The end of my third New York summer has me thinking about how the things I feared most about moving here have become the things I've grown most endeared to.
I wasn’t scared of riding the subway when I moved here, just mildly concerned about how I’d navigate the five boroughs, the five tiny worlds within my reach. I knew nothing of connecting yellow lines to red lines, hopping from locals to express trains. But as with anything new, the best way to learn is often to throw yourself into it, to figure it out as you go. Riding the subway is a game I’ve learned to play and even enjoy. I play the game on my saddest days, I play it on the days when the vastness of the world excites me and my body moves with ease through the droves of people on the platform. I play it on every single slushy, frozen-boned day and on the days that are so hot I feel like melting onto the platform in defeat. I play the game drunk. I play it on holiday weekends and at 3AM, against my better judgement. Sometimes, I’m overly confident. I find myself walking on the yellow line at rush hour thinking, this is the last time I’ll do this, I can’t do this, I’ll never do this again. Eventually I’m going to fall or maybe someone is going to push me and then the game will end. I silently promise myself to play the game smarter, to be better at it.
Someone said to me the other day that the subway should be considered one of the wonders of the world. I would agree. In a strange way, I am even charmed by the rats. I find myself squealing with excitement when I spot one on the tracks, digging through garbage, and feeling disappointed when I go more than a week without a sighting. I’m intrigued by public transportation, to say the least, but not to the point of dragging myself out of bed on a Saturday and to the transit museum to properly educate myself on the ins and outs of the business.
The subway could be one of the great wonders of the world, yes, but when I hear this, I immediately laugh and think about what my Twitter feed looks like between the hours of 7-9 AM and 5-7 PM. It’s a million angry messages targeted @NYCTsubway and a million half-hearted “where are you coming from/going to?” messages back. Most days, I’m awe over anger, but even so, I find myself stomping around and rolling my eyes when the train is late or crowded or stalled or when service is suddenly suspended and I have to walk to another station. The thing is, it (usually) comes through (eventually) and I am back to appreciating the grinding gears, the long steel body, the predictable stops, and the bright lights cutting around the dark bend of the tunnel.
I'm forgiving because I can't forget that coming above ground feels like redemption, exhaling when you didn't even realize you were holding your breath. When the subway breaks through the dark, I'm met by a calm that picks me up where the height of the day dropped me off. I can predict it with my eyes closed now and my body knows to trust it, but it still catches me off guard most days, arriving still suddenly and without warning.
I am sitting in the laundromat laughing to myself about how unreasonably worried I was when I moved out of our apartment in Washington Heights, because I knew I’d have to start going to the laundromat. The truth is, I love laundromats now - I think they’re calming and even a little bit romantic. I can see you rolling your eyes as I write this, but it’s true. Let this be my love letter to laundromats (& you). Two of the best things this city ever gave me.
I write this on the last Sunday of August, to a friend who has since moved away. I watch twelve stacked dryers spin, all counter-clockwise. Zippers clicking against hot metal, dryer sheets stuck to the floor. There is consistency here, too, a gentle reliability that I’ve come to appreciate. Snowy nights under fluorescent overhead lights. Spring afternoons, windows flung wide open. The machine that turns bills to coins, time and time again. I always find myself watching the soapy water flood the washer after I insert the coins into the machine and turn the dial to cold. The circular, steady motion of the spin cycle making it so that I can’t distinguish one fabric from another, it's all just colors in motion.
Growing up, I remember the homes of my friends each having a distinct smell, a smell that they brought with them to school. I was convinced that my house didn’t have a special smell, but after I moved away and did the first wash, I pulled my clothes out of the dryer and they smelled like home. It was at the laundromat that I discovered that the smell of the people I loved was hinted with the smell of their detergent. It made me feel safe to know that some of that comfort lived in the laundromat, that comfort would be kept in that poorly lit, well air-conditioned building, waiting to greet me each week.
These are two relatively new comforts for me. I don’t have much of a choice in relying on them, but for some reason, I trust them. I trust the pull of the train against the tracks, the coming above ground, trust the spinning suds, and the coin machine. When the days feel jam packed with a million tiny endings that come in the form of breaking news notifications,I find comfort in these ordinary parts of my life. These are the simple rituals that draw me closer to myself, that force me to slow down. I know that getting on the subway somewhere means ending up somewhere else. I know that doing laundry means clean, warm clothes. Every single time. When so much feels uncertain, sometimes it is enough to accept these small offerings as facts, facts that make me want to stay - to keep going through it.
Love grows out of consistency and sometimes knowing that is enough.