Every budding New Yorker should get a brief orientation class for their first week in Manhattan: Subway 101. I would have happily taken it. Often lost and confused in my first days here, I quickly bought a T-shirt for my son Avery that I knew would help. All the Manhattan subway routes and stops were shown in detail on the shirt like multicolored lines of spaghetti. I made him wear it any time we went someplace new, and I believed I was a genius for buying it.
I discovered we live a tad south of Avery’s belly button in the Financial District. We wanted to explore Central Park just above his sternum. But the red 1 line bent along his right side near his gall bladder. Should we take the 4 train to City Hall near his sternum and transfer to the 6, which ran up his left side? So many choices! Avery got tired of me running my fingers up and down his shirt in public as I traced out the potential routes. I started feeling weird about it too. What did it look like from afar? “No, officer,” I would explain. “I am not touching this young man inappropriately. I am just trying to find my way home.”
Here’s a helpful tip from my wife: Don’t let water dripping down from the roof of a subway system hit you, Robyn tells me. It’s probably dog urine, draining down from the street, she explains. Thanks. And yuck!
We try to explain to Avery that manners are important on a subway. But he is a ruthless seat-seeker. He doesn’t use his hands to push, but he shoves his big body through a crowd toward an empty seat with a determined quickness that somehow doesn’t translate to a basketball court.
Early in our time in New York when we all got on at once, Avery would dart ahead and grab the last seat left in the subway car. Robyn would stand next to him the entire trip, clearing her throat and making faces at him. But he never took the hint. He would ignore her, staring hard at his iPhone and listening to his earphones. When it was time to get off, we were forced to yell at him from wherever we were standing in the car, sometimes enlisting the aid of strangers who would obligingly poke him for us to get his attention.
Some subway rides are fraught with tension. We were coming back from a Yankees game in the Bronx one day when the subway stopped. Some people got on. Some walked off. The doors were still open when everyone in our car looked down at once at a backpack that had been left behind. This was just after the Boston Marathon bombing.
No one said anything, but there was a feeling in the car that maybe we were all about to get off at the stop even if we had just got on. Suddenly, a young man dashed back into the car. He grabbed the backpack and got off again before the doors closed behind him. “I was just about to grab that backpack and pitch it out the door,” one lady said. “She would do it, too,” confirmed her friend. We all laughed in relief.