FAMILY LIVING, Public Transit

Walking to class one morning, the children were carrying on a most entertaining conversation. I didn’t participate.

E:  When I live out in the country side, and I’m pregnant, and the hospital is over 3 miles away, I might need to get a car because – you know – I won’t want to walk.
L:  You can just take the bus.
E:  In the country side there aren’t buses.
J:  You can take the train.
E:  Nope. No trains either.

I was kind of surprised no one proposed the idea of hailing a country-side cab. They are city kids.

(side note:  I think it is particularly funny that she would only NOT be willing to walk, if the hospital were over 3 miles away.)

We have not owned a car for twelve years. We left our only car with Bryant’s brother when we moved to New York as poor newlyweds. The monthly charge to park a car in NYC was more expensive than the monthly rent we were paying on our first married apartment.

As such, we adopted the use of public transportation, and have now done so in many countries of the world.  But our favourite place to take public transportation is still New York City.

One afternoon E and I took the subway to Harlem, to visit a friend. At the 125th street stop, a thin, ragged man crawled onto our subway train with his tin can. “I am sick. I am homeless and starving. I could die any day. All I want is food. Please!” No one in the train would make eye-contact with this beggar, as he made his way down the middle of the train car. But, I knew I could help. I pulled out an unopened bag of white cheddar rice cakes (E‘s personal favourite), and when he passed by us, I extended the rice cakes towards him. The cursed man stood himself upright, looked me up and down in disgust, and retorted, “Rice cakes? I don’t eat RICE CAKES!”  He jumped off the train at that point, and I, with the four or five Harlem senioritas sharing my train car, had a good laugh the rest of our short ride.

On another occasion, three entertainers stepped onto our Brooklyn bound train – two men playing guitars and a woman singing. Though this is not uncommon, the Brooklyn trio played uncommonly well – the woman’s voice was like an angel. I gave L a dollar to put in the collection bag. And when he did so, her face became so intent, so sweet. She sung on. Then, following L‘s lead, passenger after passenger filled the woman’s bag with bill after bill. I have never seen a subway car give so freely. Never. The tears rolled down her dark cheeks, but she did not miss a note. And the money kept coming. She stood by L and held his hand. And mine. The entire subway car had an unusual, beautiful spirit, as we enjoyed the music and the opportunity to give a little something to the musicians.

The experience really struck me. Business men and students, moms and dads, elderly, teenagers, and of varied races – all strangers aboard public transit en route to our different destinations.  But it was as if, in giving and watching others give, we each felt a love for the other passengers. A unique trust.

The CURSE of public transportation:

It’s public transportation. People throw up on it. People urinate on it. People spill on the seats, and don’t think to wipe it up before hurrying off at the next stop. It happens. It is dirty. It is crowded. It is out of my control.

The BLESSING of public transportation:

Almost every day my children get to interact with people other than their classmates and their highly-organized-after-school-playdates. They hear Spanish, Russian, and Japanese, all conversing in one train car. They feed the beggars, and hear entertainers they would never otherwise get to hear. They interact with dreamers and doers, as well as people somehow “stuck” in the City.  The man delivering flowers to the hospital, the woman who loves cats (and tomatoes), the off-broadway actor, the doctor and do-good-er, the teenager on his way home from a school field trip, the mom trying to keep her baby’s exploding diaper from spreading further (oh, wait…that was me), the older man carrying children’s books in his backpack to give to children and parents en transit. We’ve met them all! But, one of my favourites is the man, commuting home from work, trying to play a game of Angry Birds or Subway Surfer on his iPhone. The kids saddle up to the stranger, every time, as if he was there solely for their entertainment. They jump when Sonic jumps, they groan when the pigs survive the blast. And when the stranger looks down at his miniature travel companions, the children all avert their eyes and sigh, as if it was not their choice to sit on the same bench as the man with the handheld device.

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  1. erica
    October 17, 2015

    oh, Rach! I just love when you share the delightful experiences your sweet family has. And E is hilarious; I was never willing to walk 3 miles to any hospital when I was 9 months pregnant {spoiled as I’ve been to have a car of my own for the last 17 years}. such darling kiddos. How I miss you all. love you!

    October 18, 2015

    Public transport is brilliant overall. Though I was commenting just yesterday to a friend that I’ve been physically closer to strangers on the subway than many of my friends. The idea of shared personal space in a big city seems to be critical to get along.

  3. October 20, 2015

    “RICE CAKES? I DON’T EAT RICE CAKES!” That was hilarious! Your observations remind me of L. Tom Perry’s experience after moving to New York. He was so disappointed in the unfriendliness of the subway people that he was tempted to move back to Utah. His wife asked him if he had tried to make a difference.

    “Tom devised a plan in his morning commute to get acquainted with somebody. He watched a man at his subway stop who went through the same routine each morning. The man arrived at the same time, bought a newspaper, stood at the same spot on the train platform, and sat in the same seat on the subway each day without variation.

    Tom wanted to shake things up and see if he could form a friendship. He showed up early one day and stood on this man’s favorite platform location. Then he sat in the man’s preferred subway seat. After two days of doing this, Tom showed up to find the man had arrived earlier than usual and had claimed his spot on the platform. The man gave a little sneer at Tom, who then walked over and started laughing as he explained what he’d been doing.

    “He thought that was the greatest thing he’d ever heard of,” Elder Perry said. He and the man got on the train and rode together. They soon became great friends. Each morning it was a race to see who could reach the platform first. Soon the race expanded to three, then four, then ten commuters hustling good-naturedly to claim the prized spot.

    “It livened up the whole platform,” Elder Perry said. Throughout the process, all involved became a close-knit group. One Christmas about ten of them stood on the platform singing Christmas carols together. “I developed some of the greatest friends I’ve ever had.”

  4. October 23, 2015

    I had never heard that before, Dad! Thanks for sharing!

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