I have some friends who fantasize about my life in New York. They say things like “Riding the subway must be amazing, you can sleep, read, even have a little breakfast while you commute.” I think they envision the subway as something akin to the Orient Express. I found the best way to convey the reality of subway commuting is by telling this story.
I frequently share my subway car with a group of ladies I like to call “The Angry Birds.” (Ten middle-aged Caribbean women, who sound like a symphony of birds when they get together.) I met them one evening, at my usual spot on the subway platform. When I arrived, there were two women standing very close to the edge, embroiled in an animated discussion. The short one was nodding her head and saying things like “Uh huh” and ”Oh really,” while the taller one was waving her hands, rolling her eyes and chirping her way through her story. As I got my headphones out, they stopped their conversation and stared at me. I smiled at them and turned up my music. Both of them sort of half smiled, nodded and then returned to their conversation. They were soon joined by more Caribbean women and over the course of four minutes two became ten. With each arrival I was pushed further and further away from the front of the platform. I would never have thought anything of this, that is until the automated train announcer said, “The express train is one station away.” Their conversation (Bird symphony,) stopped abruptly and they sprung into action.
The Birds started forming a human barrier between what was going to be the door of the subway and everyone else. The taller of the two original Birds was directing the operation. (Let’s call her Captain.) Captain was forcefully pointing and shoving each member of her flock into position. I must have been staring, while this was going down, (Totally staring with my mouth open.) because Captain looked me directly in the eye and whispered sternly to her flock “Get in front of her.” Then she grinned from ear to ear and winked at me. I stood there in amazement as the train pulled up. The doors opened and the Angry Birds pushed through, while the passengers struggled to exit through the Bird formation. In fact, one poor lady got caught between two of the birds and almost lost her jacket.
By the time I got on the train, Captain was directing the seat formation from the comfort of her perch. Miraculously, I saw an empty seat and headed towards it. That’s when I heard Captain scream “Get it, Get it, Get it!” Before I knew what was happening, one of the flock rushed past me and sat in the seat. I realized I was powerless against the Birds, so I hung on to the pole back to Brooklyn.
About a week later, I ran into Captain at our mutual waiting spot. I decided I didn’t want to be involved in the migration game, so I walked a little further down the platform. The train arrived and I got on uneventfully. There were still no seats, but there was also no drama. I did however, have a great view of the Angry Birds rushing and blocking others from seats. As I was watching the flock move around, a guy motioned to me to come over and take his seat. He told me he was getting off at the next stop, so I thanked him and sat down. Unfortunately, his seat was facing Captain. She loudly whispered to the flock member next to her, “She gets off way before us, she doesn’t deserve that seat.” I just smiled and stared out the window, but I could feel the Captain’s glare.
The subway started to move and I overheard Captain say to the woman to her right “Would you mind switching with my friend over there?” The young woman said, “No problem!” (Clearly she was not well versed in the migratory patterns of Angry Birds.) As she got up, the flock member with whom she was to switch, rushed over and sat in the seat. Unfortunately, a different flock member snatched the other seat, before the young woman could get to it. The young woman was flustered, but she didn’t say anything. I don’t think she realized they were together. She had been ambushed by the Angry Birds.
I still ride with the Angry Birds, but now they have claimed me as one of their own whether I want to be or not.