By Rob Rodems
There is something (almost) beautiful about the shared experience of the subway, odors aside. I’ve found myself witnessing, yes, the occasional set of dentures on the train floor, and no one will forget when a shark was making his/her way to and from Coney Island one summer but also moments of sincere compassion between strangers. The Metropolitan Transit Authority: bringing out the best and worst of us all since 1965. The MTA is also the reason why in some circles I am now known as “Turkey Splits”. More on that later. Obviously.
I arrived at my local subway stop the afternoon that a car ran into a group of people in Times Square, to head to 23rd and 7th for an appointment. Plug it into Google Maps, and it tells me that the total travel time is a sensible half hour, with no need to transfer. Great. I leave my apartment closer to an hour ahead of time because I am insane, paranoid, and Catholic school teaches you long lasting lessons on guilt. Once I arrive at the subway stop, it’s obvious that something is up and no one knows anything. The station attendant, who needs a lesson in microphone technique, barks something into the intercom but he only has three takes in him before he decides to let us all fend for ourselves.
Down the steps I go to come up with an alternative plan. An app on my phone indicates that if I get to Queensboro Plaza, that trains are running from there into Manhattan. That’s when I notice someone about my age with a red suitcase in hand getting in a cab. She turns to a father/son duo next to her and offers to split the cab with them to Queensboro. They refuse. I swoop in, hopping in a car with two complete strangers: the cab driver and my new travel companion. She went to a school not far from mine, she’s also in the arts, we have mutual friends, and share strong opinions how awesome it is when art and politics intersect. She invites me to her company’s performance the next day, friends me on Facebook (#MidwestFace), throws six dollars at me, and off we both go off into the ninety-degree afternoon.
Arriving at Queensboro Plaza, I get on a Manhattan bound 7 train. Soon after leaving the station, another fellow human enters the car looking for help in any way that is possible. She speaks loud enough for everyone to hear her and doesn’t change that when she arrives at a gentleman across from me in the car. They bond. That said, she is still speaking at the same volume she originally was, while he is trying to keep it between them. She makes her way to the end of the car when we arrive at the next station. Many fellow commuters give what they can. She waits for the doors to open she turns back around to ask him, loud enough for all to hear, “So...did you go to jail?”.
Rather unphased, the train turns to look at his reaction and we all share a chuckle as kind of communal way to say, “Life! Right?”.
Arriving at Times Square, I only have one leg of this journey left when I board a downtown 1 train. Similar to the train before, someone is in need of help. Before he can get to the end of what he has to say, apparently the guy to my right did something to upset him. I’m unclear as to what this is, as I was distracted by my phone but apparently this needs to be addressed here and now. Rather unfazed by this, I continue to avert my eyes since it felt like no one was going to be upset beyond some choice words. I was wrong. It was at that point, my friends, that there was a butt on display for all to see much closer to my face than I ever wanted on a humid afternoon. It’s a full moon on the 1 train, when it’s finally my stop. It’s worth noting that despite this, my fellow straphangers also gave what they could! I get off the train to run into a friend getting on that same train car but frankly I’m so surprised by what just happened that I stand on the platform stammering over my words and the coincidence of it all to let her know that there is a man mooning people that the doors close with her on the other side of those doors before I can spit it out.
It was a lot for a commute that should have only taken somewhere in the ballpark of a half hour. My fellow New Yorkers rolled with it really well. Many gave in terms of money and food but also in terms of empathy on a day that, try as we might to be tough and put on a brave face, was already rather unforgiving.
I was on the receiving end of this shared empathy myself in the February of 2014. Wearing rubber boots to combat the late-winter slush fest and running late to work because I am…..me….I grabbed a turkey and havarti sandwich from Starbucks because you all wouldn’t like me when I’m hangry. To eat on public transportation is gross and less than ideal but it had to be done. As I stepped off the train, I was swallowing the last bite of said turkey sandwich. My foot that reached the platform slipped on some slush, sending my right leg out from underneath me with my left foot firmly stationary on the train. Startled by this, I coughed and spewed chewed turkey and havarti into the air as I landed in what dancers call a “jazz split”, with my right leg extended straight and my left leg bent as I straddled the gap between the N train and Lexington Ave/59th Street.
No, I know.
You can ever look at me again. I, of course, understand. A very kind woman let me take a breath while I sat there in the slush, asked if I was okay, and proceeded to help me up. That is how I earned the name “Turkey Splits”.
In the end, I was only five minutes late to the appointment so I’m willing to call this a win.
Rob Rodems is a native of Cleveland, Ohio living in Astoria, NY. In addition to being an actor, he is (not) Jesse Tyler Ferguson's younger brother but he did graduate from The Boston Conservatory. He enjoys not taking things too seriously in addition to a good well-roasted brussels sprout/head of broccoli. If he appears distressed, give him coffee and/or a cake pop and wait twenty minutes. You can follow him on Twitter @RobRodems, and on the Instas @RRobems.