Thursday, September 6, 2007

How I Get to Work

I live at the end of a hallway on the top floor of a 1920s apartment building. Despite signage to the contrary, the door to the roof is usually open a half flight above me and I can tell what sort of day it is from the light coming in. I pick up the bag of trash sitting by my front door and carry it four flights to the ground floor. Whether walking up or down the stairs to my apartment, the trip always feels one flight too long. I open the door to the trash closet and swing the bag in. It lands with a thud too loud for the morning and I feel brave and a little rebellious.

I walk down the hall, out the double front doors, and stand at the top of my stoop for a minute untangling my iPod headphones. I confirm what sort of day it is. If I'm unprepared - if it's raining and I didn't bring an umbrella, or if I have a sweater on and it's obviously going to be hot - I do not go back upstairs. Instead, I swear and prepare myself for an uncomfortable day.

I turn on my iPod, walk down the steps and open the gate. If I'm on time, the streets are still relatively empty. If I'm late, I have to look both ways before stepping onto the sidewalk. There are suits rushing by and they stop for no one. I walk east towards Astor Place. The streets are still dirty this early, and I step around torn open trash bags and thin vomit stains. On the way, I dig in my purse for a piece of Nicorette. I struggle to open it. It usually takes me about three-quarters of a block to get the gum out of the packaging. Sometimes it gets warm and sticks to the tinfoil and I can't get it out and I curse and throw it away and try a brand new piece.

At 3rd Avenue, I wait in front of Ray's Pizza for the light to change. The trash cans haven't been emptied yet and they overflow onto the sidewalk. The water in the gutter is green and opaque and a smell rises from it that I don't really notice anymore. People around me edge nervously into the street, hoping a break in the cars will allow them to cross the four lanes, but I know that this is one of those rare New York City blocks you can't jaywalk. The traffic's too heavy. You just have to wait.

When the light changes, I cross 3rd, pass Cooper Union, and then step into the Bowery without checking for traffic. The Bowery at Astor Place is one of those blocks you can always jaywalk. I pass the fruit man and the ugly reflective Chase building. The Astor cube is to my right and I see if there's new graffiti on it, or if they've painted over the old graffiti.

At Lafayette, I can usually cross against the light. I pass the coffee cart on the corner with its hand chalked sign. L.A. CAFE HOT BREAKFAST. I pass the big storefront under construction that used to be Astor Wines and is soon to be a Walmart. I think about how disappointing it is that a Walmart's opening up. And right across the street from a Kmart. How many places does one need to buy cheap paper towels?

I hang a left on Broadway. It's dirty, too, usually with McDonald's wrappers and discount tanning fliers. I go down the steps to the N/R train entrance and swipe my metrocard. It's not the main entrance and doesn't have a service booth or a way to buy a new fare, so if my card is out I have to climb back up to the street and walk a block and a half to the main entrance.

Underground, I wait by the pole that has the empty frame sometimes used for service notices. I turn off my iPod and pull out my New Yorker. When the train comes, it's still empty enough for me to get a seat. I ride three stops, which is just long enough to get interested in an article but not long enough to read more than half a page. At 28th street, I turn my iPod back on, put my magazine away and wish, against reason, that my commute was longer.

A lot of people get off at 28th, so even though the doors to my car open up right in front of the exit, I have to wait to go through the turnstile. Once above ground again, it's usually still early enough to cross Broadway against the light. I walk east along 28th to 6th Ave. There, I stop on the northwest corner to get a coffee at the cart. They just opened up a Starbux right next to my work, but I still stop to get my cart coffee, because I like how it isn't too strong and the guy recognizes me, knows that I want a small with milk, no sugar, no bag, and doesn't talk too much. I give him sixty cents, exact change, then cross 6th and head towards 7th.

28th between 6th and 7th is the garden district, so both sides of the sidewalk are lined with ivies, flowers, palms, and grasses. I know nothing about gardens, but the plants are wet and beautiful in the morning and they smell like the earth. The leaves brush my arms and I would slow down if the short Spanish men standing in the doorways didn't hiss like cicadas when I passed.

I talk a left on 7th. The same guy offers me the New York Metro every morning. I refuse. Starbux has a line out the door. The Fashion Institute of Technology is across the street and girls with unusual jeans walk in slow pairs towards the end of the line, where they will wait on their cell phones for lattes. Scaffolding is up in front of my work, so first it feels like I enter a cave, then my building with its blue and gold scrolls and art deco molding.

I say hello to the Barbadosian who mans the desk. I've asked his name four times, but I never understand what he says and now we're past the point I can ask again. I press the button for the elevator. Usually, one of the three isn't working. I watch the numbers on the panels and guess which one will arrive first. I take out my iPod and lower the volume.

My commute is over. It took 20 minutes. The elevator will arrive and I'll get on and pull my keys out of my purse. I will get off on my floor, turn left, and take my headphones out of my ears while I unlock the door. I will spit out my gum and drink my coffee. I will look at the Empire State Building out my window. I will sit in my chair for four hours and, even if it's a bad day, I will feel lucky that I have this job.


cynthia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
didi979 said...

Me too - I enjoyed the trip as well!

Robin said...

I loved this piece, Miranda, as it allows readers to observe so many intersections of individual lives going about the business of living.

Recently we watched the German film Run Lola, Run (one fav) and saw the rewinds of Lola's different life choices (for the length of the film) as she attempts to go from one end of her world to another. The people with whom she interacts all along the way (rewind after rewind) and the different choices she makes as she encounters them, is the stuff of film legend.

In reading about your journey to work, I imagine all the variations that might happen along the way each day - so many possibilities for the extraordinary in the ordinary moments. Mathematically speaking, the number of possibilities is exponentially staggering!

If really great writers leave readers wanting for more, then you've got the goods. I want to read more about your morning journeys to's like suspended time travel through an entire universe and encapsulated in 20 minutes each day... all along the way.

c. g. said...

visiting your blog again, as i do once in a blue moon. don't remember reading this originally, but it was nice to read it now. specially after my June visit to the east village. god, you wrote it 9/07/07. how were we even functioning then? 4 years has made such a difference.