Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Underground Travels

[A piece I wrote during my short stint in Advanced Nonfiction]

Step down into this subway station, into this entrance to this submerged world trapped beneath layers of asphalt and concrete of Briarwood, Queens, into this transit hub that connects people to places, and instantly skin is warmed from the stale air entrapped below.

Walk down the first staircase that leads under this small neighborhood. Stroll through the hall lined with proudly displayed large paintings filled with swooping blues, dense greens and spattered reds from students of the local public schools (two of which I attended). Walk down the second staircase that delves deeper underground while cars speed along the massive transit artery that is Queens Boulevard above the station. Stroll through this hall where walls are decorated with water stains and unidentifiable grime.

It takes two minutes to finally arrive at the turnstile and underage (under ten years old, that is) kids slip under the shiny metal bars because the MTA is sometimes friendly. Responsible adults swipe their gold and blue MetroCards through the readers (oh the simple days when the sound of dropped tokens rang through the station). Now on the other side, walk down this final set of stairs and now they get to ride the subway.

Oh wait, step behind the thick, bumped orange line and never, ever lean over the very edge of this gum and liquid-stained platform (don't think about what kinds of liquid) because everyone believes religiously that whoever does is doomed to get hit by that rushing train.

Now at this final level of this subway station the walls are plastered with the name, VAN-WYCK. The black-tiled words are surrounded by a thick border of the same orange from the subway steats, and underneath in tiny letters, Briarwood is identified

Rest against the pale gray-blue-green beams that line the platform, stating the station name again in that sans-serif, white lettering on black background for those passengers looking to get home on the subway as it enters the station from the black, empty tunnels, each pale gray-green beam replacing the previous until the train slowly, gently rolls to a stop that always forces those passengers inside to jerk back a little, no matter how much they brace for it.

In that rushing air brought by the trains, there are vague scents of worn down rails that dingy signs warn to never touch in fears of electrocution, burning rubber, the very faint smell of intermingled people and their personal perfumes and of course, exhaust from the constant stream of trains coming and going to and from Manhattan and the deeper depths of Queens.

Linger for train as people crowd that same platform, waiting for whatever their destination may be: work, school (in New York, students wake up at ungodly hours like 6 a.m. to join the suited rush hour crowd on their way to work while they were on their way to learn) or gatherings. Waiting is always important for this subway system that is never set--sometimes the subway would immediately arrive with another right behind it, and other times, we waited minutes and minutes for that subway.

Sometimes, lean over side (oops, weren't supposed to, but it's thrilling, exciting, the feeling of being bad and dangerous all at once) and look to the left, eyes searching for headlights further down that mysterious tunnel, those yellow-white lights that meant one step closer to wherever the final destination or stop of the day was.

Shiny gray metal outside, inside three shades of orange fill the seats, divided by beige lines that match the hardly noticeable imprinted wallpaper, look out that smudged, scratched Plexiglas windows as the subway lurches forward, and Van Wyck becomes a mess of white, black, orange and pale-gray-blue-green blurs and then the sudden darkness of in-between tunnels and soon, they will arrive at another station, another stop, another world.

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