New York City Diary

Words and pictures from my interesting life in New York.

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Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Out Of Control

I could see that the sun was shining as soon as I woke up this morning and this made me feel good. We are having beautiful weather today. I left the house and enjoyed my short walk to the subway. Once I got to the platform, though, I could see there was a problem.

Any experienced New Yorker can tell the difference between a crowded subway platform that says the next train is on the way and a crowded subway platform that says there's some kind of problem with the trains. It's not just the size of the crowd, it's the collective mood of the people waiting. This morning's crowd was the latter kind, but, fortunately, a train arrived after a few minutes, and, amazingly, most of the people were able to cram onto it.

The train was packed like a tin of sardines, too crowded to even attempt to read my book. No big deal, it's the price you pay for being a subway commuter (that and $76 a month.) Once we got to Bedford Avenue, the last stop in Brooklyn before the train goes under the river to Manhattan, another flood of people pushed and shoved their way onto the train, like the offensive line of a football team (American football, to my international friends). A few people were left standing on the platform. This train was filled to capacity and then some.

Tempers were raw already, and they started to fly. There was one argument in my train car that started to get out of hand. This one guy, a white guy, about 5'10" with hipster glasses and a dark beard, must have said something to a black guy who was trying to squeeze past him or find some room. The black guy was in no mood to hear it. He started yelling at the white hipster guy "Why the f*** you trying to start something if you don't want to start something?" The black guy was about 5'9", and he was wearing a Yankees cap on top of a white bandana/do-rag. He also had a beard. He was gesturing in the white guy's face, using that bent-wrist pointing gesture popular in hip hop culture.

The white guy said something back, not quite as loudly. But at this point, the words didn't matter any more. It was f-you vs. f-you and I'll f*** you up vs. give me a break. The black guy seemed to want to show everybody that he could "out-crazy" the white guy, and anybody else on the train for that matter, because he was looking around, trying to make eye contact with people. (Side note: In New York there is always somebody crazier than you.)

He was mad, probably about much more than being slighted on the subway, and he was looking for some kind of catharsis. I don't think he found it. The thing you have to realize is that these guys were not even six inches from each other. This was road rage without the protection of a car around you. We take everything to the next level in the city.

Eventually the black guy pushed past the white guy into an even more crowded part of the train, between two women (one with short spikey white punk-rock hair) and in front of a Latin-American woman who was sitting on the bench with her two children. She picked up her little boy and moved him to the other side of her, farther away from the mad guy. The boy turned around and started looking out the window, although the only thing he could see was the tunnel wall flying by.

The guy kept staring at people on the train and muttering to himself about how people should know better than to start shit with him, because he's not the kind of person to take it. Sadly, I think the situation made him more mad, rather than less.

At first I could hear a quiet ringing of my internal violence alarm, not too loud, but it told me to monitor the situation. But the longer it went on, the more I knew that no violence was going to occur. It's like the old expression, beware the dog that doesn't bark. A loudmouth is usually just a loudmouth, not a fighter. The white guy was probably just your standard curt, solipsistic New Yorker. I'm not giving him a pass, he may have said something really rude, but at least he didn't start making a scene. The black guy had a statement to make, and the commuters in the subway car were his captive audience. Anyway, let it be said that I've seen subway rage come from people of all races and ethnicities, it can manifest in anybody.

I got off the train at Union Square and took an uptown N train. It was less crowded, but most of the seats were taken. A group of four Asian kids, early teens I think, were playing some card game with each other and having a good time.

The lesson here, if there is one, is that people sometimes don't realize how quickly one's mood can change given the right (wrong) circumstances. I left the house feeling great (as opposed to last night, which had a slight whiff of "what the heck am I doing with my life?") and I maintained my mood pretty well until I witnessed that argument on the train, which happened about six feet from where I was standing.

Even then I consciously clung to my thoughts of sunshine. Both of the warring parties probably felt good when they walked to the train as well. It's a lovely spring day, who wouldn't enjoy feeling the warmth of the sun after such an oppressive winter? Why would you knowingly give up your positive feelings for negative ones? It makes no sense, but I know how it happens.

I guess my point is that you are, to a great extent, responsible for how you feel. You are more in control of your choice to feel good or feel bad than you might realize. But more than that, you are responsible for your actions. To blame someone else for bringing out your nasty side is folly. Enjoy the weather, New York, and try to ignore perceived slights against you. Living well is the best revenge.


Blogger Jenn said...

Cheers to that! And to consciously clinging to thoughts of sunshine, even when it rains.

2:24 PM  

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