“Dear God,” I prayed silently on a 5:33 p.m. express train from Grand Central Terminal the other day as I glanced out the window and saw the name of an unfamiliar stop. “Please don’t let me be on the wrong train.”
“I know it won’t be the end of the world if I am. But dear Lord, I’ll never hear the end of it from my family. And I just know that if I have to make the call of shame, the hipster doofus sitting next to me will post it on Facebook from his phone, and he’ll start snickering like a Judy Blume book mean girl when his friends make snarky comments in response. By the way, if you’re so hip, why are you on a commuter train to the suburbs? Anyway, thanks, God, and amen.”
It really wouldn’t have been my fault if I had been on the wrong train (although, as it turns out, I wasn’t). It was so crowded when I got off the subway at 42nd Street that I got a little frazzled and instead of walking through the metal exit cage, I walked into it. Thus, when a few minutes later I checked to see what track the train back to my parents’ house was on, I wasn’t 100 percent certain I had seen the number correctly. Rush hour in Grand Central is not for the weak or meek, and I’m embarrassingly rusty in my New Yorker-ness.
In all the time that I lived in New York, I survived without ever missing my stop, getting on the wrong train or subway, or falling asleep so soundly that I woke up at the end of the line. Now I’m removed from the city by a few years and I might as well be wearing a Scrunchie in my hair while walking around gawking at the skyscrapers trying to figure out which is 30 Rockefeller Plaza so I can hold up a “Hi Mom!” sign outside of the “Today” show windows. Whatever New York skills I used to have are long gone.
Trains and subways were a headache for me all last week. I had work in Soho and couldn’t find a damn subway station anywhere. I used to live on the Upper West Side, which is to the suburbs what downtown is to the real city. Uptown, everything’s safe and on a grid. Downtown, it’s every street (and girl) for herself.
On the first day of my meetings I was driven into the city. At the end of the day, I was on my own.
“Will you be OK?” my ride asked.
“Of course,” I scoffed.
Although as it turns out, not so much. I kept walking, thinking that eventually I’d run into a subway. If there’s an Original Ray’s pizza every two blocks in Manhattan, I figured there’d be a subway station eventually, too. But in fact, Soho is the exception (to Ray’s and the subway).
I had way too much pride to ask for directions, but when I really had to go to the bathroom and my feet were starting to show signs of a forced retirement after walking in circles in heels for what felt like days, eventually I caved. I scoped out the block and using my finely tuned New York radar, picked a woman oozing downtown confidence as she typed furiously into her iPhone. As it turns out, she was searching for an app that told her where the nearest station was. I followed her with my head hung in disgrace like a dog that peed inside the house. And I didn’t even have the benefit of an empty bladder.
The next morning I took the train into the city and was determined to find a subway station closer to my destination, and I succeeded. I was so successful, in fact, that I decided to reward myself with a coffee drink.
I’ve had coffee twice since sometime immediately following the new millennium, but figured a jolt of caffeine would get me even further back in the swing of the New York thing. I walked into an overpriced deli feeling like an eminent New York adult, and ordered a mochaccino.
I became decidedly less important and determinedly more Disney when the guy behind the counter filled up the cup to the top with ice, poured in an ounce of coffee and then added an entire container of Hershey’s chocolate syrup. The translucent cup was streaked with fudge from every conceivable angle. Walking back outside, it seemed as if there were neon signs with arrows pointing at me. I felt about as subtle and sophisticated as one of those giant rainbow lollipops that are the prizes given for the least amount of tickets at a carnival.
As the cup started sweating in the heat and some of the chocolate was dripping out from under the lid, I realized there was a distinct possibility my pressed white shirt might end up with a souvenir stain. I threw the mochaccino and my remaining dignity into the nearest trash can.
If I ever make it in New York again, I’ll definitely start spreading the news. Until then, I’ll be sticking to cabs and Diet Pepsi.
More at meredithcarroll.com.