18 February 2009

Perfect Strangers.

No one would argue with you if you were to say New York City is one of the most scenic and thriving cities in the world. The Bronx, Harlem, Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn are connected by one of the most entertaining venues New York has to offer: the subways.

The subways are a great break from monotonous days.

I’ve seen elementary school kids break dancing on the subway. I’ve seen couples break up on the subway. I’ve even seen a girl almost break her face on a stability pole while leaning over to vomit on the subway.

A day of taking the subway without a six piece Mariachi band playing in the two foot space directly next to you is bizarre. If you want to fully experience New York, take the subway.

My train, the D, spends a lot of its time above ground as well as under. Majority of the lines when heading into Manhattan from Brooklyn and vice versa go under the East River. The D doesn’t. It goes above it via the Manhattan Bridge. Every time I enter or exit the city, I get the six million dollar view.

The Manhattan skyline proudly serves as the bustling backdrop to calm water housing Lady Liberty and Ellis Island—both of which are visible from the Manhattan Bridge.

Every time I cross the East River, I look at the Statue of Liberty and am reminded of a woman who sold me luggage at a department store in Oregon months ago. She asked me what I needed luggage for and I told her about my move to New York.

“I’ve told myself since I was a little girl that before I die, I will see the Statue of Liberty,” said the 50-something cashier.

I get to see it everyday. There is never a moment during the two-minute bridge crossing when I don’t feel overwhelmingly thankful.

When taking the bridge last week around dusk, my thoughts were interrupted by a middle-aged woman sitting next to me.

“Does that ring open?” she asked pointing at my jewelry.

“No,” I answer. “It’s just obnoxious.”

She puts her weathered hands out in front of her and spreads her fingers. A large Tiger’s Eye ring adorns her left middle finger, the same finger where my massive white onyx resides.

“I like your ring,” I tell her.

“Really?” she asks more surprised than I was expecting. “Thank you.”

“So where did you get your ring from?” she asked.

“Well actually I got it from Oregon, where I'm from.”

“What brought you here?”

“I’m a writer,” I tell her. “I’m currently copy editing at a magazine.”

“Well,” she says breathing out. “Then I think you should know about the dance studio that’s closing on 36th street.”

“Oh, ok.”

“Yeah, maybe you could pass it along to someone.”

When telling someone you don’t know you are involved in media, the conversation tends to go towards something you “should” cover.

“Yeah,” I tell her. “I’ll do that.”

After a moment of silence, she speaks to me again.

“It’s sad,” she says. “I used to take lessons there all the time, but I haven’t been recently because I just lost my mother.”

As I turn to look at her, she puts her head down. I cock my head to see her face, and I notice her eyes are flooded. Like a yawn, I am immediately triggered. I start to tear up, too.

I am instantly reminded of my grandmother, who was probably around the same age as her mother. I lost her last year after a long, mean battle with Alzheimer’s.

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” I say. “Really.”

“It’s been tough. It’s not the best way to start a new year.”

“I can’t even imagine.”

“But I’ll be ok,” she says still looking at her thighs.

Seeing my stop is approaching, I look up at the subways abrasive fluorescent lights and blink away the sadness engulfing my eyes. Bowing my head to her level, I extend my right hand.

“I’m Meghan.”

“Maria,” she says, accepting my hand.

Still embracing her hand I place my left one on her knee and she looks up at me.

“I think 2009 is going to be a great year for you, Maria.”


“Without a doubt.”

She warmly smiles and wipes her face with her hand. She nods at me. “Thank you.”

As I stepped off the train, I’m overwhelmed with emotion—about everything: the recession, my job industry, my friends and family and their distance away, and now Maria.

I didn’t lie to Maria. 2009 will be a great year. Because it has to be. For all of us.

Now every time I go over the Manhattan Bridge I am reminded of two strangers: the Oregon cashier and Maria.

I hope the Oregonian gets to see the aqua marine monument before she dies. I hope Maria will find a new dance studio. I used to hope that I would never take my time here for granted. But because of two perfect strangers, I know I never will.