I think enough time has passed now that I can share with you the story of “Dead Man Riding.”
It was a late night on the 6 train in Manhattan in the year 2011, when the boyfriend and I were venturing home from an evening out. As we boarded the Harlem line homeward bound to our cozy corner of the Upper East Side, I stepped into the train car that stopped in front of me, my eyes too tired with sleep to be fully alert. With only one foot on the train, I was promptly pulled back onto the platform and ushered into the next car, packed with people standing shoulder to shoulder. Unusual for that late hour.
It wasn’t long before I realized what led my knight in shining armor to rescue me from what was sure to be distress. As the weight of a train full of people pressed us against the window overlooking the next car, I gazed upon emptiness. An entirely empty car except for two people. Person Number One: a scruffy, seemingly homeless man sprawled in an unnatural, twisted position across several seats at the end of the car; some form of liquid in a puddle beside him. Person Number Two: a seemingly sensory-compromised Asian man wearing headphones, in shocking proximity to Person Number One.
Perhaps the most valuable lesson one will ever learn as a New Yorker, the one true tell-tale sign that one is not a tourist, is one’s ability to quickly assess situations like this – situations that no school or other experience in life will teach you – and avoid them like the plague. (The plague that Person Number One was stricken with, that mysteriously, Person Number Two was immune to.)
It sounds wrong to say it, but that was the most fun night ever on the train. Not fun because of Person Number One, or even Person Number Two, but because of the hapless Persons who entered that car, realized upon a single whiff and look around, the breadth of mistake they’d made, and promptly exited the car. (And entered our car only to be heckled mercilessly.) And the best Persons of all: those who got on, realized their predicament a split second too late, and were forced to stay on for an entire stop before they could breathe again. All the while watching us in the next car, squished into one giant blob, laughing at them. And us, with the great fortune of having the most hilarious group of guys standing right next to us play-by-play commentating the scene like it was the World Cup. As we approached our stop, we seriously contemplated not getting off, that’s how much fun it was.
New York City, I heart you so. You’re unique, and like my mom always says, you “smell like pee.”