Angry, barking angry. “Ass-hat angry,” neither of my grandfathers would have called it, because neither of my grandfathers ever said “ass-hat.” The kind of angry that both of my departed grandfathers in the hereafter would have been forced to come up with pretend back-country colloquialisms to describe their grandson, also known as me. That frustrated and angry.
The story has a happy ending, of course. And the anger departed the moment it was expressed at the anonymous Newark-ian who knocked me over. It was a night in which Jen and I discovered that there are no short-cuts on the path to meeting good people.
She and I attended a taping of an episode of “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore” in April 2015. (Wow. Was it that long ago?) She and I were beginning our return home and we … okay, I need to back it up a bit. Beep. B e e p.
Public transportation is a wonderful thing. The tri-state area surrounding New York City is more than adequately served by public transit. All 20,000,000-plus of us who live here live at maximum a short drive away from a train station or a bus stop that offers regular service to and from the Big City and parts in between; thousands (perhaps millions) live within walking distance of a bus or a train station. The last vehicles leaving the city leave well after midnight, and the earliest vehicles heading to the city from the farthest reaches outside the city leave only a couple hours after that.
With my particular mobility challenges, walking in New York is surprisingly easy: Get into the flow of traffic, roll with it, manage expectations. (Somehow I just described my muscular dystrophy by way of an analogy to Steve Winwood’s career.) (I like Steve Winwood.) Of course my response to this discovery was to overdo it, and I strained my (surprised to be asked to do so much with no warning or stretching) knee within minutes. With my particular mobility challenges, the insides of train stations are another matter entirely, though, what with the crowd stopping and re-starting, with the absence of any rhythm except the one I insist on (Jen jumped in and stayed with my slower rhythm all day, which is one of the thousand reasons she is The One), and with people dashing at a direction rather than in a direction. You people need to get it together.
On our return, we missed one of our stops, a switch from one train to another, and discovered two seconds too late that we were heading to Newark, New Jersey, far from where we needed to make our switch-over. Two conductors took the time to consult with us but neither had any advice other than to return to Manhattan. It was 10:15 p.m., and the last train on our line out of Manhattan had left without us.
There are kind people in this world, and sometimes it takes a moment of trouble to create a moment to discover them. On the train returning us from Newark to New York, where we would eventually grab a bus to return us home, a young woman named Leah listened to Jen describe the previous 15 minutes of our life, reached into her bag, and handed Jen a twenty-dollar bill. “Maybe this will help you tonight,” she said. Jen offered it back, but Leah explained that people have helped her in her past and she thought she should pass it forward. She advised us to do the same someday.
By the end of the night, as we returned home several hours later than planned, we realized we had had a great night, a minor adventure. As I said, the story has a happy ending.
A moment before we met that kind woman, however, we were in the Newark train station, rushing from the train we stayed on for too long to get to the train we needed to return to Manhattan. Because I can neither start nor stop quickly, I use my cane as a brake. Like someone on old, four-wheel, roller-skates. If someone needs a spot that I was about to step onto more than I do, I let them have it. I can not change direction to avoid a collision. My legs no longer function with spontaneity like that.
Someone dashing at a direction rather than in a direction came from slightly behind me, and all Jen knew was that I was no longer anywhere near her. When I fall, everything flies away from me, and this has been true since long before my spinal muscular atrophy symptoms. Like a NASCAR car during a wreck, parts went flying from me: my backpack, my cane, even my glasses left my face. Jen turned to see a woman standing over me, yelling at me the one question that would identify her as not an EMT: “ARE YOU OKAY?” I wanted to yell back, “I did not trip on my better-than-average hearing.”
The person who barreled into me made a move to offer help, and here is where I was rude. Mea culpa. It is hard to explain to someone in that circumstance that being yanked up is not what someone walking with a cane needs—well, me, not what I need. I need to get my legs under me (one of them has a brace on it) and make sure I’m okay. Because there is no easy way to explain this matter from a position prone on the floor of a train station, I barked. The only intelligible word that left my mouth was: “No.” It had seven syllables, though. He left, relieved, I hope, as did the non-EMT woman.
Jen and I continued on to our moment in which we discovered that even in a fast-paced city where people run into one another, there are angels like Leah on the train, and there are no short-cuts to meeting them.
* * * *
This is an edited version of a column from April 2015, “Trains, Trains, and Buses.”
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