It’s hard to find any of my friends, relatives or soulmates willing to ride the subway with me. I guess I’ve fallen into humiliating folly 10 times too often. I call these insane little ventures “Eskewpades.”
For my New York subway debut, I headed out to a halloween party, dressed as Superman. My brother had joined me, dressed as Dracula. As we entered, the subway was packed. Swiftly the doors slammed. And wham! Not only did my stupid cape get swallowed by the subway door, but the cape had somehow gotten tangled in my tights and ripped them from my body. Superman? Hardly. The subway had become my kryptonite.
Exiting from the train, I was terrified I’d be arrested for indecent exposure and wind up jailed half-naked among severe critics, all named Bizarro. Thank God my mortified brother draped his Dracula cape over me, then quickly slipped away into the night. That was three years ago. I’ve never seen him since.
Yup, subways suck. I was born to be chauffeured in limousines. Talk about poetic injustice.
Surprise! I’m a germaphobe. A subway misfit, horrified by perceived cooties. When someone sneezes, several passengers utter “Bless you.” Well, I’m not about to offer a blessing to someone who has potentially infected me. I mumble “Damn your soul!”
I’m constantly changing my seat, moving away from a sneezer’s air. That backfired when I first moved to New York. I hadn’t familiarized myself with the enormous length of subway cars. I had seated myself across from a huge man holding a beautiful blonde cocker spaniel. Within seconds the man began to sound like a bluejay with the whooping cough. He was snagged up in a repetitive sneeze/cough combo. And, since he was holding the dog, he didn’t cover his mouth.
So, in the midst of this germaphobic nightmare, I devised a plan to run out the door at the next stop and rapidly jump on the adjoining car before the train could resume its route. I was stupidly unaware that the looooong subway cars all have three doors for entrance/exits. One on either end of each car and one in the middle.
To make a long story longer, on the man’s third sneeze/cough, the train made its stop and I went tearing out the door and ran right past the middle door, bursting through the door at the other end of the car. I just barely made it in the door when the train took off. I squinted, looking to find an available seat. I spotted one all the way down at the other end of the car.
So, I made a mad dash to the seat and plopped down. I had no more than caught my breath until I heard that same dreadful whooping sneeze/cough. To my horror, I looked up and discovered the same man, holding the same dog. Duh. I had idiotically reentered the same car.
For some reason, my blunder struck me funny and I began laughing hysterically. The man with the dog jumped up and moved down to the far end of the train. He pointed at me and gestured to another passenger, twirling his index finger backwards, indicating that the wheels in my cranium were traveling in the wrong direction. To maintain what tiny dignity I had remaining, I said (affectionately) under my breath: “Gesundheit! You fungus!”
My worse subway memory was the time I entered a really crowded car that seemed to offer standing room only. I noticed the dogs aboard the train all had their noses buried deeply into their paws. Weird? Yes. But this is NYC.
Then I glanced down at the end of the car. There must have been well over a dozen seats available. Well, duh. Were the other passengers blind? I promptly did my superior march to the empty seats and plopped down.
Suddenly, a horrific stench flooded my nostrils. Every disgusting smell you can imagine was permeating from God only knows where.
I was much too proud to stand up and head back to the smirking crowd. To save face, I pretended that I sensed no foul odor whatsoever, took out a book and smiled as if I were really enjoying myself. All the time, fighting to maintain consciousness while feeling like I was losing the battle.
To save face even more, I did not get off at the next stop. Or the next two. When I finally exited with dignity and a migraine, I overheard one of the passengers say, “That guy has the worst case of nose-blindness I’ve ever witnessed.”
Fearing that the stench had attached itself to me, I desperately sought a carwash to walk through. Then I went shopping for a car.
And nowadays? All my Eskewpades involve driving within the travesties of traffic, pedestrians and texters. Indeed, NYC driving makes me yearn for the simple days. The days when I rode the subways.
— Steve Eskew
Retired businessman Steve Eskew received master’s degrees in dramatic arts and communication studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha after he turned 50. After one of his professors asked him to write a theater column, he began a career as a journalist The Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This led to hundreds of publications in a number of newspapers, most of which appear on his website, eskewtotherescue.com.