Sometimes the trains are chaotic, it’s true. Sometimes there is trash and screaming and someone blaring Rhianna from their cell phone for all the cart to listen to—not caring how metallic and scratchy and obnoxious it is. However, sometimes there are moments of true joy and serenity.
Sometimes there are adorable well-behaved babies that coo and smile when you smile. Sometimes there are toddlers with trick packets of gum, and grandparents with a good sense of humor. Sometimes there are chivalrous men and women who jump out of their seats to make room for the elderly, pregnant, and wounded. Sometimes a lost tourist will ask how to get where, and every occupant on the cart makes it their business to get them there quickly and safely. Sometimes, when you’re in a festive mood, there is a three piece mariachi band strolling up and down the train, playing up-beat love songs on an up-right bass fitted with neon orange strings, an accordion, and an over-sized guitar.
There is a particular occurrence, however, that always strikes me into silence and appreciation. I find myself constantly and consistently mesmerized when two trains are running side by side. Sitting in the dark tunnel, reading a book, counting the stops till you’re home, scratching the paint from your nails, impatient, tired, worn, and then your isolated illuminated tube of commuters is suddenly graced with a companion tube.
If the trains are traveling at the same speed, it feels as if you’re not moving at all. There are simply four rows of people sitting under bright fluorescent lights in a dark tunnel, reading magazines or resting heads on lover’s shoulders, still, immaculate, unwanting. It’s the beauty of parallel lines. To travel the same speed and direction, facing each other, laughing without sound. Then one train will start to overtake the other, or the tracks will lift up or plunge down, the trains veering off towards different end points, and suddenly you feel like a reel of film being fed through a camera. The opposing train window’s acting like a back-lit roll of negatives, people become still life’s in motion. The surreal film quality all the more enhanced by the gentle click, click, click of the train tracks.
My boyfriend once told me about a time when just this type of thing happened to him. He was taking the A train home (when we used to live in Bed-Stuy) and another train started moving with them.
He looked up from his game of Angry Birds (or Fruit Ninja or Cut the Rope) and spotted a young girl giggling directly across from him in the companion train. The motive behind her fits of laughter were soon revealed as boyfriend noticed the timid curling and uncurling of her middle fingers. As the trains rushed side by side, the child exercised her secret profanity more rapidly and ravenously, increasing the speed at which her fingers rose and fell. She tossed her head from side to side causing her beaded braids to clack against her forehead insidiously and raised her upper lip into a devious square smile (or so he imagined). The two maintained eye contact, the trains keeping their positions steady, until each pulled into the station, separated by a five yards of platform.
The doors flung open, and the distance that separated the two vanished as quickly as the smile dropped from the child’s face. Boyfriend, looking to enact a small bit of emotional revenge, bolted up from his seat and made for the girl, who let out a small but striking yelp, as the consequences of her indecency set in. However, and just as boyfriend had planned, the doors snapped shut just as quickly as they had opened leaving each victim/aggressor to their respective trains. Boyfriend returned to his game of Fruit Ninja (or Cut the Rope or Angry Birds), and chuckled to himself as his train sped along — alone, and unencumbered.