As the F train rumbled through Brooklyn last Thursday evening, a tall man practiced his ballet, pirouetting and jete-ing throughout the half-empty car. A couple of rough-looking guys sat down the aisle, and I feared for this would-be Mikhail Baryshnikov, but they couldn’t care less. Dressed in black, the tall man lifted his toe almost to the ceiling without losing his balance, even as the train lurched around the bend.
The man whirled off the train at Jay Street, as I dashed across the platform for the A, which filled to capacity as we rumbled through lower Manhattan.
I sat beside a young woman deep into reading The New York Times online. The train stalled at the 42nd Street station with the familiar “We should be moving shortly” refrain wafting from the speaker. Although the humidity was uncomfortably high, people remained calm.
Suddenly, the power shut off and the train plunged into darkness. The words over the speaker were now more ominous: a “police action” investigating “someone down on the track” at the 59th Street station. The young woman’s demeanor quickly changed, eyes opened wide in fear. She bolted from her seat, proclaiming, “I have to get off this train!”
A man tried to joke with her and lighten the mood, but she was having none of it. She wove her way to the doors and pounded frantically on the glass.
“I need to get out!” she screamed.
Panic attacks are terrifying, and this was the last place someone prone to them needed to be. Other riders spoke softly to the frantic woman, and after another 10 minutes or so the lights and air conditioning came back on, and she gradually relaxed.
But is there any other city in America where every rider except the poor, claustrophobic young woman would remain so calm in this situation, packed tightly in darkness with no air conditioning in drenching humidity?
When the train moved again, people started talking to one another, as New Yorkers tend to do in such circumstances. I told my new friend, Jeremiah, the guy who tried to joke with the woman, how remarkable it was that everyone stayed so cool.
“Hey, just another day on the subway,” he smiled.
Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at newyorkgritty.net.