It is pouring the coldest rain my cheeks have ever felt from heaven as my unprepared Caribbean spring clothes are soaking wet in the middle of a busy street in Manhattan, at the beginning of an unforgettable May. As I accept I am doomed I cannot stop thinking that the never-ending tallness of the buildings don’t do much to protect insignificant pedestrians like me from the unmerciful siege of rain.
Finally, once again as a signal from heaven, an unexpected opportunity to find relief suddenly appears before me. It does not come from the skies though, but from the undergrounds. A miraculous stair cracks in the middle of the sidewalk before my eyes and leads me to an unexpected subway station.
As I descend, stepping on the tiny New Yorker muddy ponds created on the uneven surface of these ancient steps, I hear hundreds of sudden splashes made by running people coming out. The sounds is contrasted with the soft and timid noise of my body enjoying and rejoicing the transition from the hectically cold, wet, and noisy surface to a drier and calmer buried hidden world.
My initial pleasure turned to disappointment as I realized that no human beings sell tickets or assist anyone to find out where to go. It was just an electronic ticket vending machine and me who had to figure out how to jump in. Lucky me I am an experienced international immigration lawyer, and certified translator of many languages; no vending machine represented a small challenge for my objectives for the day.
First, I was asked by a digital screen to choose the language. I selected “English” of course! “It is the least I can do to honor the language spoken by Washington, Lincoln and all the founding fathers,” I thought. But it was interesting to see the extensive menu of languages someone can choose from in order to buy a simple ticket.
I masterfully managed to follow all the instructions, such as choosing from a 7-day pass or a 30-day pass or whether I wanted a single ride or a double ride, etc..
My real problems started when payment was requested. I needed to pay $2.75 for one ride. As I was ready to pay a warning appeared on the screen: “This machine does not temporarily accept bills. Coins and credit card payment only.” With my wallet full for months of one-dollar bill savings, and a little nervous to use my humble Yucatecan credit card, I decided to scratch the bottom of my pockets to figure out if my leftover tokens could complete such a surmounting amount.
One by one my quarters and dimes took me closer to my journey. As I deposited the coins a red figure appearing on the screen and decreased as if it were a rocket launching countdown, but it suddenly stopped as the last 25 cents were still missing when my money ran out. I still had many one-cent coins but then I realized that no vending machine would accept such small value coins, too late perhaps for me that I had already happily accepted many, and suddenly, just like the U.S. Congress, my pockets were full of valueless Lincoln promises.
By then a long line of New Yorkers in a hurry were giving me dirty looks. I was about to abort my mission and let the long waiting line to go ahead of me, when a furious gentleman rudely put a quarter in my account so I could receive my ticket and move on with my life and stop my selfish monopolizing battle with the machine. With my ticket in hand, the rude man whose act of kindness made me forgive his harshness, masterfully recharged his probably 30-day pass, jumped my obstructively massive wet body and rapidly ran into the gates in order to catch his train so suddenly that I couldn’t even thank him.
As I turned my view to the still long waiting line I couldn’t help noticing some judgmental glances by master users of the machine who rightfully accused me of sucking in ticket buying skills. Then my next challenge. I needed to figure out where this red dot line 3 would take me in the spider web of intricate escapes to the Manhattan surface.
With useful signals marking uptown and downtown at least I kind of knew where not to go. A tense calm omnipresently filled the environment as a soft far away metal sound of rails was becoming stronger and stronger and the waiting was going to become almost unbearable until the wagons finally arrived in a glorious underground denouement. Still not certain where I was going I decided to look for a subway map on my poor underground wifi reception. So the best thing to do was to let the first train go by without boarding.
Happy to see how even dogs can commute with more dignity than humans in this city, I soon realized that my cellphone wasn’t working. With an electronic announcement over my head promising that the next train was coming in two long minutes, I could dedicate my spare precious time to look at the details of the station, perhaps I would be lucky and find a casual map hanging around, I thought. As my eyes started to get caught by the graffiti’s on the walls and the litter among the railroad ties an amazing sound started to come out from the tunnel across my side.
Hypnotized by the spell of a metal sound, my eyes tried to look for its sources among the forest of a hundred casted iron columns that little by little unveiled the author of such a beautiful melody. A heavy man wearing heavier clothes was timidly sitting on a bench cornered on such a tiny spot that it could barely touch an inch of the main hall as if he didn’t want to disturb the sounds of the rails. But his music was not a disturbance at all, the perfect acoustic of the tunnels that morning made his sounds more beautiful than those of a requiem in a cathedral.
I do not know if he was blind, but he never opened his eyes, perhaps he was also in a trance enjoying his melancholic melody that was embracing all of us in that subway station as he masterfully played his golden sax. With slow and subtle blows you could see how his bare fingers were making the miracle as they were trying to come out from a pair of rotten dirty gloves. My train finally arrived, but I couldn’t take it, the heavy sound of the rails mingled in a perfect symphony with that of the sax creating the most powerful underground musical experience in my life. In that moment I knew that the sax was absolutely right, despite standing many feet under, it was heaven, I was in heaven, and my heart beat so that I could hardly speak.
Rodrigo Rodriguez is a human rights and immigration lawyer living in the Yucatan among the Mayans. He is a lover of good music and food, and is always looking to be amazed by nature. Rodrigo is a student here at CUNY SPS working on his Advanced Certificate in Immigration Law.