Subway Cocoons

There are days that require me to run multiple errands in the city, which usually translates into an entire day spent on the subway as I commute to various parts of the town. Every time that happens, I’m struck all over again by the fact that I live inside an incredible mix: a cultural melting pot that knows no boundaries. What I realize most clearly at those times, though, is that I inhabit a world apart from all the others: this incredible land that set up rules all its own. Human variety is boundless here. It amazes me and makes me feel… humble.

Every new station is like a fresh delivery of various faces, looks, styles, and attitudes. I look at hundreds of people and not one resembles the person standing next to them. I wonder how do they look at me:  what do they think of the color of my skin, my eyes, and my hair. Even if you were raised to consider yourself „the king of the world”, suddenly you meet people here who not only feel very much the same way but also befit the description much better than yourself.

If your subway ride happens to be starting at 6 AM (yes, I also thought until recently that it’s humanly impossible to be sitting on the train at this hour), all you will see will be „cocoons”. This description came into my mind as soon as winter started. You enter the train and see all the people tightly packed in their winter jackets, scarfs and the obligatory hoods. Everyone resembles a solid block of matter and assumes a near-fetal position. Everyone nods off, attempting to continue their prematurely terminated slumber. Making eye contact is impossible. People traveling at this time usually work less attractive jobs: sometimes it seems everyone has misery written on their faces. I also must look quite miserable myself.

As 9 AM approaches, you will see more and more suits and women wearing designer winter coats. That’s when people with steady jobs are heading for work. Each grabbing their coffee cup, all sprinkled with good perfume: mustering the spirit to face another day. From morning on – a little bit later, around 11 AM and noon – tourists start to swarm, holding onto their maps and asking: „Are we there yet? Is this our station?”. All afraid of getting lost in the surrounding jungle.

True frenzy starts around 5 PM. That’s when everyone mixes together: office workers finishing their jobs, together with kitchen employees and construction workers. Add to that the terribly loud school kids and tourists, who desperately try to „see one last thing”, and in fact dream only about hitting their hotel beds, since they are exhausted from the entire day of sightseeing (otherwise known as running back and forth). At this time it’s difficult to even board the train. Still, even if you think your train is already packed to capacity, there will always be a couple of people who will manage to squeeze in anyhow. There you are, riding together, squeezed more tightly than folks awaiting a grand opening of a new supermarket. A piece of advice: if you can, at these particular hours you should avoid the following stations: Union Square, Times Square, and 34th Street-Herald Square. 

In the evening the subway fills with people coming back from their dinners or „drinks after work” – as well as the ones for whom the evening is just starting. And again – you will see the cocoons. Often the same ones you saw in the morning. Now they are coming back after the entire day’s worth of hard work, dreaming of their beds. Eye contact remains impossible since they are nodding off again – this time from exhaustion. Next morning, their alarm clocks will go off at 5 AM again. And again they will all turn into cocoons in order to leave their beds and continue fighting for their dream.