Subways, I love them. The door to the carriage opens, it closes, and your two or five or 15 minutes of silent intimacy with people you’ve never met begins. Like unacquainted sardines. Like a colony of seals piled upon each other in stoic orgy.
We’re rich, we’re poor; black and white; Chavistas and Chavez-haters; young and old; enamored and broken-hearted. And, we are two inches from each other, probably less.
Eyes dart, eyes seduce, eyes avert. Eyes are everything on the subway. And we use them to observe each other in a way that, above ground, is reserved strictly for lovers. Lovers lying in bed, noting every candle-lit feature, flaw, and scar of their partners.
On the subway these intimate observations tell stories. The rushed and jagged application of eyeliner. The red blotch around the freshly popped pimple, the wonder-bra’d cleavage and extra spray of perfume.
It’s all two inches from my face: the possessive grip of the teenage boy’s hand around his girlfriend’s shoulder, the dilated eyes of the gothic druggie, the furrowed brow of the young man reading Bob Marley lyrics while listening to his mp3 player.
When I was a kid, every time I rode on any vehicle of transportation – be it bus, ferry, airplane, what have you – I would always have Lord of the Flies-like daydreams. What would happen if this particular group of strangers all got stranded somewhere? And I’d spend hours inventing my own Gilligan’s Island script. Clearly, I’m not alone. It’s the basis of every reality TV show that has ever existed.
About four feet from me is a teenage girl who keeps staring. Her eyes dart away every time I look over. I can see the blackheads in the ear of the guy pressed up against me. Directly in front of me, seated, an elderly woman’s forehead is about six inches from my belt buckle. She is staring at my sandals as if they were a sudoku puzzle she’s been working on for days.
“Estación Chacao” says the pre-recorded voice. The brakes screech to a halt, the doors sigh open, and I depart. Those former lovers with whom I had been lying in bed are again strangers. They will mug me in the street and they will help me when I ask for directions. They will give me the bird when I cut them off on the highway and I will do the same when they cut me off.
Walking out of the station, my eyes adjust to the bright sunlight. A layer of fog is draped over El Ávila. And I’m already thinking of all I need to do.
Ha, you need to get crafty with the red-eye remover in iPhoto – Abo’s lazer eyes definitely do look deadly.
I enjoyed reading this!
Great photo essay/poem. It’s interesting how similar all subways seem to be; looking at the pictures alone, I have no idea where this is. The people, the trains, the smells, all the same. It’s a nice thought.
Ah, man yeah. Don’t I know it. I’ve got so many stories of the subways. You bring me back, hermano. I’ve seen fights go down, every type of instrument played, men get sick, saw my first dead person on the subway. Passed out, woke up, got lost, got frisked on the subway. Man I miss the place.
This was great..best description I have encountered of the Subway “life”. Was that a DHL guy in the last picture ? jaja
I wholeheartedly agree… what goes untold in the subway will always be the most intriguing part of the journey…
I sometimes can’t bear the silence, yet I’m afraid of breaking it.
//Fixed the nameservers for my blog, so it now shows up properly. 😀
Thanks for letting me know, Oso.
I think you’ve captured in this entry the reason I love my subway trips to school. The other week as I got off the commuterrail train and walked into South Station, I immediately began observing the people around me and as I descended into the subway, I couldn’t help feeling that the day was filled with so much possibility. Something I rarely feel when in the suburbs. I felt excited by the diversity I saw all around me, and especially by the hundreds of stories that were unfolding in front of me. Great post, Oso. 🙂
A long run seems to be the only thing to come close to the level of epic daydream I would achieve on the train commute. I miss that daily meditation.
I stand corrected. Thanks Chris.
However, there are still signs up in the subway stations and cars saying that photography is not permitted. And I don’t want my students to get in a civil rights fight just to fulfill a requirement for my class.
You make it sound so romantic. I hate being that close to any group of strangers, it makes me feel like I’m gonna be violated rather than share an amorous evening.
nice post oso. its beautifully written, and very romantic but i doubt i can every feel this way about public transportation. or being compressed in any space with strangers.
Very romantic indeed and very well written. Like Irasali and Cindylu I dislike being cramped in tight areas with complete strangers. But I guess from your posting we learn that we’re all in the same boat or should I say subway?
I didn’t intend for the tone of the post to come off as “romantic.” More like eeriness. Eeriness that a species that does itself so much harm above-ground can survive such intense proximity below-ground.
Yes, I agree, from photos and faces, all metros look alike. But each city’s subway has its own peculiar customs and ethics and mores. (Which is why Xolo’s class would be so interesting) Americans are steadfast in their requirement of personal space and would never allow four bodies to be pushed against them an entire subway ride. For Venezuelans, it appears to be just part of going to work. I could write pages about the unique behavioral code of Tokyo’s metro. And, in fact, that was one of my never-to-take-form ideas: an artsy fartsy coffee table book with photographs and meditations on all the world’s major metro lines. Someone should do it.
Actually, I was speaking of New York City. If you travel during rush hours (am or pm), on certain lines, you do have to get used to being crammed from every side, nose to armpit, mired in an unmoving wall of hot air and odor. It’s definitely the closest I’ve ever gotten to people apart from live music venues.
Que fotos mas chingonas! Ya hace mucho no me subo al metor. La ultima vez fue en NYC.
Nezua Limón Quintolajala-Jonez,
I clearly need to spend more time in NYC and on more subway lines. I didn’t know it could get like that … and I still have my doubts that it can get as violently crowded as here in Caracas, but I promise to do some more metro research.
well, i would never try to compare….because i just don’t know your end of it! but i was a great lover of the subways in new york. and sometimes i miss her in the same way. well, almost. i mean, don’t be gross.