Lately, I have been noticing the way people feel completely at ease on the subways. I understand it, because as a fellow traveler, I too at times, become so comfortable on the train, that I can take a nap. To understand how this is possible, we’ve got to dive into the mind of a commuter. In the morning, most people are tired. If they are like me, they are drained from God only knows what happened the day before. Most of these people are exhausted. Maybe they’ve been up since 5 AM and have had to get the kids ready and out the door by 7:15 AM so they can catch a bus and make it to school on time?
Sometimes I sit on the train and look at all these people. Some of the faces are reoccurring, as it would happen to be when you see a person that works every day, and catches a specified train at a specified time, and they get on at the same station. It’s a routine. I sit there and as I glance at all these familiar or brand new faces, I think about how different we all are. I say to myself, in my head of course, “he must have been up all night writing a report for his company. It’s probably due in his boss’ office at 9AM promptly. It’s probably going to determine whether or not he gets that promotion. That must be why he looks like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders.” I may look at a young man carrying a gym bag, but wearing a suit and think, “he must be headed to work now, but after work, he is definitely going to work out, or maybe he got an early session in, and he’s going to work now. Maybe that’s why he isn’t sleeping yet. He’s refreshed, energized, and ready to start the day”. I may look at an older woman, and watching her head drop and rise, like a bobble head character, assume that “she must be a mother. She has had to stay up all night to help her son with his homework, and then, try to get everything together for the following day. She must have stayed up until 2 in the morning, because her husband didn’t want to help her son with his math. Her husband must have been exhausted as well. She is probably pulling a late shift tonight, and she must have gotten up early to cook something before she left so that the kids could eat when they got home. Her wedding ring is very tight, so she must have been smaller, and her loyalty to keep it on even though it binds her finger like a boa constrictor shows her fidelity to her husband. She must be so tired. That must be why she fell asleep three stops in and didn’t hear when she was missing her stop.”
I sleep on the train because it’s my only chance to really be alone in myself before the madness of the day engulfs me. I know I won’t get that peace of mind again until I lay in bed at the end of my day. I put my headphones on, turn up my smooth jazz or classical just enough to soothe, but low enough to alert me when I hear my station destination. I can’t help but close my eyes. Once I know everything feels fine, I can be myself and tune the world out as I relax my tired bones. Maybe someone is looking at me? Maybe some older man is saying to himself, “She must have had a long day yesterday. She is probably headed to work, and then, later, a night class. She must be waiting for her break through.”
As we sleep, we, the subway commuters, become a family. We become a union. We are the Tired New Yorker’s of The 5 Boroughs and Tri- State Area. We are mothers, fathers, students, business owners, blue collared workers, travelers, and friends. We are all just waiting for our breakthrough, but most of us will continue to take those trains each day, praying to win the lotto or go on vacation so that we don’t have to wait until we are on a subway to close our eyes and dream.