30/30 – 25 | Thursday

Thursday

Gerri is unusually content for a Thursday. Normally Thursdays are her drudgery days. Her oh thank heaven tomorrow is Friday, I don’t think I can take it anymore day. She was about to stand in her usual spot  on the train, when she spots it; spots the anomaly.

The train is reasonably crowded, a couple standers, and ninety-five percent of the seats filled.

Ninety-five percent.

Yet , way off on the end she sees a whole row of three-seaters with only one person sitting in any of them.  He did not look homeless. There was no smell, no puddles. No, it can’t be, an empty seat?

Really?

Really!

A high-schooler takes one of the seats and she quickly takes the other. There is no jockeying for space. Everyone is comfortable, Wow! It even smells, well, clean.  It was not some chemical cleaner to the hilt, not someone drowning in a perfume, just a pleasant neutral clean scent.

The water sparkles beyond the trusses and lanes of the bridge.  The views of this side of downtown, as the train ascends from one tunnel, then the river and then the side of downtown before descending into the next tunnel are unusually breathtaking. The streets shine in the morning sun, drying from the recent rain. The river sparkles, sunlight dancing in myriad prisms on the waves.  She couldn’t remember the last time everything looked so lovely. Then again, Gerri couldn’t remember the last time she looked through the window to really notice.

The next station had a ton of people waiting on the platform for the train. Oddly enough, they were all waiting for the local train and she was on the express, where only a few people get on.

A young couple, disgustingly in love, sat across from her.  Were Gerri encased in flames while pirouetting, they would not have noticed.  All they had eyes for were each other and for once of their lip-locking did not want to make her roll her eyes. However, the old man standing by the door with his arm up to his elbow picking his nose did make her happy her station was next.

As she’s leaving Gerri notices a young cutie entering the train.  He’s so busy staring at her, his foot hit the small gap between the train and the platform causing him to stumble into the train. It takes everything she has not to look back as those on the train respond to him.

If you have to be temporarily encased in a steel coffin several days it’s nice to walk away smiling from it for once she thinks, grinning as she walks away.

I’d like to teach the world to sing… the B-52’s?

It started out as a typical weekday morning on the subway coming to work. Me, I’m sitting looking all pretty, yet professional, listening to my iPod as I wait for my station to come up. I have various playlist to match my various music moods. The list for this morning was “Move” as in over 200 songs that make me want to get up and boogie. Since I am on a subway in the middle of rush hour, I manage to restrain the urge to dance down to simple head nods and toe taps as I ride to work.

For those unfamiliar with mass transit subways let me give you a short synopsis of the phenomenon of riding in a subway car during rush hour. Think of nearly 200 people, that you don’t know and thus barely acknowledge, in a crowded space. You mostly ignore the existence all the others around you. Some do it by reading, others by snoozing, others still by listening to music and/or any combination thereof. Other than the collective moans and groans that arise when a train is delayed for whatever reason, unless you are with friends to speak with, there is very little interaction between people on a train. Eye contact on a subway is limited to ensuring you’re not walking into someone, or as a quick form of apology if you accidentally make physical contact with someone. Because even if you take the same train at the same time every day for years, there are maybe only a handful of people you will see on a regular basis enough to recognize them on sight. Even then, the most you may do to acknowledge them is a head nod before closing in on the microcosm of your own personal space again. Now, times that one subway car by the average ten cars that comprises each train. Next, times that by the hundred or so trains, which run during the core span, that is the morning rush hour (roughly 5am to 9am). There are other nuances involved, but welcome to my Monday through Friday. Now you’ll have a better understanding of why the following is of note.

I should note that at this point the train is two-thirds empty, as the majority of passengers have exited at the many stations that come before mine. It’s so empty, I can easily count exactly how many people are in the car. Expert commuters know exactly where to stand on the platform and on the train itself for optimal movement, when entering and exiting a train and I am no exception. As the station where I disembark approaches, I rise. I am not thinking much of it as I half walk, half dance my way to the door that I will need to exit.

I didn’t know I was singing out loud (loud enough to be heard well anyway), until I realized someone has joined in on the song at exactly the right part. Remember, I have on my ear buds. I do not blast my music, so there is no way he can hear the song except by standing next to me and hearing snatches of my singing. I looked to my left and a male, not listening to his own music, is nodding his head in a teasing way to mine as again he comes in right on time with his line of the song telling me to knock a little louder baby (I’m guessing some of you, knowing the song, are smiling right now). So, what’s a girl to do? I comply along with him and the song. He is definitely singing with me, and to make things even more spontaneous and amusing, a woman sitting by the door joins to match my part. In the spirit of the more the merrier, by the time the train reaches the station there are five of us dancing, laughing and belting out the ending parts of the B-52’s Love Shack. Dare I add, much to the horror/amusement of the three other people in the car with us? Hell, they probably thought we were a mini flash mob. It was perfect timing as two of us (the guy who initially joined in and I), left the train just as the song ended, waving our byes to the others and then ourselves as we went our separate ways.

You gotta love the power of a good, upbeat (and wacky), song to break even the most steadfast of nonchalant commuters out of their shells on occasion.

You’re WHAT?!

The Chick In Paris – Part IV – Fini

Bon soir!

In Part I of my post on Paris I spoke a little about the people, Part Deux covered food and in Part III – the Sites. This is a little of everything else and a wrap up.

The City that Never Sleeps versus The City of Lights

Advice for getting around Paris for the first timers (especially us New Yorkers).

Subways

Not all train doors open automatically. Depending on the subway line, you may need to push a button on the door to exit or even enter the train car.

If on the RER (commuter line equivalent to NYC’s Metro North or LIRR), go topside in the morning to be a little warmer on a cool weather. If the weather is warmer, ride in the lower level, especially in the afternoon. Because hot air does what…?– rise. The top section warms up considerably on a sunny day in warmer weather. Unless you are right by an open window capturing a breeze, it can become unbearable even with air conditioning.

Oh, and you know that nasty little habit some of us have of holding subway doors open to wait for someone? Yeah, that nonsense is not going to work in Paris – because you cannot hold open those doors for anyone. My friends and I learned this the hard way when we were separated on the way back to our hotel after a day of site seeing. Their subway doors do not bounce open at the least little resistance the way ours do. Trust me, when you feel the serious pressure of those doors closing on your hands, your body will protect itself and get the hell out of its way. That train needs to be at the next station by XYZ time and by golly it will be there! And speaking of on time…

Lastly, when the public announcement in the station states that a train is the last train for the night, they are not playing. They do not mean the last train will leave its start point at 1 AM. They mean the last train will arrive at its endpoint by that time. All passengers using the stations before that endpoint must adjust their time accordingly. At 12:50 AM we missed the train with that announcement. We were caught off guard to realize the next one was not until 5AM. They literally shut down the stations. Trains cars are emptied, gates are pulled closed and locked shut until 5 AM. What would have been a fifteen-minute ride on the subway, was now a long wait and a long ride on a crowded bus in the middle of the night that taught us not to let that happen again.

Buses

The cool thing about Parisian bus lines, similar to their subways, they have an automated system in place that informs passengers which bus is coming and how many minutes until it arrives. In the middle of the night that is very helpful. The bad thing is in the middle of night and the subways have just closed, it is the only means of mass transit. When the bus finally arrived, it was packed. It felt very much like rush hour at home. Unfortunately, very much like home, a woman risks that some ass wipe will take advantage of the situation. If you read Part I of my posts on Paris then you know about young American women as targets. This is the bus ride I spoke of then.

So why didn’t we take a taxi? Glad you asked. It is not as if we did not try to …

Taxis

It was our first night in Paris, after the non-stop plane ride and a day of running around, my right knee decided I had pushed it enough and had given out a good hour and a half before around 11:30. It was now one-something in morning and I was officially in pain. When we missed the train, it was partially because we were taking so much time for photos and partially because I could not move fast enough to catch it. It was a lovely night; I would I have happily agreed with the initial idea to walk home, were I not already limping in pain.

We spotted a taxi stand. Several people like us had missed the train and were waiting in front of us. Oddly enough though we saw empty taxis passing by, none were pulling up to pick up passengers. Naturally, being New Yorkers (with me trying hard to not lose it), split into teams and tried flagging cabs away from the stand and from across the street. We were attempting to flag down taxis for at least fifteen minutes when a taxi pulled up across the street from us to let a passenger out. One of us ran across, grabbed the door and tried to explain the situation (me). The driver refused to let us in explaining the rules. Taxi’s are only allowed to pick up passengers from designated stands. Those caught picking up passengers elsewhere risk such nasty fines that they do not take the chance. This at least explained why some passers-by (obviously locals), were looking at us as though we were crazy standing in the street trying to flag one down. I honestly cannot say if it was that we were obviously tourists, that there were nine us, because we were black or any combination there of, but no one was stopping. Only two people of the few in front of us were able to get rides. After another fifteen minutes or so of this, we gave up and got on the bus.

On the plus side, coming back from a dinner cruise, it was no more or less crazy/organized than some of our taxi stands here in NYC, but we were able to get taxis within a few minutes.

Note: If you call for a taxi service to meet you at a certain time, all in your party better be ready to leave at that designated time. A ride that should have cost less than ten Euros, cost us nearly triple the amount because of those who (granted unknowingly of the cost of waiting) dawdled. Their clock starts the moment you say be there in a minute. They will happily tell you it is not a problem. They do not tell you it is because they are going back to the taxi to start the clock and that you will literally pay for each minute idling away. Tourists – 0 / Taxis – 1.

Walking

Most of us living in a tourist city are very familiar with that annoying tourist with a map and a Duh, where do I go? Where do I go? expression, standing at the edge of curb, blocking the path to cross. It’s a very different thing when that tourist is you. Still, I was very conscious of not doing the things I have seen some tourists do that tend to annoy the locals. If I had to stop someone and ask for directions, I made sure I was not out of the flow of foot traffic and apologized profusely for any names of places I butchered in the process (ex. Pontoise is pronounced pon-TWA, not PON-toys).

We were brilliantly located in the Châtelet – Les Halles area of Paris on the East Bank of the Seine River. Châtelet – Les Halles and the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank are within walking distance of several major attractions and/or a quick train ride to most others. Like any metropolis, the key to walking around Paris is to stay with the general flow and watch the traffic lights. NYC has pedestrian crossing signals of a white walking figure for cross and a red hand for don’t walk. Paris has, what we dubbed Green Guy (walk) and Red Guy (don’t walk). Let me tell you when you see that Green Guy – you better hustle (no not the dance from the 70s). The lights change quickly in some areas and I do mean quickly. Luckily, they do have the countdown to let you know how many seconds you have before the light changes, so you know whether you have time to stroll or run to the other side before the cars come zooming.

Cars

Speaking of the cars, do not even think about jaywalking, especially in a heavy traffic area. They are tiny cars, but they move. When you have the light, they stop – completely, but when they have the light – they haul ass. Unless you are on a side street or at a turning corner, then it is different. It must be rendered a considerable lack of grace (or have one heck of a fine), to use your car horn in Paris. I saw one driver wait, what a New Yorker would consider, a ridiculous amount of time for pedestrians watching street performers to note he was there and move out of the way. The performers themselves finally saw the car and had to tell the people to move. So always check behind you; otherwise, you may be surprised how quickly and quietly a car can be up on you.

To paraphrase  Gump – and that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

Three weeks ago today (three weeks!), this chick landed in Paris and had a marvelous few days there. I may have spent the first night in pain and the last night fighting off a nasty cold, but everything in between was simply splendid! Met some wonderful people, ate some fabulous food, finally saw in person some places I once only dreamed of and learned even in a foreign country, if they have mass transit and I have the map, I can get around pretty damn well.  I have to say other than the history and architecture, it felt very much like home — just at a more relaxed pace.

Finally, let me send so much love and many, many, many thanks to Destinations by Danielle. D-Fab (the fabulous tour de force who organized this jaunt, one of my fellow travelers on this trip and a person I am happy to call friend), ma chérie, this first trip to Paris was magnifique. And I easily say the first because after this tiny but delectable taste of France, I know there are several more trips in my future. I’ll follow you anywhere my wallet will allow.

I loved visiting Paris and very much look forward to having another taste of it, but as the adage goes – there’s no place like home – and I am glad to be back.

Now to take most of what I’ve written in these four entries about Paris and post it to Trip Advisor. 😉

C’est fini!

Urban Haze

If only I could drive my car to work
I wouldn’t be caught in this urban haze.
The streets spots filled, the garages are packed
Garage is too expensive anyways.
Going home from work in a funky sweat,
Back of my throat like bottom of ashtrays.
The hour’s lucubration gone downhill,
Under the glare of my boss’ sharp gaze.
My corporate suit felt so good at work,
Now I’m out in midst of this darn blaze.
The walk’s a distance by foot to the train
And my suit is torture under these rays.
If only I could drive my car to work
I wouldn’t be caught in this urban haze.
Want to take off my jacket but I can’t,
Caught some strange guy checking me out slant ways.
Can feel my silk blouse sticking to my skin,
Yet I’m so not about to make his days
And see just how fitting my form can be,
But it’s worse in the sauna of subways.
For once again the AC’s not running.
This train’s the epitome of clichés.
Practice mental transference while I’m here,
To somewhere with pools and drinks and valets.
If only I could drive my car to work
I wouldn’t be caught in this urban haze.
All packed up on each other like sardines,
Is it the train or heat that’s causing sways?
Grateful that I’m finally at my stop,
Caught again in of those train delays.
At last! I am the phoenix bird rising,
From the deep pyre walking up the stairways.
Got the number for dinner on speed dial
The thought of cooking has me in a daze.
Little trooper I am I brave the heat,
But sometimes I swear I hate the weekdays.
If only I could drive my car to work
I wouldn’t be caught in this urban haze.

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Today’s form is a Raccontino.

The raccontino is an unlimited number of couplets, rhyming xb xb xb xb xb, etc. The syllable count is set in the first line and followed throughout the poem.

Entered in dVerse Poets Pub – Poetics: Subway