New York Life Lessons in 90 Minutes

MTA L train at Sixth Avenue station. (Courtesy:

MTA L train at Sixth Avenue station. (Courtesy:

New York life lessons. Let people off the subway before getting on. And use the restroom when it’s appropriately available to you.

Those are the keys to success.

I spent time in Union Square on Sunday, watching the Eagles game at a great spot, Bait and Hook. I recommend the crab and artichoke dip and the lobster macaroni and cheese. So decadent. Plus — apricot beer. Yum.

There was a line for the restroom as we were leaving, so I decided to wait until the next stop, Starbucks. Surely, Starbucks has an acceptable restroom, as well. But not only was the line for my coffee long, so was the line to the restroom.

“You know what,” I told my patient self, “my Williamsburg apartment is only a short 10-minute subway ride away. Six stops. I can wait.”

Famous last words.

I got down to the L platform. The the train was waiting for me, doors open. The subway gods were smiling at me. It meant I didn’t have to wait on the platform as the drummer and saxophonist loudly and annoyingly banged out their rendition of “This Christmas.” I could just hop in the subway car and ride away.

Or so I thought.

An announcement came on over the speakers.

Of course, I couldn’t hear it. All I could hear was “This Christmas.”

The announcement came on again. Then again. I noticed some people left the crowded subway cars for fresh air above ground. Hmm.

Finally, the amazing drumaxophone duo stopped their repetitive rendition of “This Christmas” (seriously, they played the same part of the same song for about five minutes) so all of us could hear the kindly announcement.

“There is a stalled L train in the subway tube. All trains are being held at the stations. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

OK. I guess that happens. Bright side: at least I wasn’t stuck on the stalled train under the East River. Hello, claustrophobia. But I still really needed to use the restroom.

I left my car and went to the crowd gathered around the train operator. Somehow, I pushed myself to the front and said, “Hey, I just want to get across the river.”

She repeated the same thing the overhead announcer said.

“Yes, I understand that,” I replied calmly. “But I’m just asking — how else can I get to the Grand Street subway stop?”

She just laughed and shook her head.

So did I.

Bonding with the train operator in that quick moment, I realized I was not getting home easily. I went above ground and hopped on a cross-town bus that took me to Eighth Avenue. My ingenious self, despite the distraction of my bladder, opened up an iPhone app and found a convoluted yet effective way to get back to my apartment.

I waited for the subway, fighting for a seat on a crowded bench at the station so I could cross my legs. Of the A, C and E lines, only the E would be ineffective. Surely, that’s the one that showed up first.

About five minutes later, the A showed up. All seats were taken, so I stood by the car’s doors as I traveled. My master plan was to take the A to Hoyt-Schermerhorn, transfer to the G, and end up reasonably close to my apartment.

As we were traveling to my destination, I saw this woman across from me stand up as we approached a station.

“Oh,” I think to myself, “let me step out of the doorway so she can step out.”

Little did I know at the time, that thought process saved me from being on the receiving end of some projectile vomit. She cupped her hands to her mouth, capturing most of what would’ve ended up on me in her hands. I immediately ran to the other side of the subway car to prevent another catastrophe, as my gag reflex is relatively weak.

I looked back as the train stopped. She was waiting patiently for the doors to open, hands still cupped at her mouth, and then ran out.

Finally, we arrive at Hoyt-Schermerhorn. I stole a spot on a crowded bench as I waited for my next train. To distract myself from the invisible weights pressing against my beer-and-coffee-filled bladder, I decided to think of all the ways to pronounce Schermerhorn.

Hello, G. The consistently unreliable train surprisingly arrived within 10 minutes.

I sat next to these two teenage guys standing with a little girl, who couldn’t have been more than 3. She was determined to show them, who paid her little attention, her amazing balancing skills. She consistently fell short of proving how she could withstand the unpredictable shifts of a subway train. In fact, when the train wasn’t moving at all, she was able to stumble violently throughout the subway car. I was often the pillow she used to soften the blow of collapse.

I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. It’s not like I direly had to use the restroom or anything.

I counted the eight stops to Metropolitan Avenue. One by one. I stared at the map on the car’s wall, saying the station names to myself with the countdown in my head. Finally, I had arrived.

Granted, instead of the nice Grand Street stop a half-block from my apartment, I was a good 10 to 15 minutes away from home. No way would my bladder cooperate with that stride.

I considered running. I considered Uber. I considered the wall of an apartment building.

Then, my hour-and-a-half commute to travel what’s normally six subway stops came full circle. I looked up to see the beautiful naked woman shrouded in green. I wound up outside Williamsburg’s Starbucks.

Many hounded the company for opening in the independently hipster community. I heralded it. And I will continue today.

I prepared my entrance. I pulled out my phone, pretending to text someone as if I were meeting them at Starbucks. I didn’t want the baristas to think I was just there to use the restroom. That’s rude and uncustomerly. And surely, seeing me on my phone would give them the specific impression that I was texting someone as if I were meeting them at Starbucks.

I approached the door. As I opened it, the barista at the register went into the back. Success! Then, I just needed to run out of sight quickly to use the restroom. I went down the short hallway to the restroom entrance. I grabbed the handle and tried to barge into the restroom.


I leaned up against the wall, my legs crossed. I was counting the seconds, thinking of the immense relief my life would experience within just a short time, all able to begin once the slow-moving sap on the other side of the door finished his business.

Door opened. I moved in practically before he moved out.

Minutes later, I left Starbucks and began my 10- to 15-minute stroll home.

What began as an inconvenient detour turned into an unforgettable trek, and one that likely would have only been marginally better had I waited in one of the two available restroom lines before I began the journey.

So that is why I say. Embrace the lines. Embrace the restroom. And always — always — allow people to step off the subway before you get on.

You never know the surprise that could be waiting for you behind the doors.

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