On one particular morning during my stay in New York, I was running late for work, and boarded the train to Manhattan in a hurry to sit down and prepare myself for the day ahead of me. I figured I could write a blog post on my way into the city to get a head start on the day before my time was completely wrapped up in meetings. I stepped onto the train, scanned the available seating, and as usual the two-seater side was full of land-conquering vikings with their bags on the seat next to them (know what I’m talkin about?). So I walked up the aisle looking along the three-seater side, and spotted a tired looking older man with a face reminiscent of Bill Cosby, wearing a khaki trench coat leaning against the window. I took the seat at the end of his row, and he turned to me with a quick glance as I sat down, acknowledging to himself that I’m the girl who he would be sharing the train ride with that morning. He looked like he’d been trying to catch up on sleep for years, like he’d been working at the same company for decades, and for the thousandth time kissed his wife goodbye this morning as she poured her orange juice, and he headed back on the train to face the stacks of paper and phone calls awaiting him in his dimly lit twenty-second floor office in midtown. I glanced back at him, noticing the faded blue tie peaking out from his coat, and the words “good morning,” floated out of my mouth–a penny chance shot at penetrating the stacks of paper on his mind with a quick greeting from a stranger.
He responded with a head nod, and as he slowly turned back to face the seat in front of him, I pulled my laptop out of its case to get started on my “I Make-a Tha Meat Sauce” blog post. From time to time I saw him steal glances over at my screen, and I had to wonder what he was thinking. “Is she in college? Is she an author?” I responded silently in my head “No sir, I’m just a-makin-a meat sauce recipe for my blog. Please don’t read what I’m writing, my cool professional working girl vibe will be shot to shit.” Battling his judgement quietly in my seat, I focused on the task at hand, and found the fifty minute commute was just enough time to finish my post. As I wrapped up the closing line, the train pulled into Penn Station, the final stop, and I closed my laptop and slipped it back into it’s black carrier. The man seemed antsy watching me put my things away, eager to get out of his seat as I packed up–the barrier to his freedom. Feeling the pressure of his body language, I stood quickly and walked out into the aisle. He followed suit, and we stood there like cattle in a line, waiting for the train to come to a halt and allow us to funnel out into the city.
I stared out into the line people ahead of me, looking at the different shades of khaki trench coats all preparing to meet their working-day destiny. They blurred into one beige blob as the train bumped it’s way to a stop. As we were about to get off, a deep voice sounded from behind me, and I expected to hear the usual train conductor announcement of “this is our last and final stop,” but I was surprised to realize it wasn’t the train conductor speaking at all. I pulled my thoughts out of the beige blurry fog I was in, and turned behind me with perked ears. It was the tired man who I sat next to speaking. “I’ve been riding this train everyday for many years,” he said, “and you’re the first person to ever say good morning to me.” I looked at his eyes, my brain registering the sentiment before my mouth could find any words, and dropped my stare to his faded blue tie, noticing small white polka dots along it’s edges. “Really?” was all I managed to utter. “Keep that positive attitude,” he said. And I realized the stolen glances throughout the train ride were not ones of practiced judgement, but curiosity about the girl who managed to break through the thousands of people over thousands of days who never cared to greet him on the fifty minute shared ride. I got the chills, and couldn’t look into his eyes again. I wished him a great rest of the day, and headed to work with a little soft spot in my heart. Sometimes an honest smile is all the world really needs.