The lazy transcendence of subways
The best part of my undergraduate years in New York was the daily 3-4 hour commute.
My apartment in Astoria was the last station on the N Train and Brooklyn College was the last station on the 2. Before they expanded express service that meant 30+ stops through 3 burrows, twice a day.
Things that make that many hours on a subway miserable:
- having to stand
- having to pee
Because I always left from an origin point, I always had my pick of seats for the first half of my journey. At transfer points, if a train was too crowded and I had time to wait, I could skip a train and be in pole position on the platform for the next one (which usually meant a seat).
My simple protocol for the pee problem was a quality travel mug and to not start drinking my morning coffee until I passed the approximate point I’d calculated I could comfortably hold my water. It took most of the first semester to determine it was after the 2 train I’d transferred to at Times Square started moving again. It was smooth sailing after that.
Boredom was never an issue.
I gave up college in my teens after a bad break-up and a couple of half-assed attempts. My early twenties are a blur. I remember events, but it’s the only period of my life since I started forming memories that has no chronological history in my head.
I drank a lot.
When I finally got sick of doing nothing with my life, I didn’t even have to muster the gumption to stop vegging in front of the TV with a bottle of scotch. My 20-inch Magnavox straight up died. I quit drinking. I started reading more. In a few months I’d read all the books that had sat untouched for years on my bookshelf. I started reading textbooks, and figured I might as well go back to college if I’m going to do this.
During a solitary commute you’re never more aware of each passing minute, but the things that make up “your life” temporarily cease to exist. It’s like entering a bank vault in London, spending an hour inside, and stepping out into a bank in Lisbon.
Maybe it’s just New York. Maybe it’s just me.
The commute made time fully my own, like I was the only living boy in New York. The travel wasn’t my responsibility. I wasn’t at work, wasn’t sharing a wall with my neighbors, wasn’t going to be called on to answer a question in class. I didn’t exist for 3 hours a day and it was marvelous.
When I didn’t have to be anything to anyone, not even myself, I was reduced to the core consciousness that’s always functioning with or without my consent. I could read, and did for most trips, but I also, without any effort, could just be. The best part of me, the best part of everyone I think, is always in there, trying to get all the baggage and nonsense to shut the fuck up. It gets steamrolled during every other activity you take part in. But during a commute, that’s often all you are.