the first, and likely the last, day I traveled seamlessly on public transportation.
There are two kinds of intelligence, book and street. I, without a question, belong to the former group. Want a sentence diagrammed? How about the conjugation of an irregular Spanish verb? I can do synthetic division, physics projections, above-par analysis of Hemingway. As for calling a cab, ordering takeout, or walking without reckless abandon in parking lots, however? I'm anything but your girl.
It's two BART stops from my town to Berkeley. I once rode 14 stops past Berkeley, and ended up at SFO. The friend I was supposed to meet for dinner wasn't happy waiting for her grilled Niman Ranch chicken peanut noodles.
New York’s subway destinations are clearly labeled with bloated Times New Roman and colored bubbles more suitable to children’s television programming than adult signage. Last July, however, attempting to ride from Washington Square Park to the public library, I ended up in Brooklyn. Which, my mother was rapt to explain is a whole separate island.
This October, I had an embarrassing conversation with a friend in the backseat of an Uber. After getting out at the BART station with that friend, I attempted to order a new Uber. To no avail. The nearest driver, of course, was a now-smug Asian student from the local college, whose judgement I received along with the fluorescent green rays of his strange iPhone charger.
In May, on BART, my feeble attempt to work on a short story on the train—tired high school junior, frustrating tablet laptop, minimal leg room—landed me on not one but two different cooler teenager’s snap stories, or other such form of social media reserved for poking fun at the less-than-socially-inclined.
Today, however, I made it from an apartment catty-corner to the NYU campus—deep purple banners, friendly doormen with personal fans—to 96th street and Lexington, smooth-stop. I followed my friend’s iPhone notes directions. My back acquired a sweat-induced chumminess with my black tissue t-shirt. My tortoise Lennon glasses gave me quality vantage to street signs. No one stole my camera bag.
I realized the subway car interiors look like those lunch containers my friend used to bring, with all the strange compartments. I admired the glossy silver walls resembling the galvanized metal I’d seen in buckets in Williamsburg. In squinting, it acquired all the endearing frivolity of Victorian wallpaper.
Someone in the car smelled like cinnamon. Someone else emanated that artificial summer scent of coconut shampoo. Nobody shoved. A sparrow-boned child in a black shift eyed, not disapprovingly, my Nike shorts and oozing white ankle socks. She had oatmeal freckles and Georgia May Jagger’s teeth.
I overheard conversation, pretending to read advertisements. I finished part of a New Yorker article, and, to no one’s chagrin, scratched a bug-bite that had inflamed my left calf.
I found a classmate’s features Xeroxed on a twenty-something’s face, and received positive response from a thin, white mouth and blue eyes—glacial features from which I expected icy response.
At Grand Central, I entered a side room—multi-story ceilings, yam-hued glow, walls built from slabs of marble—and was so struck by its size and splendor to stand, my tourist-persona manifesting itself in my daring to stop traffic.
The Metro-North schedules were clearly displayed with destination-timetables drawn up in rainbow-esque stripes. My seat-mate had a butter leather suitcase made by Swiss Army.
Tired and hungry, I found a pack of peanuts an earlier day’s neglect had left in my backpack pouch as treasure.