Tuesday or Wednesday, I took the Purple Line from Union Station, in an effort to switch things up on my homebound commute. I take this subway to the end of the line. The whole trip takes about fifteen minutes. It’s been the same since I can remember, and I know the cars and smells and stations well. The advertisement cards and scratches of graffiti change, but the recordings are the same and the whirr and sibilance of the route is familiar in a way that a person couldn’t be. To me, the verysameness is most excellent. Like the way some people know what Christmas or sleep should smell like.
I readily and frequently forget that not everyone does mass trans. I forget that it’s ever new to anyone.
So fast approaching on my right was the last stop of the westbound Purple Line. The announcement comes that we’re “arriving: Wilshire/Western Station, this is our last stop! Please ga–” And this woman blurts out louder than whatever the recording says (gather your belongings blah blah No, Really, this is our last stop). She fairly shouts:
“This isn’t the last stop!”
I’m not quite sure why people argue with things that are programmed. The math didn’t change. Or those who state that the obvious is something else entirely, as if proclaiming disbelief of that which is evident and empirical will change it. Immediately.
The look she directed my way has a pointedly mendicant quality, and her eyes are enormous with fright; I may have glimpsed myself 10 years ago, looking exactly the same at thought of doing or saying anything I didn’t already know by heart.
“I need to go to Hollywood and Vine, though?”
Her knees buckled a bit. With her right hand, she gripped the pole posted in the middle of the aisle, and she hung on so tight.
I say, with the reserve of a seasoned transpo-er, or because I’m advancing in years, or one or another thing,
“That’s the Red Line, the one that goes that way.”
I say this as if I have now offered her a solution. (Because it seem so obvious.)
She holds the pole with both hands now, and begs me:
“This is the Red Line?”
“No, no, this is the Purple Line. It ends here, at Wilshire and Western.”
“But– Hollywood!?” She mews, starting to crumble. She can’t bend or flex, there’s no roll-along-with-it for her: it’s not in the plan to go this way. I understand her agony. Orderliness is a nice thing to have in life. So I try to be more ordered when I say:
“Stay on this train, get off and Vermont and Wilshire, go to the platform downstairs and get the subway that’s going North. Toward North Hollywood.”
The platform lights up the windows to my right as the train leaves the dim of the subway tunnel and the train slides predictably to a stop, hitching that once, which two of us expect, but not Panica, who is jolted, though she’s clutching the pole for support. The doors hiss and part. The other passenger and I make our moves for them, we have places to be, or something. The other passenger mentions there are only four minutes to wait until the subway goes back the way it came.
“But this train is stopped?”
She is having such a difficulty: Fucking. Nothing. Fucking. Makes. Fucking. Sense. The churn is palpable, and her plans are now a pile of torn up paper, colorful maps that she had memorized with such perseverance and trepidation.
“I need to get to Hollywood and Vine!” She hyperventilates.
She gasps in my direction and then puts her head down with a kind of supplicant’s fervent wish to understand what might be the order of things now.
“Stay- onthetrain- vermontandwilshiregodownstairsgetrednorthgo-” She looks up with only one eye open, hoping against all hope for validation.
“That’s it. You’ll get there fine,” I nod, and move off the train, shifting my focus to the three steep staircases I am going to climb to get up to Wilshire Boulevard.
She stood repeating the directions, a mantra, whispering words and nodding profusely. Though she had the entirety of the car at her disposal, she would not surrender her possession of the pole in the middle of the car.
I don’t know where to go with this. I don’t know if it tells anything about me, or is just an anecdote from life taking mass transit. There are times that I feel strong and brave and ready, and there’s a lot of time when I do not know what the fuck end is up and I’m searching whatever metaphorical subway car for someone who will just tell me. The searching time isn’t such an everyday thing, I feel like I’ve gotten well ahead of the curve on a lot of shit that I never had before. I do not pretend, (even if I don’t ragerageagainst it in just any company) that shit is so comfortable all the livelong day. I don’t like my job, but that’s because I don’t know what the fuck my job actually is, which is different than omnipresent worksucks bitching and moaning. I don’t mind working at all. I’m not coming apart at the seams (now that it isn’t May), and I’ve met three authors who think I’m enough of the right stuff that they want to work with me, which really suits me as a fine place to start. I don’t like my eyeliner, but I’ve not run out to get more. (Except now that I’ve a whole weekend stretching and lolling before me, I might do.) More slowly than I’d like, I’m meeting people and making friends with them. But as slow as this goes, I am grateful for the people who know me, the people who make me smile, who smile to see me. It’s good to be seen. Most people I know newly have no idea what’s going on, why I’m single, who I know. I realized not too long ago that I don’t have to seek assent to my bizarro situation. I do not voice my backstory to everyone, and mostly because I’ve whittled it down in my head so far that it probably doesn’t make sense. I’ve left off too many words, and I don’t care. The opportunity does not always present that I’m willing to share the whole shebang. (Largely because of judgment.) Admittedly, I do not always want to run the risk of someone not understanding me, taking issue with how I am doing my life or thinking that I’m lacking in some way because there’s stuff about which I couldn’t care less. With some of the nearers and dearers, sure, I am more open. And without the pressing need for someone to laud, laugh or in other way validate my decisions, the focus I give others is genuine. I am no longer hoping some kind of ode will be penned in gratitude, and this is not what motivates me. I just smile. A lot.
I realized my grin, which is frequent but not perpetual, is the reason I get asked for change, a dollar for the bus, if someone can buy a cig/smoke. I never say yes to the last one, I say, “No, I’ll just give you one, man.” Walking and smiling is why I get compliments more than once daily on my super short haircut. I don’t keep a grinlog so I can’t be sure of this, you know, in a scientifically quantifiable sense, but people I will never see again stop me to tell me I’m beautiful.
Not that long ago at all, I was riddled with uncertainty, fear, dread. Not long ago I spent an unreasonable amount of time convincing myself that I was not a person made for hope and joy, but that I should not kill myself just yet. Mired in despair, I searched subway cars for that knowing traveller who could untangle my confusion and dictate the route I really needed. But the subways I had taken contained no such souls. I had to disembark and find myself in a strange place, take a look at where I was and where I was meaning to go. And it was up to me (and only me) to take the way I deemed best. All the advice givers, friends, and strangers in the world couldn’t functionally make any decision for me. Had it been another matter in which I just did as I was told, I would be in that teller’s thrall, and very likely in the same state of mindbody.
Sometimes my angst is wrapped up in things that aren’t very important. And usually this is anything that has no bearing on any people. Get bacon this week? Which route home? Do I need to do laundry tonight. Can I skip the market? What the hell do I wear tomorrow?
But coming down to it, this shit doesn’t matter. Whether or not I get bacon has fuck no bearing on anyone knowing they’re loved, or knowing that I have them in my sight, too.