Thursday, November 6, 2008

With Help From My Little Friends

I’m on to you closet subway map-readers and so are my school children.

It dawned on me one day as I was riding on the number 2 subway train that I was a bit reluctant to perform a surreptitious quarter-head turn and check the glass-enclosed map to see if the train I was riding on would stop where I intended to go. I have never seen a veteran subway rider check a subway map; I have only witnessed obvious tourists gawking at a map in public view.

I notice onlookers with their faces crinkled and eyes rolling up displaying a message, “Sheesh, tourists, they’re so obvious.” But when I catch the eye of children riders, I inevitably see them with a look that says, “Hey, I can help you, I ride this train all the time.” That’s one of the beautiful characteristics of a child - no hang-ups, no pretense, always a willingness to engage, help, or interact unconditionally.

I know you’re out there – those long-time riders who study the map at home, never in public view. It stands to reason that if you have to travel to Sutfin Boulevard in Queens from school, you have to use a map to navigate the G, to the A, to the J; heaven forbid you should look at a map along the way to check your progress. If you were a child (with parent in tow), you would just get to a subway, get on the train in the right direction, and then navigate to your destination using maps along the way. Why not?

To prove my point, the other day I saw what looked to be a 20 year resident of the City (I could just tell) saunter past a map – back and forth, back and forth – in the station catching glimpses of the map. After three passes by the map, he still looked perplexed. A nearby eight year old said, “Need help, sir?” He looked at the child, curled his lip in a way that said, “I know New York and I don’t need help using the subway.” I was proud of my little friend when she offered advice, saying “Be careful ‘cause even though this is a local Six track, the Two stops here on weekends while repairs are being made.” I could see the look of relief on the traveler’s face while he mumbled a reluctant “Thang ew.”

I wanted to give my little friend a “High Five” but thought better of it. Anyway, I couldn’t because I was fumbling with my overused subway map, trying to figure out if I was even at the right station!

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