A dose of insomnia had me watching a late night movie the other night that contained scenes of New York’s subway. A flood of memories came rushing back to me. I’ve only experienced the subway system once in my life but oh what an experience it was!
From 1982 through 1985 my husband and I lived in New Jersey. An old friend from St. Louis, whose nickname is St. Lou Sue, came to visit shortly after we moved in. Last month I introduced you to Sue Lou, but in case you missed that article ~ we’d worked as travel agents together for several years in Missouri. We’d also taken trips together and our sojourns always involved an adventure ~ but nothing like our journey into The Big Apple. Hubby was apprehensive about letting us go on our own, knowing our travel history. But he finally agreed to us venturing out while he stayed home and baby-sat 2-year old Bratley. (That is not a typo.)
Our house was in Ridgewood, NJ which was a charming little township some 45 minutes from New York. There was a train station right there which took us to Hoboken. From Hoboken we caught the subway into the city. People were packed in with standing room only. And there was a dank, yeasty odor that permeated the air. (We decided we’d become part of a ‘subway sandwich.’ Sorry.) We clung on to overhead straps as the tram jerked and rumbled through dimly lit tunnels and wound its way around underground.
Arriving in Manhattan, none the worse for the wear, we darted through the open door and climbed our way into daylight. We hailed a cab and much to our chagrin it whizzed past us. That was the scenario until finally one we yelled at stopped. The cabby was a seedy looking dude but very chatty. So we told him how this was our first time to see his town and instructed him to take us to the Empire State Building. Foolishly, we began carrying on about the reputation of N.Y. cabbies. I guess we weren’t as funny as we thought we were. Guess we got on the driver’s nerves as he abruptly stopped the cab some blocks short of our destination. Sneering, he turned his head toward the back seat and barked, “Get out!” Then he snatched the money from our hands and sped away without even counting it.
With our mouths opened in protest we were dumped in the midst of towering buildings, fancy shops, street vendors, throngs of people, and hordes of pigeons. We hiked to the Empire State Building, stopped to shop in some exclusive boutiques (didn’t buy a thing) and lunched on the fare offered from the carts on every street corner. The whole aura of where we were was exciting and included a stroll in Central Park. We encountered a mime, some folks smoking pot, a couple of strolling minstrels and some mighty peculiar looking people who we avoided along our path. (Oh yeah, and there were scads more pigeons, one of which made a deposit on Sue Lou’s arm.)
After consulting our map and schedule for the subway to take us back to Hoboken we had just enough time to wander through Macy’s. We were about to push the door open to head downstairs when an alarm went off and the doors automatically locked. A security guard told us we’d have to wait until the police arrived as there was a shoplifter in the store. St. Lou Sue let out a big sigh and shook her head. “Why is it this kind of stuff always happens to us?” I told her it was because she was bad luck.
We had no choice but to wait it out, hoping we wouldn’t miss our ride. We were whipped and ready to go home. There was a well-groomed mannequin poised on a platform near the front doors we desperately wanted to use for our escape. So we sat our weary butts down beneath it. Hands under our chins and elbows on our knees we watched the action. Police arrived and handcuffed the culprit. She was the epitome of a bag lady…some poor, old, grubby gal with frizzy gray hair and a tattered dress. I remember she was wearing nasty bedroom slippers to complete her attire. She did not go quietly and created much ado before the cops took her away.
After an eternity of Sue Lou checking her watch the doors finally unlatched and we were set free. We scurried down the nearest stairs in search of the next subway headed our way. Both of us were totally confused and stressed. Sue Lou said, “Okay. We need to get a grip and decipher this subway schedule.” Easy to say but not so easy to do. In our case two heads were no better than one and we stood there dumbfounded. Now what?
I spied three men a short distance from us so I decided to ask one for directions. Two of the guys had their backs to me and were talking to a third man. So I tapped one of them on the shoulder. He ignored me at first, but I was persistent. He whirled around to face me with a gun in one hand and hand cuffs in the other! He said, “I’m a detective and we’re in the middle of a drug bust here. Get the hell away from me.” St. Lou Sue was in earshot and the color drained out of her face. I stood there frozen in place mouth agape. Sue Lou gingerly approached and grabbed my arm, pulling me back from the men.
The detective had a guy pinned up against the wall in front of him and the third man was wielding a gun also. Sue Lou said, “Of course, Stroup. This would only happen to you!”
The surreal encounter left us wide-eyed and shaking in our boots. The stress and confusion we’d felt before escalated into sheer panic. How we found the right subway car or how we made the transfer in Hoboken…I haven’t a clue. I do recall Ken was waiting to pick us up at the Ridgewood train station and we couldn’t get in the car fast enough.
“You two are really late getting back. What kept you?” he asked in a worried tone. “And how was your trip into the Big Apple? Did you have fun?”
I started out by saying, “You’re simply not going to believe what happened!”
And why should he? St. Lou Sue and I still reminisce about that episode in our lives and we don’t even believe it!