16 May 2011

Hiss of the train

New York stinks.

It's true. There is a miasma of excrement, subway steam, sewage, food odor, body odor, and cigarette smoke that creates a funk you can almost cut. It is also quite possibly the filthiest city I have ever seen. How can a city be so dirty?

And yet it is beautiful, alive and compelling.

After a pretty decent night's sleep and a nice breakfast at our hotel and a quick conference with the doorman and a map, the daughter and I stepped out onto the crowded pavement our first morning in New York. Her eyes widened, and I set out down the sidewalk at a brisk clip, in search of Grand Central Terminal, and the subway station below its grand main concourse.

It was a beautiful day. Bryant Park was in full bloom, the breeze was brisk, and the sun was warm.

And there were people everywhere. The daughter took my elbow in both her hands and held on as we joined the human tide.

People in New York are almost hilarious to watch. There is a dance, a flow around the slow and distracted, the occasional bounce of human pinballs against one another, seemingly without umbrage. I just tend to move fast at all times, and so, dodged and weaved with the best of them, past the man eating and reading a book as he walked, past gawking tourists who stopped in the middle of the sidewalk to take a photo of themselves with their phones, past the people talking on their cell phones.

It wasn't long before we arrived at Grand Central, which is wholly impressive unto itself. The daughter clung harder to my arm as we entered the dim, bustling warren that is the subway station, a place that is very much alive with the smell of human, metal, and cold, old concrete.

(There are dust bunnies everywhere down there. Flitting across the floor, on the stairs. Other fauna, too, not made of dust. While we waited on the platform at one point, the daughter asked, "What's rodenticide?" pointing at a sign warning of its use on the far wall. When I told her, she said dismissively, "The train would get you first.")

I've ridden subways in so many cities, and nothing beats New York for sheer confusion. Signs here and signs there, a paucity of information about local and express trains. After I got our Metro cards, I hauled the daughter toward the Uptown platform but she stood fast like a mule and said, "How do you know that's the right one?"

"Because," I said reasonably, "that's where we're going."

"But how do you know?" she insisted.

"We're at 42nd Street. We're going to 86th. Up," I told her.

She still looked dubious, but got on the 6 train when it arrived.

Go listen to some good music: "Trains" from the album In Absentia by Porcupine Tree.


Deb said...

What's this? No "angular mass of New Yorkers" for a title?

guerrilla girl said...

We haven't gotten to the Empire State Building yet. Jay-sus.