As I walked down the very crowded subway platform for the “E” train at 53rd and Lex the other day, I was struck, no, not by a train, nor even by the off tune melodies of the aging musician performing at the middle of the platform, but in that moment, I saw life with a clarity that normally eludes me in the cacophony that is my mind.
I saw angst.
I saw angst in the face of the Asian college girl clutching a portfolio heading to the lower west side, maybe the Garment District?
I saw angst in the face of the two workers, clearly tired after a long day, heading home, where maybe more work waited.
As I hurried along, up the very long escalator, and much like the train tracks (of course, you all know that one of the things that makes the NYC subway system unique in the world, is that it was built on a four track system, two in every direction, an express and local track), we have two columns of people, the standers on the right and the walkers on the left. Both the up and down escalators are segmented so. There is no written rule, no signs, it’s just New Yorkers, who realize that this systems works to make all more efficient and hurry us on our way. This is the capitol of “Time is Money” after all.
As I hurry along the corridor, with the 80’s tile look, that did not exist when I was young, as the three subway lines in NYC were still somewhat separate, even though the City had owned the lines since just after WWII, I arrive on my uptown #6 train platform and it’s full of people.
Really full. I can see down the tunnel that a train is maybe two minutes away, but clearly this crowd is like 12 minutes worth ( they usually run every 4 minutes at this time of day) like we’re going to need those Japanese Platform Men that push everyone into the cars like sardines. Yes, folks, 12 minutes will fill a train like that. This ain’t the Sticks. No, this is the Big Apple, where the trains run all the time and in the middle of the night, when the time between trains does increase to 20 minutes, there will be standing room only.
So, now, as we pack into this subway car, we’re so packed in, that one does not need to hold a hand rail. We’re all so close, it’s impossible to fall. The first thing I spot is this really annoying ad by some new travel company that wants you to book air travel on their site by making fun of people on the train. The first picture shows a woman having to stand right next to a taller man. Her solution, book a trip with this annoying company and they will whisk you away from the hoi polio.
Their next picture shows a crying baby, with the same solution. Do these people even ride the subway? Did they just get off the bus from Denver or what?
It’s clear they do not ride the train, as one thing we all know, babies don’t cry on the train. They seem to love trains. They love trains so much, at 4 p.m.; the strollers are lined up with parents/nannies holding the kids up along the fence overlooking the New York Central tracks on the 97th St. overpass as the Commuter trains roar underneath entering the tunnel towards Grand Central Station.
But right now, as we leave the 53rd St. station, people still wait. There is a train right behind us, (at this time of day, they pretty much run the #6 as close together as technically feasible, maybe every two minutes) thankfully; otherwise a few more people would have tried to squeeze their way in. Next stop, 59th St., an express stop, so the same scene, as there will be loads of people who took the express from lower Manhattan, and now are transferring to the Local. We are still so crowded, as people get off, even more get on. Those by the doors have to reshuffle. Everyone understands ritual, no tourists here, they repack themselves in a way, so when their stop comes, they will be ready. Finally, at 77th St., Hunter College, more get off than get on. Upper East Side people are leaving; those getting on now are going to the Bronx. At the next two stops, 86th and 96th St., the exodus continues as the demographics of the train has transformed itself over the last half dozen stops. More baby carriages, mostly blue collared hard workers.
So I realize that while most have Angst, I have Anticipation.
I’m happy with where I am. I’m lonely at times; I miss friends, family, Julie and more friends. Did I say I’m lonely? Sometimes oppressively so.
So I am full of anticipation.
I anticipate the challenges of living in different cultures. I think about the occasions where someone will be speaking to me in Dutch and I’m trying to figure out what they are communicating. I know I only have a few seconds, before I must with give them my stupefied face, which means, I have no clue what you’re saying to me or I actually do understand the gist of what they are saying and I’ll smile and nod agreement, hoping that I did understand correctly. Most of the time I do understand the gist, if not the nuance. The other times, I’ll usually end up in the wrong place, at the wrong time or with an order of monkey brains, when all I wanted was monkey wrench.
Nowadays, if you avoid the tourist traps, which by the way are the same in every country, I’d say about 60% speak English, so it behooves me to learn Dutch better. How else can I tell them I want the kersen flap and not the apfel flap?
So, one of my goals in the coming year is to learn Dutch, improve my German, and down the road, learn Spanish so I can participate in the captivating conversations of Julie’s Spanish family and friends and even improve my Italian, to a point where I can read the newspaper (in Italy, they don’t dumb down, they smart up their newspapers).
Now, a few facts about the Netherlands you should know:
I am usually scrupulous in talking about the Netherlands and not saying Holland. But since the city I anticipate being in is in Zuid-Holland, I have occasionally used the term Holland.
The name of the country is “the Netherlands”. Most people call it Holland because in the Golden Age, Amsterdam was the most important city/harbor/are in the country (the rest of the country was pretty much underdeveloped or under water – they had not yet started poldering (making dry land using dikes and wind mills powering water pumps). Amsterdam lies in the province of Noord-Holland. Of course there is also a province called South-Holland and that was also important, as it is near the sea.
People living in the Holland sections don’t mind, those from the eastern provinces, do!
Lastly, in WWII, The Dutch found a way to unmask German spies, by letting them pronounce the word Scheveningen. The combination of the s-sound and the g- sound (which is very guttural in Dutch) is virtually impossible for anyone whose native language is not Dutch.
I can’t even pronounce it in English.