Kerith's Big Adventure in NYC
The last time I navigated NYC public transportation all by myself was in 1997. I am certain of this date, since I was a medical student rotating at Montefiore hospital. I was subletting a room near Mt. Sinai Medical Center, requiring daily transit from the upper east side to the Bronx. I didn’t bring my car to the city, I couldn’t afford car service, and the subway was my only option. I wasn’t happy. I gathered advice from the other Montefiore medical students and residents (none actually lived in the Bronx) and practiced walking to/from my subway station. I bought a subway pass and even completed an uneventful round trip before my first day. This month-long rotation was a big deal. I attended the University of Rochester, in upstate New York. Now I was playing doctor in the big city. The morning of my first day I awoke extra early. I compiled my papers and my books, with time to spare. I wanted to buy a bagel and coffee from one of the street-side bodegas en route to the hospital. I put on my clean, white medical student coat with my snowflake parka on top. I marched to my subway station, checked the number, and descended. I waited for the correct train and boarded, supremely confident. Sure, it was kinda weird that the train didn’t surface to sunlight, the way I had remembered over the weekend. So I checked my subway line and confirmed I was on the right train. It was kinda weird that none of the stops sounded familiar. And it was kinda scary as hoodlum types boarded the train, but none were departing. I tried to conceal the hem of my white coat with my snowflake parka. I hugged my backpack tight on my lap, until the train stopped, still underground.
It was the last stop. Things looked different. And dank, unfamiliar, underground spaces seem more intimidating when they’re dank and unfamiliar. Frantically, I scanned the platform, seeking out fellow medical students. Where were my people, the white coats and the scrubs? I was clammy and starting to panic. I must have looked alarmed, because a kind, elderly lady offered to help.
“Um, where is the hospital?” I asked her. “Isn’t this the hospital stop?”
“Which hospital?” she inquired.
“Montefiore?” I squeaked. And she chortled a rich, hearty laugh, “Girl, you’re in Queens.”
While it was true that I took the correct subway line, I failed to grasp the whole north/south or east/west concept. Yes, I descended at the right stop, but on the wrong side of the street. I took the right train, in the wrong direction. I was over two hours late for my first day at Montefiore Hospital. And after completing my four-week rotation, I never rode public transportation again, at least not by myself.
Last week I returned to New York City to see accounts. I had planned to meet my college roommate for breakfast. She is a veteran New Yorker. She has New York City values. She loves the subway, and she sent each of my kids NYC subway t-shirts, just to mock me in my own home. The week before my trip, she sent me the following e-mail:
“To get there from your hotel, you'd take the E (blue) train to Times Square and then transfer to the 1 (red) to 86th or the 1, 2, or 3 (red) to 96th, or uber!”
Her subtext reads, “Competent human beings can identify colors, read signs, and follow directions. This is more detail than one might reasonably expect from the subway information kiosk. You are at least as bright as the myriad New Yorkers riding the subway. Or maybe not. Just use uber.”
Of course, I used uber. But then the unthinkable happened. I was asked to visit some accounts in Westchester County. My college buddy tried to intercede on my behalf. She implored my distributor, “You don’t understand. Kerith doesn’t do public transportation. She will end up in New Jersey. Or Connecticut. Or Staten Island.”
But last week I defied every expectation (granted those expectations are pretty low). I gathered all my moxie and took the train, by myself. Thanks to some help from friendly NYC police officers and transit captains, I traveled out to Westchester County, with only a slight detour through Pennsylvania (kidding). Who says New Yorkers are cold and mean? We only had to photo-shop one photo-bomber flicking me the middle finger.