Wednesday, October 22, 2008


An interesting thing about all the human contact one has in a normal New York day is how many misunderstandings occur which will never be resolved or understood. Take the case of the blind woman on the train a few weeks ago.

The last car on the Brooklyn-bound L train was packed (if you are exiting at Lorimer Avenue to catch the G-train, this is the car to be in). Many of the occupants were high-schoolers enjoying a commute home together, discussing when one of their own would be able to transfer back to their school. It was noisy, but not outrageously so. I did happen to notice a woman in the middle of the car who was looking a little anxiously through the many people towards the door, but I didn't give it much thought. She was in the middle of the car, surrounded by a lot of noise and crowdedness.

When subway car is crammed full of people, and a lot of those people want to exit at the same station, you run the risk of being squashed from both sides if you happen to be staying on the train. Our train pulled into the 1st Avenue Station (the last stop in Manhattan) and there were more exiters on our car than I expected. Unfortunately, I was right by the door on the side of escape. After a few people pushed their way through and past the crowd, the previously mentioned slightly anxious woman had not been able to get through and finally said something. "Excuse me! I need to get out!" she said, her anxiety rising a bit. Riders began to move out of her way some, and as she pushed her way through the mash of people towards me, I saw her white cane. She was blind. Seeing her disability and trouble getting out, I spread my arms out a little and pushed back the other direction, trying to help clear the way. As soon as she was clear, a different woman from behind shoved me and quite rudely said, "Excuse me," as she moved to the door and was followed by another person. I got pretty angry at that and replied with a snide and disgusted "Miss" in her direction.

To follow that up, a young man holding onto the pole next to me, in an obvious referral to the first woman, said, "I think she was blind."

"The other lady was," I said to him. And then I half-heartedly tried to explain that was why I was in the second lady's way, but I stopped when it was obvious he wasn't looking for a conversation. He seemed like a very considerate person (who apparently thought I was being an ass).

So to unpack that situation a little:

1) In the first place, I should not have been wearing my backpack on my back. It is better to take it off and hold it in front of you or put it between your feet on the ground to save space. I'm sure the second woman would have appreciated that.

2) I wonder if the blind woman thought everyone was being careless. She may have understood that people were just oblivious to the need she had until she said something. I think all New Yorkers have experienced being stuck in a crowd, and also unintentionally being in the crowd that detains someone.

3) I was trying to help out a person in need. The second woman obviously didn't realize that and needed to get past me to get out so she wouldn't end up in Brooklyn. And sometimes pushing is the only means of escape. Perhaps she really isn't a pleasant person, or maybe she was just trying to be bold with her comment, and it came out of her mouth rudely. Perhaps she was just having a bad day. I know I have experienced all of those things myself.

4) The considerate man must not have noticed my attempt to help clear the way for the blind woman, or the ensuing shove I got from behind, so he naturally assumed I was speaking rudely to the person in need. It was perhaps the best thing he could have done, from his perspective, to let me know why should have been kind.

4) I should not have been rude no matter what happened. Perhaps I was being too sensitive.

This whole "incident" probably lasted no more than 20 to 30 seconds at the most, and look at all of the ways in which confusion and ignorance ensued. You can't stop to clear up every misunderstanding (just as in traffic you can't stop a car you cut off to explain to the driver why you did it). At the same time, there are times when you should stop and be kind and considerate and, if applicable, apologetic.

It was an intriguing and thought-provoking ride home. And a good reminder to "be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry."

Monday, October 13, 2008

Education Reform, please!!!

This past Saturday I went to Union Square to meet some friends (and strangers) for a photo scavenger hunt. The Greenmarket was happening, so there were a lot of booths set up and loads of people. Since I only knew the faces of three people I was meeting, I tried to hang out near the large centerpiece statue of the square, but I got bored, so I took a walk around the booths, in case my friends were waiting elsewhere.

Upon my return to the statue, I saw a small group of people had gathered as if they were waiting for someone else. I wondered if they were also participants in the Great PhotoHunt, but I didn't want to approach them unless I knew, so I just loitered near them until Sarah, Rafael and Veda arrived.

The group was obviously waiting for someone as well, and finally one of the ladies in the group made a phone call to figure out where the others were. And when she started explaining where they were waiting, I wanted her to stop.

"We're here," she says. "We're standing by the big statue of the man on the horse..... The statue of the man on the horse...."

The statue of the man on the horse? The man on the horse?!?!? Come on now, lady! That's George Washington on the horse, for crying out loud!!! You know, the first President of our United States!
I desperately wanted her to clarify that a little more, but she kept repeating that killer line, "...the statue of the man on horse..."

Just please stop repeating that, miss.

It turns out she was with our group, and she didn't seem uneducated. In fact, some of the group members were graduates of Yale. She was probably very intelligent. Ugh.

On a side note, I ran across this interesting Newsweek article about a family in Texas who would be American royalty today, if General Washington had been installed as King George Washington, as some early Americans wanted him to be. Take a look.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Overheard on the Street...

"Leading ten kids through Manhattan. God bless ya'."

A worker on 61st Street gave us this blessing as he watched our gaggle of Pre-K students walking from Central Park to the school.