I’ve become boring and settled in my middle age, even in a town as heart stopping as New York. Living on the Upper West Side, or the “burbs” of Manhattan as I like to call my neighborhood, has brought out a different side of me. Most days, I feel like I’m in a small town and not a metropolis, existing in a 10-block radius. Am I that dull, or just getting older?
But the other day was different. I not only went out, I left my neighborhood. I took the subway. I traipsed all the way down to 14th Street on a Tuesday — in the rain. The most shocking part of this was the hour. I left at 9 pm. Thanks to cooperation from the MTA, my trip took approximately 17 minutes door to door. That commute’s not too shabby for a suburbanite.
I met a friend for a drink and gabbed for about 90 minutes. (I’m a slow drinker). When we left, it was misting slightly, but I didn’t mind. Light and slow, it was the perfect kind of New York rain. (A heavy downpour is the less-than-perfect kind of New York rain.) Since I’m rarely out this late alone, I questioned, “Should I take the subway? Would I be safe at that hour?”
It was past 11 pm and a cab wouldn’t be cheap if (that’s a big IF because it was raining) I could get one. I was less than a block to the train station. Why would I even think of taking a taxi? This is New York — the city that never sleeps. Surely there would be plenty of people riding the subway on a Tuesday night.
It had probably been years since I was downtown alone on a weeknight, and needed to take the train so late. See — there’s the old and boring side of me showing up again. I’d be fine. I learned how to be cautious and watch my back in my twenties in Philadelphia. I’ve always felt safer in New York.
I walked down the stairs and the uptown local and express trains were just leaving the station. Crap. I had just missed both. That’s bad MTA karma — I’d have to wait another ten minutes for a train. I was one of a few people on the platform, but it quickly filled. I sat in one of the worn wooden seats, which were all soon occupied too. I listened to my music, pulled out my New York Times and waited with strangers seated next to me and swarming on all sides.
Ten minutes seemed to fly by and an express train pulled up. I jumped on and grabbed a seat in the corner. I looked around and as usual, it was a diverse bunch of New Yorkers in their own little worlds, some alone, and some with company.
In two stops, we reached 42nd Street/Times Square and several single women boarded the train. Soon enough it was standing room only at 11:30 pm on a Tuesday night. Where in the H were all of these people going? Suddenly, the Manhattan subway felt like the safest place to be, at least in NYC.
I stayed on the express rather than transferring to a local at 72nd and exited the train at 96th Street. The station was hustling and bustling like it was 7 pm. When I reached the street there was calmness — a quietness that I rarely see in Manhattan. The sidewalks were wet and the lights were dim in most of the storefronts on Broadway with the exception of a few 24-hour spots. Was the Upper West Side turning in this early?
I stopped at the fruit stand at 95th Street just outside of the train station, grabbed two bananas and containers of raspberries, 2/$5. Who buys fruit at almost midnight? New Yorkers do.
I moved south on Broadway, reaching 91st Street where the 24/7 market, Barzini’s is located, and night owls were speed shopping, or as my husband and I have called it when we head toward the grocery store past 10 pm on a weekend, “loser shopping.” Late at night is the only time of day to dash in and out of any store in Manhattan.
I was tempted to stop by Hot & Crusty at 88th and Broadway and pick up a carb-infused snack since I had eaten hours earlier. But I denied my temptation, because really, is a handful of doughy goodness necessary at almost midnight? My hips and tummy told me, “No.”
Part of me was ready for sleep, or the “Late Show,” or both. Part of me wanted to stay out and about to see what I could discover on the streets of New York on an almost Wednesday morning. So this is what the city looks like mid-week at this hour. I’d forgotten.
Instead, I surrendered to my yawning self on a Tuesday, continued walking in the light, steady rain until I turned the corner at 89th Street, and called it a night.