Adventures in NYC; OR A Tree Grows in Brooklyn? I Didn’t See Any Trees; OR How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Subway

A story!  A parable?

/ˈpærəbəl/ [par-uh-buhl] noun. 1. a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson.

…probably not.  For this story is not allegorical, it is what happened in REAL LIFE.

On Friday I drove Kenny (K(P)enny) into the nation’s largest, meanest, baddest city.  New York.  A city that is both the most populous, and most densely populated, city in the country.  It swarms with people, millions of people, all dressed in black like stylish cockroaches.

How did we set out to conquer the city?  Well, we needed to be in southern Manhattan by 11 AM, so we left at 7:45 AM.  Better safe than sorry.  And of course this was the one time in the history of the world that there were only two or three traffic snarls on the way into the city, and we got parked at 9:30.

The day before it had hit the mid-60s, so I naively assumed that such good weather would continue forever, without ever changing.  I wore a polo and light slacks.  Kenny, being from Louisiana, born, raised, never lived anywhere else, wore basically a parka.

He might have made the better choice.  The temperature started out about 40 degrees, American (Fahrenheit), and didn’t budge.  Which wasn’t a problem in the car, but started to be one by the time we got to the city and were walking around.

I managed to avoid both freezing to death and being burned up by the furious glares of the natives (not only was I not wearing long sleeves (fashion faux-pas!), I was wearing a brown shirt, and brown definitely isn’t on the approved list of New York colors*) on the two block walk to the Possibility Project offices.

We arrived safely there, only about an hour and a half early for our arranged time.  Well, it never hurts to show willing, right?  Paul, the president of the Possibility Project, invited us into the offices, where he went out of his way to make both Kenny and I comfortable.  He gave us a tour of the offices, which share the 12th floor of a 12 floor building in southern Manhattan with another non-profit, had Kenny fill out some paperwork while I fuddled around on the internet, and eventually took us across the street for some coffee.

Hurrah, I thought, coffee.  Until my second 20 ounces of coffee, that’s pretty much my thought process before the sun reaches its zenith.  Coffee is offered, coffee is consumed.  Coffee is made, coffee is consumed.  Coffee is all out?  Rage, panic, drive to Dunkin Donuts, coffee is consumed.

So naturally I took Paul up on his generous offer, and went for the largest drip coffee on offer.  20 ounces, or a venti, which may help narrow down the coffee store.  Yes, it’s the one you’re thinking of.  No, I don’t know why I’m being obscure.

After the coffee (or actually during the dreg phase of the coffee, which is interesting on its own; each sip a battle between the pre-noon impulse to consume MORE COFFEE and the lizard brain that keeps sending up POSSIBLY POISION warnings as the bitter liquid slides down the gullet), we started walking to the subway.

Kenny is going to live in Brooklyn, and commute via subway to lower Manhattan.  So it made sense to go set up his living situation via subway commute; the first hour of a parking garage is the most expensive, and besides, it would give Kenny a taste of his commute, and give me, the out-of-towner, a real life New York Experience.

If only I knew just how much of an Experience it would be.

On the way down the subway stairs, I asked Paul if the subway allowed beverages.  “No,” he chuckled, “but everyone does it, it’s not a big deal.”

Oh, I thought, well I better finish my coffee (in the final lizard-poison dreg stage anyway), I don’t want to break any rules on the subway and get in trouble.  I’m not from around here.  I’m from a more innocent place, where we have cows, neighborhood associations and Wal-Marts.  So I slug down the coffee, and deposit my cup in a waste receptacle, like a responsible human being.

Down in the subway Paul swiped his commuter card for himself, then swiped through Kenny and I, paying for our fares (complimentary coffee, complimentary subway ride, a native tour guide- awesome dude all-around, is Paul).  We boarded the F train, heading south toward the… tunnel?  Bridge?  Something that subways take to Brooklyn.

After a bit on the subway, the car emptied out a good bit, leaving us, a few people toward the back of the car, and a large, interesting(scary)-looking gentleman at the front.  Paul and Kenny were talking theatre logistics and audition schedules, and almost missed the large, interesting(scary) gentleman get up, open the door between cars that is clearly marked with “never open this door because you will probably fall out and die” signs, unzip his pants, and pee for an impressive amount of time.  Unfortunately for the micturator, he was facing into the wind, and a good bit of his stream splashed back onto his pants and shoes (and the floor beneath his shoes).

I gestured toward the man subtly, with my head, a slight nod as if to say “Don’t over-react, but look at that.”  However, I believe that my eyes were conveying a different message, specifically, “HOLY SHIT LOOK AT THAT!  THAT MAN IS PEEING.  DEFINITELY PEEING.”

Kenny and Paul, reading the panic in my eyes, turned and saw the man.  At least, I assume Paul saw the man, because his head was briefly in that direction.  I’m not sure that a peeing man registered in Paul’s conscious mind, however.  As a native New Yorker, Paul probably has seen hundreds or thousands of peeing men, and has learned to edit them out of his field of view, like Tyrannosauruses in Jurassic Park cannot see things unless they are moving.  (Spoiler?)

If you ever wanted to be invisible to a group of New Yorkers, like if you were a wanted criminal, you could just walk around peeing all the time.  New Yorkers can’t even see REGULAR Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes anymore.

New Yorkers cannot see this.

Kenny goggled, like I did.  Perhaps he boggled as well.  He didn’t google.  But shortly, I saw the first step of his transformation into a city person.  He turned his head back, and started to actively ignore the interesting(scary) gentleman.

I, being an consummate suburbanite, continued to watch.

Fortunately, we got off the car at the next stop.

Paul, living in Manhattan, was following a subway app on his phone to figure out where we needed to transfer trains.  Paul followed the app, and we followed Paul, right out through the no-return turnstile.

Immediately Paul stopped.

“Oops,” he said.

Paul turned around and swiped his card (which is a monthly, and allowed unlimited subway rides for himself) through the turnstile and walked through.  “We wanted to transfer trains at the next stop, not here.  We have to get back on the train,” he said.

Kenny and I looked at the turnstile.

“C’mon,” said Paul, “Just hop over it.”

Okay, I thought.  Paul is a native New Yorker.  He’s middle-aged.  Hell, Kenny and I are approaching middle-age.  It must be allowed to hop the turnstile if you made an honest mistake?

Kenny hopped over.  I hopped over.  Hey, I thought, that was fun.  It was like being in a movie about New York.  Warriors, come out to plaaaaaaaaaaaaAAAaaaaaaAAAAy!

An artist's recreation. I looked THIS AWESOME while hopping the turnstile, too.

So we stood on the platform waiting for our train for a minute, chatting.  Then a young dude in a zip hoodie, jeans, backpack and sneakers comes up to us.  Crap, I thought.  This dude doesn’t just want to ask the time.

He unzipped his hoodie, exposing a badge.  “Any particular reason you hopped the turnstile?”  He paused, and looked at Kenny and I expectantly.  We pivoted on our heels, and stared at Paul.  Maybe there was a reason?  Maybe there was a correct answer to the question?  Maybe everyone was about to laugh in unison, and we’d get a pat on our heads and our hair tussled and a stern remonstration to be better next time?

Paul explained our situation.  We were from out of town, he told us to do it, we had just walked out of the turnstile by accident, we had already paid before, but look, he was willing to swipe us in again if the cop wanted us to?  Kenny and I pivoted back to the police officer.  Surely this reasonable explanation would work.

“That’s not how it works, sir.”  Crap.

We were herded over to a bench, and the cop took our licenses.  Louisiana and Pennsylvania.  Huh.  Well, it looks like the out of state thing checks out.

The cop was new to the job.  Young enough to have the pubic-hair mustache that presages a real soup-strainer.  Young enough to need to call in his partner on this big-time case, the Case of the Two Out-of-Town Scofflaws.  “Frenchy!” he yelled.



Frenchy was not evident.  Across the subway tracks there was a toddler with special needs (not a judgment, an observation – or else New Yorkers strap helmets to their toddlers at all times, not just riding bicycles), who picked up the call.  “FRENCHY!  FRENCHY!  FRENCHY!  FRENCHY!” she called, her voice echoing off the walls.

Stymied by the lack of Frenchy, Bad-Moustache cop laboriously filled out our tickets on his own.  About ten minutes into the ordeal (with Paul standing off to one side, getting angrier and angrier, non-verbally playing “impatient” so well that if this was Charades, and not Unnecessary Police Action, Kenny and I would have both yelled out “Impatient!” at the same time, two second into the performance), Bad-Moustache’s OTHER partner, Not-Frenchy walked up.

Not-Frenchy was immediately accosted by Bad-Moustache.  “Where’s Frenchy?” B-M asked N-F.  “I don’t know,” said N-F.  “FRENCHY FRENCHY FRENCHY!” went the small helmeted child.

About this time, the coffee (which had been the second twenty ouncer of the day) kicked in.  I needed to hit a restroom.  And while peeing people are invisible to New Yorkers, I didn’t want to test that theory on New York cops.  Somehow I don’t think it would work.

I crossed my legs instead.

Ten more minutes passed.  Paul took off and put on his glasses about a hundred times, crossing and uncrossing his arms.  I kept my legs crossed, but pressed harder.  The cops checked to see if Kenny had a warrant out.  Then B-M turned to me.

I don’t have any warrants out, but I do have one hell of a last name, and every second counted in the battle between my bladder and my force of will.  I desperately wished for B-M to not to start to (laboriously) radio in my last name, phonetic alphabet character by phonetic alphabet character.

B-M looked at me, and asked, “How much do you weigh?”

“What?” I said.

B-M repeated himself, robotically.  “How much do you weigh?”  I looked at Kenny and Paul.  They were looking at me.  Both also seemed nonplussed.

“Uh… 190?” I said.

“Huh.”  B-M returned to his paperwork.  Five minutes later we had our tickets.**

Paul took the tickets from Kenny and I.  Coffee, subway ride, subway tickets.  Paul is awesome.  But don’t trust him on which laws are okay to break in NYC.

We got back onto the subway – without swiping through!  Hah, our turnstile hopping had worked – it just took us forty minutes longer and cost about fifty times as much!  Whee!

On the car, I seriously considering opening the doors and letting loose.  But I saw some young dudes with hoodies and bad moustaches.  And I figured Paul wouldn’t handle that one.

The confrontation with the cop that somehow took forty minutes to write two tickets had angered Paul, and we angrily departed the subway.  Too angrily, it turns out, because we were off a stop early.  When I had exited the restaurant that I had taken my pit-stop in (after rattling the doorknob about three or four times on a girl who was dropping a deuce – sorry!), Paul was swearing at his phone.

We were two miles from Kenny’s apartment.  The time was 12:45.  Kenny’s landlord could only meet us from noon-1, then she had an appointment to get to.  The whole point of the trip was getting screwed over, Kenny wouldn’t be able to find anywhere to live, he would have to go back to Louisiana, jobless and despondent, and probably a wanted criminal scofflaw.

I was up for running there, arriving sweaty and disheveled, a bit wild-eyed and probably late (counting the fact that Kenny and Paul smoke, and nobody was wearing running shoes).  That would definitely get Kenny the place.

Paul, instead, stuck his head inside an unmarked black Lincoln towncar.

“Hey,” he said to the driver, who was eating a sandwich, “You working?”

Oh crap, I thought, we’re breaking more laws.

“Where you want to go, man?” came the Jamaican (not New York Jamaica, the real Jamaica) tinged response.

“Clinton Hill.”

“Alright, I’ll take you there.  Ten bucks?”


Paul opened the back door and gestured Kenny and I inside.  We entered the unmarked civilian vehicle, and proceeded forward to the apartment.  When we got there, Paul handed the guy a ten.  (Coffee, subway, subway tickets, illegal gypsy-cab ride, and later he bought lunch.  Paul is awesome.)

“Can I get a recipe?” he asked.

The Jamaican cab(?) driver looked at him cross-eyed.  “No, man.  Machine is broken.”

We arrived on the doorstep at 12:55.  Kenny got the place.  We took the subway back without incident.

So, moral of the story: (so it can be an allegorical parable, or whatever I promised) If you go to NYC, ride the subway, it’s fun, entertaining and educational.  But don’t expect to break minor laws and get away with it.

Bad-Moustache is on the patrol.  But Frenchy’s whereabouts are unknown.

*1. Black.  2. F$ck you.

**$100.  Each.  Somehow I think the tickets fund the city just a… bit?  Oh well, it’s a tax on scofflaws.  And honest people who just made a mistake, of course.  Like me.


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