Monday, September 24, 2012

Ode to the Subway

Old New York City Subway Car (Image Source)

I was thinking the other day about riding the subway, specifically riding a train in the New York City metro system. It was something I did every day, usually several times a day, for two years. When I finished my degree, I packed up my things, moved to a state very far South and very far from New York, and I haven't been on the subway since.

It was on my mind because I'm flying up to New York this weekend to visit my brother, my mom who is driving down from Upstate New York to meet us, and my sister-in-law who lives in my old neighborhood. I can't wait--it's a much-needed trip to my old city with people I love dearly.

For some reason, the thought of jumping on the subway, which we'll be doing a lot of this weekend, made me realize just how much my life has changed in a very short amount of time. And it's changed in some of the best ways possible--my husband and I are living in our first home together, I have both an undergraduate and a masters degree under my belt, I have wonderful training in something I love and a lot of excitement about the future. I'm very happy to be where I am.

But when I think about the subway I get nostalgic (and I am in all likelihood the only person ever to have written those words). I don't know what it is about the subway that makes me feel this way. Maybe it's the freedom it gave me to go anywhere in the city for just $2.25; maybe it's the confidence I acquired when it came to NYC subways and buses, knowing exactly how to use them to get around; maybe it is the pride I had in living without a car; maybe it's the (albeit dirty) miracle of going underground in one neighborhood and popping back into the world 50 or 100 blocks from where I started. I didn't always like the subway, but in the truest sense, I did love it.

It also reminds me of when my dad went from biking to work every day when my family lived outside of Washington, D.C., to driving ten minutes to work every day when we moved back to Upstate New York. Most people would pick the car ride, right? But I know my dad sorely missed the independence and the wholesomeness of using his heart and legs and lungs to bring him safely to and from work each day.

And that's sort of how I feel about the subway. No, of course I wasn't physically exerting myself when I trekked up or down or across town on the train. But it was satisfying for me nonetheless--inexpensive, communal, efficient, productive (if I remembered to bring a book), reliable (usually), and sort of miraculous, when you think about it.


  1. This is a great job of capturing how big institutions can serve very personal goals. It reminds me a little bit of a sweet essay John Updike once wrote (in the pre-Internet days) about picking up his mail every day, and how the linkages and independence offered by the service reminded him how fortunate he was to be a citizen in a society where basic institutions help individuals build independent lives. “I never see a blue mailbox without a spark of warmth and wonder and gratitude that this intricate and extensive service is maintained for my benefit.”

    1. That essay sounds beautiful--I will have to go dig it up! Thanks so much for the idea.


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