A Train Ride to Harlem

August 9, 2006 § 1 Comment

insidetrainAs I raced across the platform I could not help but to frown and wince while stepping into the Three Train. I’m on my way Uptown and my nausea had finally begun to settle. I transferred from the Five Train at the Nevins St. stop in Brooklyn; I noticed the Three Train parked and waiting for passengers from the Five Train. I hesitated only because I was feeling sick to my stomach. Normally, I would have been waiting at the door to transfer. I only delayed a few seconds and until I came to my senses, stood up feeling kind of light-headed, sniffed some snot back and darted out The Five’s double doors with my backpack in hand…

The mood is set by a heavy kick drum; twangy guitar and the high pitched squeal of Modest Mouse suggesting,

“[you should] float on ’cause good news is on the way”. (Modest Mouse)

That song followed by a few jams from Franz Ferdinand and Interpol on an mp3 play-list I call “Cool Punk”.

The Three Train is still the old-fashioned Silver Bullet styled train with the orange and yellow seats. The lighting is dim, the advertisements in front of me are in Spanish and reads, “Mi hijo lo dejo. Estoy tan orgulloso de el.” I understand enough Spanish to know if someone wants to kick my butt, however not enough to dissuade their feelings. I concluded it was saying something about someone’s son; the rest is incomprehensible to me.

Feeling a little better than before, I sat back to relax and enjoy the ride. The I noticed we were no-longer in Brooklyn, this train really moves once its in Manhattan, however it becomes increasingly crowded from Wall St. through 72nd St. We just arrived at 34th St. (Herald Square) home of Penn Station, Macy’s and Madison Square Garden. My stomach finally settled and then my mood quickly changes because with the introduction of new passengers I’m squished by a woman wearing a black faux fur and a pair of burgundy jeans that make Superman’s tights look like MC Hammer pants. The fur is tickling my cheek and I thought to myself,

“I probably wouldn’t mind if she looked like Angelina Jolie… astaghfirullah, astaghfirullah, astaghfirullah…”.

At Time Square the activity of car 1611 (same year the King James Version was written) was like the changing-of-the-guard, as one crowd exited another quckly filled its place. During the transition the residue from the first crowd instinctively tried to reposition themselves to ease their suffering. After the shuffle the woman with the fur ended up sitting across from me; we made eye contact then she smiled and I reluctantly smiled back, trying to mask my annoyance.

96streetAfter 96th St. the Three Train lost weight, I feel relieved because now I can breath, however as I looked around I noticed with this rapid weight loss the diversity receded as well. Instead of the multitude of complexions and hair colors: dark browns, blondes and firery reds, the shade of people became monochromatic in contrast. The color and climate of the train ride remained even from 96th to 125th St..

My stop is the last stop on the Three Train, an anonymous neighborhood in Central Harlem, where ongoing construction and development keep the face of the neighborhood hidden under rubble and blue tarps. The locals seldom speak of the changes, perhaps in anticipation of some unfortunate end to the cosmetic surgery their surrogate mother (Harlem) is undergoing.

Finally, arriving at 148th St. the remaining passengers were a mixed crowd, however the crowd was divided by your relationship to the neighborhood. One one hand, you have the locals both our and old, who have grown up in the neighborhood. Thy lived, and breathed this neighborhood when no one else wanted it. They hold a common demeanor and dress; the type of similarities that family members share. On the other hand, you have the people who are new to the neighborhood and less familiar. The new people are mostly young with a strong socio-economic outlook when compared to the locals. As I stepped out of the Three Train I can’t help but to have mixed emotions about this Harlem Renaissance: heartfelt compassion for anyone who might lose in lifes struggle yet I feel enthusiasm and excitement for the possibilities of this community, inshaAllah.

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