path fare goes up to $7.50

— june 20, 2002

so i’m getting back from a great night out, and descend the stairs of christopher st path station… no one else is in the station past the turnstiles, because the train back to jersey just left, but four dudes are just standing idly by, bitching about how long it’ll be before the next train to newark gets here… i think nothing of it and whip out my quickcard and mumble, “probably a half hour”… at which point one of them asks, without hesitation now that he’s seen the quickcard, “yo man, can i use that?”…

i should take the time now to introduce our cast of characters… a somewhat typical group of hoods from brick city (that’s newark for those of you who “aren’t down”) — bandanas on their heads, too-expensive denim shorts, and t-shirts… and myself, a twentysomething who grew up in suburban new jersey, just barely cultured enough to deal with the usual urban nonsense…

i size up the four of them in one quick glance… one could probably drop me like a bad habit in a matter of seconds, another could do the same with slightly more effort, a third of medium build would surely help out if need be, and the fourth one, the most vocal of the group, would talk enough trash for the lot of them… it was the forth, obviously their liason to foreign affairs, that asked the question of me…

i attempt to hesitate but realize of course that i’m outnumbered, and not wanting to see what would happen if i said “no”, i just say “sure”, and hand it over to the distinguished gentleman from newark… as i see the card get passed further back i somewhat sarcastically add “oh, i suppose you’re all going to use it… okay”… one by one, they each go through the turnstile for their free ride; each one giving their own increasingly cyncial version of “thank you”… not feeling the slightest urge to succumb to proper etiquette, i do not say “you’re welcome”… i instead clearly state “we all just want to get home, right?”

the four of them advance into the station and sit down; three of them are ahead of me, blocked from view by a pillar, and the last, the delegate, is across the platform about fifteen feet diagonally in front of me, and would from time to time glance over to see me staring blankly at the pillar ahead…

i say nothing; i do nothing; i just stare, and i listen… i hear some laughter as the one who can see me tells his friends about my blank stare… about ten minutes later there is an exchange between the liason and a more influential member of the group, along the lines of “i hate what he did… you should see the look on his face” rebutted with “i have no reason to hate… he paid for us”… this argument is repeated in near-whispers several more times before the one that sees me finally gives up… i think to myself, “good, at least one of them realizes that those four rides weren’t free, for me”…

a train approaches the platform… i already know it’s the thirty-third street train, so i do not budge from my stare… all four of them get up and almost board until they realize it’s not bound for brick city… they all sit back down, with plenty of time to peer over at the expression on my face… i see all this in my periphery, as i have still not moved my focus away from the cracks in the tiled pillar ahead of me, except to blink…

more time passes, and there is more laughter at my expense… the train finally arrives, and i board intentionally one car ahead of them… the train begins its crawl back toward hoboken, and not ten seconds later all four of them loudly crash through the double doors into my car and sit on the vacant bench in front of me, slightly to the right… this affords me the opportunity to continue my blank stare, focusing on the unused armrest at the end of their bench, without fear of accidentally looking over at one of them “the wrong way”…

not even a minute passes before they’re in a shared fit of cackling at my silent disgust and i see, in my somewhat blurry periphery to the right, raised middle fingers and other rude gestures, precipitated by more unison laughter…

and then, something amazing happens… a hushed silence falls over the group for the remainder of the ride to hoboken…

the train comes to a stop, and i stand to wait for the door ahead of me to open… when it finally does, i rap on the door jam just before stepping off, and bid them farewell — “get home safe fellahs”… as i walk past, i see the one of medium build turn around; and he returns my silent stare…

i ascend and begin my walk home…