I headed into the city with Corie on Saturday to take part in what was to become the largest protest in U.S. history. There simply aren’t words to describe what took place that day. Kind of like those thoughts you have right before you wake up, the ones that exist just outside of the part of your brain responsible for making sense of things by way of language—you know, all those things that help us to explain how and why. What happened on Saturday sits right outside that part of my brain.
These thoughts are like dandelion wisps, they move on their own, along undetectable currents. They are unpredictable in the most beautiful way. And the more you try and keep an eye on a single wisp, the more free-flowing it becomes before it disappears entirely. Try and capture a group of them, and more arrive.
Saturday felt like one of these moments. It was unpredictable, yet beautiful.
A dandelion wisp among millions.
I didn’t stay at the march for too long. I took in everything that I could. But at a certain point I felt a little stuck in space and so I detached myself from my group and moved against the crowd. I marched along 42nd Street, past Grand Central and under the bridge. I took some pictures. I chanted. I cheered. I yelled.
And I watched.
As the crowd turned and moved toward Trump Tower, I continued straight and entered the first subway station I came across. I wasn’t sure where I was going. But that seemed appropriate somehow. I hadn’t really known where I was going from the moment I got up that morning. And for a mother of three with a pretty typical schedule, this felt so right.
I moved down and around and somehow I ended up boarding the 42nd Street Shuttle, you know, that little gray line that connects Grand Central to Times Square. NYCT Rapid Transit Operations refers to it as Train Zero, which kind of makes me want to adopt it. But I’m told you can’t adopt train lines.
Usually I walk everywhere when I’m in the city. But having run 2 miles earlier that morning and having walked another 5 for the march, I was pretty beat up. I’d also worn the worst possible pair of shoes and all but one of my fingertips had turned bone white.
So, I opted for a subway. I didn’t even care which one.
The 42nd Street Shuttle can seem a little silly as it only has two points. It goes back and forth and back and forth and back and forth. And I can’t fathom being a conductor for that line. It must be mindbogglingly boring. It’s the shortest line in the entire system. It runs 2,700 feet in under two minutes and then turns right back around again.
I have lived in or around NYC since 2000. I have been on The Shuttle probably three times in my life. One of those times was Saturday.
It is a bit odd to find me on The Shuttle.
It was full, so I couldn’t sit down. I walked to the end of the car, past an African American man playing a huge, old school keyboard, singing sad songs to no one and everyone who wanted to listen. It occurred to me that it’s probably a pretty great subway line to make money on. You sing a two minute song, people give you some change, they all leave and a whole new group of people board the shuttle for another 2 minute song.
As we sat in the station waiting to move, I listened to him play. His lyrics were haunting and his notes equally so. I closed my eyes and leaned against the subway doors.
As our train started to move, the singing man finished up one of his sad songs and started another. I opened my eyes just in time to make eye contact with an older woman sitting down across the way. She looked to be Middle Eastern or Eastern European. She had long, jet black hair, highlights of bright silver fell in all throughout it. She was beautiful. And the wrinkles on her face made her even more so. Her lips were a deep red. Her eyes dark as a moonless night. She was weeping.
And she didn’t look away from me. She was shameless in her emotions and I admired her so very much for that.
I took my arms and wrapped them around my shoulders. I took my right hand and pointed back at her.
“Do you need a hug?” I didn’t say.
She began to weep some more.
“No.” She didn’t say in return.
She gave me a sweet smile. The singing man and his notes had brought tears to her eyes. He didn’t know as much.
But I did.
She made a fist with her right hand and held it up to her chest, tapped her heart twice and held it out to me. A tear fell onto her lap. I put my hand to my lips, kissed my fingers and turned them toward her.
We didn’t speak a word to one another, but I heard her voice.
The singing man kept singing. Another dandelion wisp on a metal tube moving back and forth, setting into motion two more.
Two minutes were up. We had arrived at our station, directly beneath the busiest, most vacant place on Earth. Above us sat Jumbotrons the size of a large NYC apartments; billboards selling shit that no one needs; tourists handing over their hard earned dollars for snowglobes made in China. Above our heads, her tears and his sad songs stood dozens of grownups confined to a metal barrier, dressed up as Sesame Street characters and superheroes. And surrounding those characters are chain restaurants with hour long lines consisting of people waiting to be served mediocre food by woefully mistreated waiters.
We were beneath Times Square, the least humane place in all of NYC, and there I was experiencing one of the more meaningful moments I’ve ever had.
The doors opened. Everyone spilled out onto the platform. Our two minutes came to an end. The train would head back again, back to where it came from, with the singing man, his sad songs and chilling notes. He would have a whole new group of passengers.
She went her way. I went mine. Two dandelion wisps moving away from a train called Zero.