So I had a job interview this week in Manhattan. I could hardly sleep the night before, and my heart was pounding with excitement as I got ready. Not because of the interview: I’m used to talking about who I am and what I do. My anticipation and nervousness stemmed from the most physically taxing and intellectually challenging event of the day: Navigating the NYC subway system by myself. For the first time, ever.
You’d think after three years of dating/being engaged to a man who lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (and making a trip to see him 1-2 times every month), that I’d be pretty independent about getting around New York. You would be wrong. A Bronx native, Curtis has always navigated the subway for us, and I trail along clutching his hand and admiring the fabulous shoes everyone is wearing. In retrospect, probably not the most conscientious approach to acclimating oneself to a new environment.
Anxious to experience a rush-hour commute in New York (that sentiment alone exposing me as a pathetic Floridian), I got ready in fifteen minutes and then realized I forgot to set up the coffee pot the night before. Interview minus caffeine equals FAIL. I briefly contemplated my options, and realized I could simply walk across the street and buy a cup. Yes, in New York I could obtain a hot beverage of my choice and commute to work WITHOUT EVER GETTING IN MY CAR. This was the good life, no?
The coffee shop nearest to my husband’s apartment–our apartment now, I must keep reminding myself–was just a block away. Nearly a dozen hipsters in $70 vintage tee-shirts lounged inside, furiously typing on their MacBooks and chatting animatedly amongst themselves. (Seriously, at 8 a.m.? Why are you not either at work or in bed? This neighborhood is soooo weird.) I reluctantly forked over $1.50 for a ten ounce cup of plain black joe, focusing on the fact that I had in fact obtained caffeine just steps from my doorway without getting in a car. I had my coffee and my MetroCard, and was headed into the big city for work. All by myself! I felt simultaneously like a cool grown-up city girl and a huge dork for thinking that walking unassisted into a subway station gave me any type of street cred.
The L train was standing-room-only until we hit Union Square, at which point I could have theoretically relaxed and applied make-up or filed my nails or done any of the other things one really shouldn’t attempt while commuting in a motor vehicle. Ooh, I bet I could read the Bible on the train instead of getting up early to do so at home! Experiencing quiet time with God while hurtling 30 miles an hour under the largest city in the United States–those two goals aren’t mutually exclusive, right?
I had pictured important, glamorous women in Manolos giving million dollar directives on their Blackberries, shoving me out of the way as I squinted hopelessly at the tiny subway wall map. Reality check: you can’t get cell phone reception underground and high-powered business people apparently have drivers or take cabs. Therefore, my train-mates were pretty average looking. I was actually hoping that most of the passengers WEREN’T going to work, or were employed at a chicken slaughterhouse, given the professionalism of their dress. Where exactly is one going before 9 a.m. while dressed in ratty sweatpants and a stained wife beater?
I switched trains with no problem (effectively doubling my supercool status) and arrived in TriBeCa with a half hour to spare. Having lived in Washington D.C. (but sadly forced to drive to a metro-unaccessible school everyday), I remembered the visually offensive yet practical habits of female government employees who wore white slouch socks and tennis shoes with their drab and ill-fitting calf-length business skirt suits. Armed with this bit of city-savvyness, I had the forethought to wear comfortable flat sandals and carry stilettos in my bag so I could walk without pain, and I traversed the local streets for awhile to take in the sights. A few benches were placed near the river so I sat for awhile and read the (free!) newspaper I had cleverly picked up outside the train station. Hey, a coupon for a complimentary burrito at Moe’s on 1st Avenue! I had no idea where that was! But I was ripping it out because Curtis and I were totally getting a free burrito! Train expertness, flat shoes, city newspaper, AND coupon for free food? Clearly I had all the makings of a local now.
The job interview, aka The Real Purpose of My Train Ride, went just as well as the commute. Disclosing employment hunt details on the internetz is of no real benefit to either me or my potential employers, so I’ll keep that part private. But of course, I’ll tell you about the company/organization/school that I eventually choose a position with, in my typical guarded and non-derogatory way.
(A lot of people have asked how I’ve managed to maintain such a personal online presence for so many years without jeopardizing my employment or ending up on Hard Copy. The answer: Complain globally, praise locally. Assume that everything I post is currently being read or will one day be read by students, co-workers, superintendents and future bosses, law enforcement, the president, and my mother. I never write a critical or unkind word about anyone I work with or work for, and take great caution not to write anything that compromises someone’s privacy or dignity, especially that of a child.)
My own dignity, however, is always fair game, so I’m only moderately embarrassed to tell you that the train ride home was unfortunately less smooth than my initial outing. Not realizing that 6th Avenue was on the L line and not the 2 line and I should therefore have been looking for 14th Street, I saw the street numbers getting larger and feared I had missed my connection. I hopped off the train at 28th Street, where it was impossible to get to the other side of the tracks without exiting and paying another two bucks to come back in. So, I had to admit my cluelessness to a real New Yorker, who advised me to wait for the next 2 train, take it all the way to 42nd Street, and then cross over to go back downtown.
Without coffee or a newspaper to make me look inconspicuous, I had to stand there on the platform nervously twirling my hair and re-adjusting my purse strap (why didn’t I wear something with pockets?) while waiting for the train that followed the one I just got off. When I finally arrived at 14th Street, the L train was running late. So I had to wait ten minutes and then I got on and the conductor said she was skipping stops to make up for the lateness and I had to get off and wait seven more minutes for the next train and then a crazy man shook his fists and SCREAMED at me and another lady for having our legs crossed while we sat because he “couldn’t get by” even though the car was basically empty but then the woman ten seats down smiled and said “Only in New York!” and complimented me repeatedly on my sandals, which was flattering, and I finally got to my stop and I went up the wrong stairwell at the station and ended up 2 blocks away from where I wanted to be and Curtis had to come downstairs and let me in because it takes 5 separate keys to get into the building/apartment and I can never remember which key is which so I just left them all at home and called him when I was standing outside.
So that was a little less glamorous than I had envisioned.
Still, I am now an Experienced Solo Subway Rider so I will have no problem getting to the two interviews I have in Manhattan on Monday. I will set up the coffee pot the night before and save $1.50. I will carry a map and not worry about looking like a loser. I will ask questions from fellow passengers rather than get off at a random stop and hope it was the right thing to do.
These will all be good practices to incorporate. Because in ten days, I have a Round Three Final Hiring Interview at another company’s headquarters in Philadelphia. They’ve booked a train ticket for me from Penn Station to Philly…and I’ve never ridden on Amtrak by myself.
Founder and Writer
If you are a teacher who is interested in contributing to the Truth for Teachers website, please click here for more information.