Because I work at home, I’m lucky enough to not have to ride the NYC subways during rush hours. Instead, I end up on the trains at odd hours, or on reverse commutes, where I’m heading into Manhattan when everyone is coming back into Brooklyn. It’s a much different experience — not the least because the trains aren’t crowded, you can always get a seat, and you can indulge in one of the great New York pasttimes of checking out the other riders.
Yesterday, for instance, there were two separate remarkable sightings. The first was Kathryn Erbe, Detective Eames from Law & Order: Criminal Intent. I’ve only caught the show a couple of times, but I recognized her right away as she boarded the train with her 10-year-old daughter and sat right across from me. I instantly got a great feeling about Erbe, not only because a successful TV actor like her chose to ride the train with us plebes, but because she and her daughter seemed so comfortable down there. You often see celebrities in public all squinty-eyed and edgy, ready to fend off gawkers, but Erbe was cool in her scuffed shoes and backpack, chatting with her daughter, moving over to let a large woman fit into the seat next to her, and just generally being a typical subway rider. I don’t know why, but it gave me a warm glow. Chee!
Coming back home from the City that same day, another character presented himself. This guy, also seated across from me, looked like a refugee from a 1960s commune — but turned out to be anything but. He was about 65, had a grey ponytail, and a number of buttons pinned to his vest. He was surrounded by a collection of Fairway shopping bags filled with groceries. There’s a Fairway on the Upper West Side (traditional home of liberal do-gooders), so in the story I told myself about him, he was like one of my mom’s old friends: Red Diaper Baby, war protestor, ex-hippie. Well, soon enough, the dude caught my eye and handed me a little flyer from the stack in his lap. (Here’s the “don’t judge a book by its cover” part.) The flyer was a hateful screed, on one side anti-immigrant rant (with figures and “facts” from the Heritage Foundation), and the other an Anti-Muslim essay about “pagan Arabs” and their “Moon-god cult.” The fine print revealed that my kindly old “60s refugee” was actually a particularly wacky follower of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. D’oh!
Hmm. Maybe I’m only a character in an episode of Criminal Intent. Anyone seen the one with the murdered right-wing kook on the 2 train? Check those Fairway bags for evidence!