I left my apartment in plenty of time to meet my friend Susan, the art dealer, at the Lincoln Square cinema complex on Broadway and 68th. Actually, figured I’d have a little time to browse at the Barnes & Noble store two blocks down,or stop in at Gracious Homes.
We were going to see a movie and have an early dinner. Which we do now and then.
I had my much and happily appreciated Kindle with me to read on the subway ride up, and then back down again later.
First thing, the #1 train, which I take fifty-plus blocks, a local, was crowded. But I got a seat, though. Second thing, the PA system announced that due to track work the train would be going express after 42nd Street and wouldn’t stop again till 72nd Street.
Okay, so I’d walk down from there. No big deal. I had my waterproof sneakers on. (Lot of slush left in the city.)
Next thing, my Kindle died after one stop. Well, it didn’t really die, but it announced that the battery was empty and it would not, could not serve again till I could do something about that. Which I couldn’t, being on the train.
Next thing, the train began stopping for ever lengthening intervals in the tunnel, consequence of the track work ahead.
Okay, no reading. Longer trip. I’ll just settle in for some conscious breathing.
Next thing, after 42nd Street, “express” became a colossal misnomer. Stop. Start. Stop, wait. Start-stop-wait. Start-stop-start-stop-wait. Wait.
Some frustration begins.
Okay. I’ll mediate.
Follow the breath in, follow the breath out – one. Follow the breath in, follow the breath out – two. Follow the breath in, follow the breath out – three. Follow the breath in, follow the breath out . . .
A Mariachi band starts up at the end of the car.
Follow the breath in, follow –
Two guitars, and an accordion.
And now the vocals.
And all of it loud, advancing down the car.
I am unhappy, frustrated, annoyed.
I open my eyes.
They’re even costumed, these Mariachis. And singing their hearts out. And of course the one bringing up the rear pauses from his playing every several moments to proffer his upturned hat to the riders, all of whom ignore him.
I am really annoyed. I had a pleasant little trip planned. This is noisy and interruptive and obtrusive, and I don’t like it, not one bit.
He’s short, this last player, and so are the other two I realize, and this one, the only one whose face I can really see, is olive-skinned and has features that have to line back to the Aztecs or Incas, and he’s smiling pleasantly and looks to be in genuinely good spirits even though no one is putting any money in his hat.
And suddenly, inexplicably, I am glad be right here, right where I am, right here in this subway car, with its stops and starts, which is carrying me miles uptown beneath the cold and snow and slush ridden streets, and which I somehow now notice, now that I’ve come awake, is filled with at least half a dozen ethnicities and maybe even twice that many and varied dress and mannerisms and presentations, and I take control of my own mind and wonder how it was I had become mired in frustration and annoyance, and I consciously become glad I have a Kindle, and that I live in a city that is rich and dynamic and has nearly everything I could possibly want from a city, and a great big lot of that, and even small chunks of actual nature up in Central Park, with hawks and owls, for God’s sake, and a subway car that’s filled with lives that could keep me writing for months or maybe even years, if I wanted to do it that way, and in which a Mariachi band can appear suddenly, play briefly – and I am now aware that they play pretty well – and then move on, heading toward the next car.
Except for the last of them, who notices that I am reaching back into my hip pocket and pauses to give me time to get it out. And when I put the bill into his hat, he smiles and nods a little and then moves on with the other two.
And it turned out to be pretty good subway ride after all.