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The A/C/E Line

It’s 8:05 a.m. and I can already hear the rapid fire of drumsticks on those overturned orange Home Depot buckets. The man playing them in the middle of the 59th Street platform is desperately trying to outperform the trains which have pulled up on either side of him, drowning him out for just a moment. The train doors open and people on the express run to switch to the local, just nearly avoiding those running from the local to the express.

I’ve gotten on the express because I’m late for school, but in pure New York fashion we are told in garbled metallic English that there’s a train on the tracks ahead of us and that we’ll be moving momentarily. As the all-too-familiar apology for the inconvenience plays overhead, we watch the local train pull out of the station and we all know we’ll never quite catch up to it. Soon the doors close with a collective sigh and the drumming becomes distant.

I’ve managed to find a seat, so now is as good a time as any to finish the Spanish homework I’ve put off from last night. It’s not too long before I can feel the man next to me looking over my shoulder and before I know it, he begins to provide me with his unsolicited help, giving me the answers one by one. I fill them in politely, hoping to be done with this one-sided exchange as soon as possible. He gets off at the next stop with a wink and the second he’s gone I push my homework deep into my backpack.

A mother and her baby get on and sit down across from me. She’s got the child in her lap, arms wrapped around her tightly like a seatbelt. The baby and I make eye contact. She gives a big toothless grin and I return it with a little wave. She looks around and smiles at the person next to her, and then it spreads. Soon enough everyone in our section of the train car is smiling. For the next few stops I watch these people get off just a little bit lighter, replaced by new and stone-cold faces, but by the last stop it’s clear no one is immune to the baby effect.

I get to school (late) and Spanish class is first period. The teacher comes around to see that we’ve done the homework, so I quickly retrieve mine from the bottom of my bag. With a quick glimpse over the crumpled paper, she marks it off as complete in her grade book, and then begins to go over the answers. Mine are all wrong.

During the routine trudge back to the Fulton Street station after school, with our backpacks weighed down with books, my friend and I pass Gabriel, the homeless man who sleeps outside the shoe store on William Street. We’ve wished each other a good morning and a good night every day for the last 3 years. Today, he asks us how we’ve been. We let our bags slide off our shoulders and sit down with him on the stoop for a while to tell him about our recent field trip to the Federal Reserve just a few blocks away, and to listen as he tells us about a field trip he went on as a boy to the United States Mint. But it’s getting dark earlier and earlier these days, so after many stories are exchanged, we wish Gabriel a good night and continue to the station.

My friend rides with me for part of the way, but he gets off soon enough and I’m left alone again. It’s the subway, though, so not for long. The next stop comes and a bearded man with an accordion comes on. I’ve seen him before—I almost missed my stop once because his slow melodies put me to sleep. This time appears to be no different, and I doze off a couple times until we arrive at 59th Street. The sound of the Home Depot drums fills the train car as the doors open and I rush out to board the local on the other side.

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