Cooper Chronicles: I.15

(An ongoing series for the month of January, these are letters written to my family and friends during my college years in New York, when I discovered my love of writing.  Introduction here.)

“one thing i’ve learned today:” says the girl standing in front of me.  “chivalry is dead.  stone dead.”

we all giggle.  “are you sure you don’t want to sit down?”  i point to a slightly non-occupied spot next to me on the floor.  “no, thanks,” she says. “i’ve been sitting just like that for the past six hours.”

it’s the day before the day before Thanksgiving, and the Northwest Express train from NYC to Baltimore is beyond crowded.  we’re in there like a can of very claustrophobic sardines. 

now that the uncertainty of finding a seat is past, i begin to look around; there are about 15 of us, mostly students, clustered into a space meant for a few suitcases.  the girl next to me, a law student at Fordham, was the first to sit down.  i asked gingerly if there was anyone sitting next to her.  after that, i could hear everyone else thinking, “hey, great idea” — and down they plopped.  someone is playing music.  the few that know each other are talking quietly.

i suddenly wonder how bad of a fire hazard this must be, and i ask the Fordham girl what she thinks.  “i don’t want to think about that,” says a girl across from me.  a boy who was lucky enough to get a *real* seat starts talking about an Amtrak crash, and there is a general groan.  “well,” i venture, “maybe if it’s our time to go … “

“at least we’ll all die together,” the girl to my left says melodramatically.  she is blonde, with a backpack that could fit several small children inside. 

“i can’t believe we’re paying to do this,” says the corporate man, who’s taken up residence in the bathroom and seems to be enjoying it.  “cattle do this shit for free.” 

“hey, don’t get too comfortable in there!” someone calls to him, as he puts his briefcase down and hangs up his coat.  we begin to cast sidelong, amused glances at each other.  then a boy sitting next to the bathroom door reaches out and gently closes it.  “i think i’ll give him some privacy,” he deadpans. “he’s got a lot on his mind.”

the car has started to move, finally, and people are beginning to filter through the tangle of bodies in search of a soda from the snack bar.  “nothin’ like takin’ a walk at a time like this,” grumbles a man who has set up his laptop in the exact center of the aisle, but seems to think he has the right- of-way.  there is a series of suppressed smiles.  now the two boys who have seats are talking about driving.  “my dad won’t let me drive anymore.  last time i was home, i totaled his car.  and it wasn’t even my fault!”  complains one.  the other mocks him: “yeah — officer, the stop sign was *definitely* not there before.”

we’ve stopped, and one girl gets out.  “looks like it’s emptying out back there,” says Bathroom Man hopefully.  “oh, it’s quite roomy,” i assure him.  more giggling.

Bathroom Man’s companion, another uptown-type who looked in horror at the slightly-less-than- pristine floor before sitting down disgustedly, is getting restless.  she begins to drop names of major european cities and events in hopes that she can at least see some people get jealous.  “Oh, you think *this* is bad.  you should have seen the train from amsterdam to paris on Bastille Day, 1989. *that* was absolutely awful.” 

it doesn’t work.  we could care less.  she tries celebrity- dropping: “are you getting kate for the part?” she says to her restroom friend, who seems to be some sort of agent.  he’s reading a script.  “or meg?  i keep forgetting.” 

a sense of camaraderie builds among the floor crowd as we begin to chat about college, visiting home, our majors, and how we like the city.  there are connections everywhere; one girl was friends with another girl’s current roommate, another knows one boy’s childhood sweetheart.  i meet another art student from cooper, a transfer that i *knew* i had seen somewhere before.  

Name-Dropper returns from the snack bar with news: “um, you guys… there’s a bunch of seats in the car behind us.  rows and rows.”

we look at each other, calculating.  slowly, we all shake heads.  “naaaah.”

“i think they’re bonding,” says Bathroom Man.  we hardly hear him.  we’re having too much fun being silly to care.

this was my train ride home on the day before the day before Thanksgiving.  it was a last-minute decision to leave on tuesday night; taking a friend’s advice, i had decided to miss both of my wednesday classes so i could leave early to catch the train.  the thought of traveling the day before thanksgiving struck fear into my heart, but it wasn’t until class that i realized i could leave *tonight* during a lecture on the painter Tintoretto.  my fingers drummed impatiently on the desk; i lost interest in the discussion; i began to look longingly at the door, itching to jump up and run out.  as soon as class was over, i raced home, threw some things into a bag (without really paying attention — i came home with one pair of socks and three toothbrushes.) and, after a futile attempt to reach Amtrak by phone, i decided to take my chances with going to the station uninformed.

i caught the NR train to Penn Station (does EVERY major city in the US have a Penn Station, or just the my two hometowns?) and, after asking several people for directions, made it to the Amtrak terminal.  the ticket line was depressingly long, so i bought mine via one of those new- fangled machines that you pay for by credit card.

i didn’t tell my parents i was coming until i was 30 minutes from the station, thinking i would enjoy the shock value.  and i *did.*

well, i don’t have much to say about life in new york, considering i barely spent two days there this week … i go back on tuesday, for three weeks of *extreme* crunch before the end of the semester.  (did someone let december in while i wasn’t looking?  i can’t believe how close i am to being halfway through my freshman year!)  i will work hard.  i will work hard.  i will work hard.