“You two look like you would be great for children’s commercials. Have you ever wanted to be in commercials?” the nervous man who looked like a cross between Woody Allen and Bernard Goetz aka The Subway Gunman asked my friend Robbie and I. He had horn rimmed glasses, London Fog sytle trench coat (no, I ain’t kidding) and a briefcase in hand. He was hurried. People continued swiftly about all around us, criss crossing the subway platform in all directions as a train had just arrived to the Macy’s Herald Square 34thStreet station and was on / off loading passengers. This guy, though must have been observing us for a while. He knew were alone and lost.
New York City was a very dangerous place back in the day. Far from the tourist friendly “Disneyland” places like 42nd Street are now, all five boroughs were seedy landcapes of urban and social decay. Bite the Big Apple, don’t mind the maggots couldn’t be more of an apt statement of the times. The subway system then, was particulary Dantean; an enter at your own risk proposition
(see : Subway gunman above).
It’s because of this, that when I think back to this day, I cannot figure out why someone in our boarding school saw fit to drop Robbie and I here at the
subway station to make our way out to Long Island unattended. We were in 5th grade. I was going home with Robbie to stay the weekend for month’s end. This was the last weekend of every month when all boarding students had to go home. I usually tried to avoid going to my own home, by going with a friend instead. In this case, it was to Long Island to stay with Robbie and his mother, a working single mom. Robbie was a latch-key kid. Mom wouldn’t be available to meet or pick us up, so were supposed to rendevous with Robbie’s aunt out on Long Island who would then get us to Robbie’s place after his mom got off from work..
Standing on the subway platform, the two of us in our British inspired boarding school uniforms (the exact uniform worn by Harry Potter : black shoes, grey flannel trousers, white or pale blue button up, same stupid striped tie, and a blue wool blazer with school crest on breast pocket) must have looked like a dream…
No stranger to shady mth$fkRs, I took a quick glance at Robbie’s eyes and he was pretty scared. Just then we heard “you! Stop right right there!” and the dude took off sprinting. It was a subway cop. As the cop got to where we were he shouted at us “stay right there!! “ and ran off in pursuit of the Woody Allen dude. As they disappeared into swelling crowd I looked at Robbie, poor kid, and shouted “Run!” In my mind, the cops getting us was potentially just as f-d up an option as Woody Allen. I don’t trust them.
I took the lead, dashing up the stairs past the bottom floor of Macy’s and put onto the street. We ran halfway around the block of Macy’s and stopped panting out of breath on the long, side street. “Lost those mthfk$s” I thought triumphantly to myself. Just then, the subway cop comes running around the corner. He’s looking for us. When he catches up to us, he’s all winded, yelling in our faces. It was the old “when a police officer tells you to do something” ra
p. “I may have had to get information from you guys!” etc etc. “Man, fk you” ten year old me is thinking. I made a quick decision, stuck by it and acted. You see, sometimes you throw a Hail Mary. You move quick and decisively, relying on a bit of luck and experience, and a lot of faith. That’s just how I’ve always done it. Don’t wait around to be rescued because odds are no one’s coming.
After the cop rounded us up, he put us on the same subway out to Long Island, alone. At least he radioed ahead, because after a pretty long subway ride, Robbie finally identified his neighborhood stop. We got off, and when we did two cops sitting in a squad car flashed their lights at us. We walked over and they told us to get in. We sat there for a while until Robbie’s aunt showed up to get us. She was pissed. Mostly because of the ha
ssle caused and because you must know you look like a total POS picking up your ten year old nephew from the cops after such an adventure. We spent the rest of the evening into pretty late night waiting for Robbie’s mom, while his aunt chain smoked marlboros and watched game shows on the TV. I looked out of the second story window at the industrial warehouses that lined the opposite side of the street as the sunset cast long shadows on the loading bay doors. Golden, early evening light was reflecting off the windows. I was kind of bummed. Robbie’s life sucked. I was bored as hell and could’t wait to get back to boarding school on Monday!
Photos : Robert Herman