12 January 2014
Going down the subway steps after a rain storm is as treacherous as descending from the temple-top at Chichen Itza. Best to do it backwards. But a sophisticated New Yorker would prefer front-facing nonchalance and risk a slip and fall rather than be cautious. And so, being a sophisticated New Yorker, I kept my eyes step-focused and my foot placement balletic as Baryshnikov. The problem was, being otherwise engaged, I neglected reading the sign indicating the subway line and its destination. I was on 60th Street and Third Avenue, a two-stop, straight shot south to Grand Central…if you manage to get on the right train. I did a New Yorker’s equivalent to an Iowan stepping on a cow-pie…I took the wrong train. The first sign of trouble was the first stop…59th and Fifth Avenue…four blocks west from where I started and only one block south. What happened to 50th and Lexington?
It took a couple of seconds to figure something was very wrong, especially when I finally glanced at the sign showing the final stop…Queens. That’ll strike terror in the heart of someone who is one-borough fluent…and I only speak Manhattan. I bolted from the train as the doors were closing . Now here’s where the problem begins. It’s 10:30 and my train from Grand Central (43rd and Lexington) is 11:04…16 short blocks south and three long blocks east…a minute each for the southbound blocks and two minutes for the eastbound. Then I’d need time to find the track number and finally get to the train. There were, perish the thought, taxis. But with time now making this a competition, my DNA predetermined that I was going to walk.
One prerequisite, I wasn’t going to run. I’ve run for trains before…I’d rather miss the train than have that desperate, panting look trying to catch it. I didn’t say this wasn’t without its idiotic egocentricity. But then, to be truthful, I knew the last train was at 11:34. If I did miss the 11:04, there was no chance I’d miss the later one. And I have perfected the art of squandering half an hour…I could write a blog about missing or near-missing a train. Either way, I knew there was a blog in it. And so, like a quarterback needing a hurry-up offense, I quick-walked without a hesitation, east on 59th to Madison and south a few blocks, skirting puddles from an all-day rain and crowds of twenty-somethings…it was Saturday night. Then east to Park and south past a dark St. Mark’s Church and then the Waldorf. By the time I got to Lexington and 46th, it was 10:57. It was unseasonably hot that day and I felt sodden as a sweat lodge, but Grand Central was in sight. Needless to say (otherwise I wouldn’t have told the story), I made it to the train by a good three minutes, found a seat and settled down to the same smiling, if sweaty, satisfaction as finishing the marathon.
Coming into the city on the train, coincidently, a man who had the look of an ironic, twinkly-eyed Irish raconteur and his wife sat in the seat in front of mine. I caught a listen to his voice and his lilt confirmed my assumption. Leaving the train, we each glanced at each other, the two grey-haired elder statesmen of the 5:56. Now five hours later and a minute behind me, he and his wife came aboard and again sat in the seat in front of mine. We caught sight of one another and realized it was as unlikely as a day of rain in January…and laughed.