Emily Mottahedeh

By Emily Mottahedeh on Jun 11, 2011

WORD staff in advanced writing classes can be required to write about their MTA – Metropolitan Transportation Authority – commutes. Most are straphangers.


I spend too much time on the subway. September 29, 2010
A Thursday
At 1:30 p.m.
Home to School

I turn out of my room, #638 and walk a long, narrow, empty corridor. The rectangular clock in the hallway reads “1:29” in red block letters. Class starts in 40 minutes.

From the looks of it, you’d think I was in a psychiatric ward.

Take the elevator, alone, to the first floor.

Exit the building onto East 25th Street, and sprint to the corner of First Avenue – almost getting hit by a cab in the process.

The weather is gross, windy and muggy.

The sky is grey.

The line for the Cross-town M23 bus is surprisingly short; a mother and daughter, an old gentleman holding a plastic bag, two middle aged black women, a business man in what looks like a very expensive suit, and a middle aged man on crutches.

My first selfish thought of the day: He’s on crutches, he’s going to need the lift, it’s going to take forever, I’m going to be late for work.

I was right.

The “12 Ave-Chelsea Piers” bound m23 arrives at 1:54 p.m sharp. I am always astonished at how many people are already on the crosstown bus before it even reaches First Avenue.

This time is no different. Approximately 25 people are already sitting on the bus by the time I get on it. Luckily, I get the last single seat across from the back door. My favorite seat on the bus.

By Second Avenue, the bus begins to resemble a can of sardines. I know it’s a cliche but accurate. And this leads to my second selfish thought of the day, I’m so happy I got a seat, I would hate to be any of these people right now. Every single person around me is holding, looking at, or listening to, some sort of electronic device. I am no exception: Two young women with iPods in their ears, an old man reading a New York Times and four people on Blackberrys.

The bus passes an American Apparel, a New York Sports Club, Fresh-N-Fast Burgers, Citibank, 7-11, Bank of America, PAX Foods. After what feels like six hours … I exit at Lexington Avenue. It is now 2:15 p.m. I sprint into the Uptown 6 subway station at 23rd Street. I quickly see two homeless men digging through the garbage.

I spill coffee on myself as I wait on the platform. The 6 arrives 5 minutes later, 5:25 sharp. I enter a car towards the front of the train – there are no seats. I am intrigued that every single person in the row I am standing next to is female. Ages ranging from approximately 7 to 45.

One woman is holding a “Crumbs Bake Shop” box with an Oreo cupcake. Seeing her, makes me yearn for a cupcake. Luckily, I am distracted by the three college-aged males standing next to me. All wearing saggy jeans, Timberland boots and Yankee baseball caps. The car is full by the time the train reaches Grand Central, but I get a seat on the end of the still all-female row.

A man sits across from me, his head in his hands. And two women talking extremely loudly to each other in the middle of the car, which empties at 51st Street. Aside from me, everyone left seems to be dressed in business attire suits, skirts, etcetera.

Finally, I, “The next stop on this train is 68th Street, Hunter College.” I immediately take out my Hunter ID to be ready for the turnstiles.

October 7, 2010
A Thursday.
The time is 5 p.m.
(School to Work)

I am finished with class, phew. Unfortunately, it’s time for work. I exit Room 470 Hunter North with five of my feature writing classmates. I walk along the fourth floor corridor and down a side staircase to the third floor. I pass about 10 half-alive students sitting on the “bridge.” I take two escalators down to the subway entrance at Hunter, exit the turnstiles, enter the station, swipe my monthly Metrocard, and sprint down the stairs to the downtown 6.

The platform is packed. I walk all the way to the back of the train in preparation for my segue to the E train at 51st Street.

A man in a turquoise “Umbrella Security System” shirt, denim jeans and a black tote bag waits next to me. I am listening to a song, Easy, Lucky, Free” on my iPOD. I have a headphone in my left ear only, the right one is broken.

The train arrives at approximately 5:07 p.m. The car stopping in fronf of me isn’t crowded and I sit down right next to the door. Across from me sits a man wearing a backwards baseball cap, durag, baggy jeans and a Polo sweatshirt across from me. Next to me sits a woman with her eyes closed. Her hair, long and blonde; she’s in her 40s. She reminds me how tired I am.

The man sleeping next to me doesn’t help the situation. Three minutes later the doors open and I exit. Five other travelers exit with me as 10 people enter. I wait on what seems like an endless line for the first of about 3 escalators that will lead me to the downtown E train. As I approach the second escalator, I hear the melody of a violin. It is coming from a man inside the station who is playing for money. He’s really good.

I continue walking across the station. I pass a woman in a black knit hat, an “Infinity Shoe Repair,” and a Dunkin Donuts as I make my way to the longest staircase in the universe or so it seems at 5 p.m. on a Thursday.

A bald man hands me a pamphlet warning me of the end of the world as I approach the staircase. I tell him I am looking forward to it. He doesn’t laugh.

Things don’t get better once I’m on the staircase. A woman in dreadlocks yells at me for writing while walking. She is wearing sneakers, business casual pants, a blue collared shirt and a khaki jacket. I ignore her and continue writing, except now I walk even slower just to spite her. As I finally reach the (packed) platform of the downtown E/M trains, I squeeze my way to the front.

The M train arrives first. It is always much less packed than the E. Not too many people get on or off. I only see a young Asian woman wearing a puffy blue vest and purple sweater exit. I am now standing on the platform next to a young man wearing a white T-shirt, green shorts, a green hat and lugging a small black suitcase.

I hear the subway guard yelling at people to “not block the passageway.”

No one listens.

The M train arrives at 5:20 p.m. As always, the train is already completely full and I force myself into a car. I see a female listening to her IPOD while simultaneously playing a game on her iPhone.

I am next to a young man in a blue fitted Yankee cap and an oversized sweatshirt. For so many people jammed together, the train is relatively quiet. All I hear are two men in suits talking about Obama.

The first stop is 5th Avenue/53rd Street. No one gets off … but a lot of people try to get on. At this point, the mob swells to the point that I can’t move a single limb. All I can see is a man in a suit watching me take notes in my green steno notebook.

The next stop is 7 Ave/53rd Street.

No one exits or enters.

The doors keep opening and closing and everyone in the car is laughing.

My eyes focus on the ring of the man standing next to me. It’s very large and gold but I can’t identify its design.

We reach 42nd Street: Port Authority Bus Terminal. The car empties. Thank God I see a man with a full leg cast waiting on the platform and I admire him for taking the subway, especially this one.

As the train pulls out of 42nd Street, I realize the car reeks of rubbing alcohol. The culprit? A middle aged woman putting Purel hand sanitizer all over her hands. I am nauseous but my stop is next to I hold my breath.

As soon as I hear “34th Street, Penn Station” I spring to the door and exit at the rear of the train. I go through the turnstile and exit at “33rd St & 8th Avenue SW Corner.”

A man in a camouflage jacket walks in front of me. I hear a “thud” and look behind me to see that a man has dropped his mug. I exit and see the U.S Post Office, immediately turn left onto 34th Street. I pass a Duane Reade, TGI Fridays, McDonalds, the New Yorker Hotel, Payless Shoesource.

The M16 bus honks at me and everyone else crossing the street from 34th to 35th streets.

I pass a Capital One, a Starbucks, a Staples, a Levi’s, a Dunkin Donuts, a WhiteCastle a 7-11 and a huge billboard for the new Kathryn Heigl movie, LIFE AS WE KNOW IT.

I enter 520 8th Avenue and scan my Center For Court Innovation ID in order to pass through the turnstiles. An elevator arrives just as I do. I get off on the 18th floor and scan my Center For Court Innovation ID to enter the door.

November 15, 2010
A Monday.
5 p.m.
(From work to an interview)

Elevator from the 18th floor to the lobby. Through turnstiles, through the revolving doors and left once out of the building.

It’s beautiful outside; sunny, 50s and clear. Unfortunately, I am in midtown. And it’s 5 p.m I walk from 36th and 8th towards 34th, passing two very drunk men outside of a McDonalds, and a man emptying garbage cans, arriving at 34th street and 8th Avenue, where I hope to catch the M16 bus going towards Waterside.

There are 10 other people in line for the bus, which arrives at 5:02 p.m sharp. I take a seat in the very back. In my line of sight in a woman in a green sweatshirt and denim jeans texting, an old couple, a man with a yellow jacket, a young man in maroon Champion sweater, a young woman in all black clothing and red shoes, a woman listening to her IPOD touch.

Thirty-fourth Street is absolutely packed with people and the bus is moving at what seems like a glacial pace. All seats are full by 7th Avenue and there are approximately 10 people standing up. The bus stops in front of a Chase Bank on 5th Avenue. A man with a striped brown and black shirt and a pea coat enters the bus as does a middle aged woman holding a brown Gucci bag. There is a young Indian couple now standing in front of me holding a Cipriani bag. The bus stops in front of an “Eden Wok” restaurant on Madison Avenue.

A strange looking man with thick black glasses, khaki pants, a khaki jacket and an LL Bean bag enters the bus. As does a man sporting a Nike Jacket with a large white check on the back. We pass a subway entrance at 34th and Lexington. I close my eyes for about five minutes. The next thing I know we’re at 2nd Avenue and in front of a liquor store. I exit alongside an overweight man in a black sweater, light denim jeans, and Adidas sneakers.

I walk past a 99 cent pizza awning and a Duane Reade on my way to 34th and 2nd. I miss the first M15 bus that passes as I am purchasing a receipt for the new “Select Bus Service” bus that runs on Second Avenue.

It is 5:20 p.m.

The next bus arrives at 5:23 p.m sharp. A female on the bus with crutches, and a man in very short running shorts. I sit in between a woman in jeans and a T-shirt with a cross on it, and a woman in a blue turtleneck.

I am making awkward eye contact with the middle aged man wearing jeans, a green shirt. Behind me are two middle school-aged girls drinking pink smoothies and talking very loudly and quickly. I text my sister on my iPhone and lose focus.

The bus is relatively full by the time it reaches 57th Street. When I look up, I see an old woman with grey hair reading a magazine, and an attractive young man in skinny jeans and a plaid shirt text-ing on his Blackberry. The bus passes the Trump World Tower.

I exit at 68th street and 1st Avenue, directly in front of Sloan Kettering Hospital AKA Memorial Sloan Kettering Center.

I walk past a Citibank, two Halal carts, a Lenny’s restaurant, Subway, Nanoosh Restaurant and a fruit stand. A doorman putting a flag on a flagpole, an old man smoking a cigar, and three women pushing baby carriages. There is a man eating Lays potato chips in front of the Ronald McDonald House.

I enter the Ronald McDonald House at 5:40 p.m

My interview is in 20 minutes

Emily Mottahedeh can be contacted at mottahedeh.emily@gmail.com