Cafe 227

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Three Rivers of Gotham

Between the currents of the East River and the debris of the Hudson, a third river flows through the heart of Manhattan. I have been here for over five years now, but did not recognize it until this morning. As on each weekday since last Monday (1/23), I made sure to have a Terrible Towel with me before I left my apartment for work. Before today, I had it stuck in the front pocket of my work bag with one of the terrible corners conspicuously sticking out. With it being the Friday before the Super Bowl and all, I opted for a more ostentatious display today. I tucked the towel into my terrible back pocket and made my way to the Chambers Street stop on the 1/2/3 line.

Once down in the subway station, I navigated through, around and between the other commuters to the South end of the uptown platform as I always do in order to shave four or five seconds off of my commute, anticipating the turnstiles at the 50th Street station. I wear headphones and listen to music on my commute like most other young professionals in this town, so, normally, I am completely oblivious to most of my surroundings. This morning was no different --- until a tall man in his mid-40s tapped me on the shoulder, that is. I looked up at him with squinted eyes that were meant to say "What could possibly be so important?" and "Do I look friendly to you?" I did not turn the music down or off, or remove even one earbud. The man smiled at me, pointed towards my terrible ass and offered me a two-step handshake (Slap then bend fingers and pull away). I smiled back and tilted my head backwards to acknowledge the end of our interaction.

When the express train arrived, I walked to a spot against the far doors, skipped a song (skipped "Flesh Canoe" by Animal Collective to get to the more mood appropriate "Touch the Sky" by Kanye West), and put my right hand high on one of the bench poles. The train wasn't full, but I never sit down in the mornings. Between coffee and assorted other stimulants that I may or may not be under orders to take, I am the last person who needs a seat during my morning commute. At the first stop, 14th street, an exiting, puffy-coated, flat-billed-and-crooked-hat wearing late teen poked me in the shoulder to get my attention and then offered a slight variation on the two-step handshake I received at Chambers Street (this time instead of the initial slap we locked thumbs and made fists, step two was the same).

Directly afterwards, a man in a Pittsburgh Pirates cap got into the car, spotted the towel, nodded his head at me approvingly and offered his clenched fist, palm down. I tapped his knuckles with mine and smiled with one corner of my mouth. My head bobbed slightly to the beat of The Clash's "Train in Vain," while the train rolled through 34th and on to the 42nd Street station where I exited.

I found my spot tucked behind the stairwell on the local track side of the platform and leaned against the wall with one leg bent at the knee like I do every morning. I always turn my head the opposite direction of the train's approach and look in the faces of all of the people anticipating the train as a conscious reminder to myself that leaning over the platform's edge and staring into the tunnel does not make the train arrive any sooner. Today as I zoned, looking uptown at the impatient faces of my fellow commuters, I noticed a man about 40 yards away pumping his fist with his thumb extended. I quickly spun my head to make sure there wasn't someone returning his hand signal behind me. That confirmed, I offered my own thumb. Yeah. Thumbs up, motherfucker. I got another thumbs up from the entrance security guard in my midtown office building. So to recap, that's 3 different terrible handshakes and 2 terrible thumbs ups in support of the Steelers all during the course of a door-to-door commute of roughly 22 minutes.

New York isn't Pittsburgh. And Pittsburgh sure as hell isn't New York. But today my now-fellow New Yorkers made this native 'Burgher feel a little of that hometown pride that watching the Steelers always reminds me that I still have. Thanks for reminding me of the hearts of my cities, gritty and urban as I am. I love you, NY. And I miss you, Pittsburgh. Go black and gold!


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