September 1, 2009

The C Train

I guess yesterday's writing exercise got my writing juices flowing. I woke up at 3:30am, aching with an abundant food supply for little Oliver who slept 8 hours (woohoo!) when he usually wakes and eats every three hours. Since I couldn't sleep, I wrote. Within a couple hours of practicing this is what came out:

The man, his dog & the C train.

As the downtown C train screeched to a stop at 59th Street the masses on the platform crowded at each set of doors; waiting. The steel doors slid open smoothly. People rushed in, playing musical chairs with the few remaining seats. A baby-face, gray-haired man slowly stepped in, a leather leash in his left hand, attached to a calm black lab. "BING-BONG" The door slid shut. The calm black lab on the platform, the baby-face, gray-haired man inside the train, the leather leash clamped tight in the unforgiving subway doors. We all gasped. Someone yelled, "Where's the emergency brake?!" The baby-face, gray-haired man was suddenly pail. His eyes frightened and powerless. He avoided our searching eyes and was completely silent. His Adam's apple swallowed heavy and nervous. The train lurched forward, the people on the platform yelled at the conductor, without success. We watched in horror as the baby-face, gray-haired man tugged on the leash. Surprisingly, he pulled it all the way in. We signed a breath of relief. Fortunately, someone on the platform was quick to act when he noticed the possible plight of the calm black lab and removed the leash from the unsuspecting dog. Fortunately, it all went down at an express stop where there were plenty of helpful observers on the platform, waiting for their respective trains. Fortunately, I did not have to watch a baby-face, gray-haired man loose his companion on my commute that day.

Within a month after moving to the city, before I had a child, Brian showed me a YouTube video of stroller being dragged by a train along a platform, its tire stuck in the subway door. The baby, luckily, was rescued from the stroller before the train entered the narrow, dark tunnel. I've witnessed groups of friends being separated by the quick closing doors. Once a child got on the train while her family was one step behind. Fortunately, that time the doors were forgiving (opened again after closing) and the whole family made it inside. As I travel daily with toddler in hand I remember, I fear, and I hold that tiny hand as tight as any knowing mother would.

Recently the uptown C train did not make its usual local stops; it went express from 59th Street to 125th Street. As the train rushed passed the 81st Street stop (The American Museum of Natural History) all the wide-eyed tourists whipped out their maps and chatted in their native languages (80% of the people on the train). Locals helped calm the anxious tourists and gave directions on how to get back. When we finally arrived at the 125th Street stop everyone dashed out of the train, hoping to catch the next downtown local train and get back to the museum. I decided to avoid the trampling herd and graciously waited. Newborn strapped to my front, toddler clamped in hand. Guiding my toddler in front of me, the doors closed, tight on my wrist. My toddler was on the platform; I was the frightened, powerless mother stuck inside the train, completely freaking out! In less than a heartbeat, a group of young men wrapped their big fingers into the doors and muscled them open, releasing me from my prison. Feeling nauseous, my mind raced as all mothers' do, "What if...?" "How would I...?" Fortunately it all went down at an express stop where there were plenty of helpful young men so I did not loose my most precious companion on our commute that day.

**Per Brian's concern for loved ones reading, the incident was not as scary and dramatic as it sounds. If you are not familiar with NYC subways, the train would not have moved as long and my arm was in the door. In reality, the whole thing lasted less than a second. Isabella has ridden the subway hundreds of times in her short life and this has been our only "close call". This might be considered similar to you barely avoiding a car collision in your daily travels.


  1. Anonymous11:49 AM

    Thank Brian for his concern. My heart was racing, now I can rest knowing it wasn't quite as bad as it sounded. Good writing Kiasa! - Dad

  2. Great writing, Kiasa. NYC subways can be so scary. You get used to them and stop forgetting how dangerous they are. I'm sure having your little ones with you makes you more aware. We saw a girl get her foot stuck between the gap on the platform and the airtrain at JFK once. She fell down with her bags and the doors started closing... it was terrifying. Luckily, there were helpful NYers to the rescue. It's those stories I remember whenever people ask me how mean people were in NY.


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