Peace and harmony underground

By Wickham Boyle

I am a passionate bike rider. Let me rephrase, I am an obsessed bike rider, inveterate, unstoppable, overly enthusiastic, bordering on crazed. In order to illuminate the depths of my commitment to riding my 1968 Raleigh chipped green bike for the last 35 years on the streets of N.Y.C., let me elaborate.

I have ridden in the rain, snow, sleet, hail and horrible heat and humidity. I have ridden in spike heels, black tie attire, swimsuits and business suits. I have ridden home from work twice in labor and back to work three days later with babies strapped to me. I rode both of my kids to and from school until they were old enough to protest, “People will think we are a circus family.” Point well taken. I still ride my bike, when I am alone, any where, any time, any place.

Recently, on another one of the hottest days of the year, my son and I were heading out to the gym from Tribeca to Chelsea. We have been on this regimen for the first half of the summer. Usually he meets me. I arrive by bike; he by subway. But yesterday I was still home when it came time to leave. “I will come with you on the train.” I said. He looked at me. “You mean the mermaid is coming out of the water? Are you okay ma? It’s not really that hot.”

“No I just want to be able to continue our conversation and I can’t call you on the phone and talk if I am on the bike and you are underground.” He laughed and told me he had enough rides left on his MetroCard so he could treat me. Never point out to a teenager who is being generous that it was you who bought the card in the first place. I didn’t and neither should you.

So we went underground, it was stifling, but calm and friendly. We waited for the train at the Franklin St. station. I didn’t really think about the London bombings, or anything but the blanket of muggy air and the fact that we kept our conversation going while we waited.

We sat down in the gloriously frigid train and I saw a copy of Downtown Express waiting for me on a seat. It was opened to a piece written by a colleague about why she was no longer going to ride the subway but instead was planning to car pool with her kid. It was chock full of facts about how the M.T.A., police and government were failing to protect us. It told about fear, and concern for the trains in specific and a free-floating anxiety in general. And yet all around me it was so calm.

The train was a lovely microcosm of the entire world. There we were, as if Noah had plucked us specifically for our rich diversity. A young, regally-attired, African-American woman cooed and adjusted her newborn on her chest while a stringy redhead, all pale arms and knobby knees smiled at her and then at her dark-skinned, tattooed boyfriend, who eventually leaned over to acknowledge this tiny creature. An older WASPy woman with a Botanic Garden canvas bag was carrying plants and sat down next to a middle-aged black man. The man was reading something that the plant woman had just finished and he was eager to discuss the merits. Chatter ensued. People read newspapers in English, Chinese, French and Spanish. There were sandals, sneakers, clogs and wingtips. I saw a lot of skin and some folks were still bundled up—even in this heat. We all swayed when we were caught standing and then we all found seats.

Okay this was not rush hour, but still, it was a public transportation system being well-used by the very diverse New York City public. I wondered why anyone would want to disrupt what was actually a working populist enterprise. Here was an inexpensive way to move around. Everyone paid the same fare, unless, as the ads proffered, you bought a MetroCard with unlimited rides, then it gets cheaper the more you rode. I suppose that does favor those who actually have an extra 76 bucks every month. But we were a world underground going about our busy lives. We were moms new and old, lovers, single people, workers, dreamers and above all we were very regular.

I don’t know if I felt we were brave. I felt we were normal; and I suppose in times of terrible fear, normal is better than brave.

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