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11.05.08

Subway Euphoria

How Obama changed New Yorkers from mean to nice, nay jubilant, last night.

You know how you carry little snapshots of loved ones in your pocket, to carry with you when you’re apart? Well I want to share with you this snapshot of my trip home on the F train tonight.

I watched the returns at Bell House, a cavernous bar in Park Slope Brooklyn filled with hundreds of people of every age and color watching CNN on an IMAX size movie screen. By turns, we screamed and danced. We counted down to each closing poll like New Years Eve. My friend Brian and I yelled at Blitzer to take off his pants and for King to touch the damn map again. When Obama spoke, we listened and then screamed and cried and danced to Digital Underground.

But at the end, you still gotta get home. My friend Zubeida and I look for a cab back to Manhattan. Hoots and hollers pour from the windows. People on bikes joy-scream as they pedal by. Everyone is smiling. But no cabs. So I turn to Zubeida and I say, “F it. Let’s take the F.” We go into the subway, following a deliriously happy sweet couple. I swipe my Metrocard, and it’s empty. Damnit. The nice young man of the sweet couple turns to me and says, “You can have a swipe if you need it.”

I’ve lived in New York City my entire life, and I’ve seen many acts of neighborly goodness big and small, but this F journey feels different than anything I’ve ever seen.

Me: “Really?” A free swipe from a stranger is an act of extreme kindness, akin to the offer of a kidney.

“Yes,” he says. “Of course.” I swipe. Then Zubeida goes to use her Metrocard but does a bad double-swipe and gets blocked out. The nice man offers her a swipe as well.

“Oh my God,” she says. “You’re kidding.”

“Tonight,” he says, “everyone can have a swipe.”

We go to the platform and everyone is floating on air. For the first time in as long as I can remember, the lights of the F train snake around the corner in under a minute. (Everything is coming up roses!) We step into the car, and in the usual New York way, the little gang aboard is a delightfully motley mush. The Euro-ish guy in clear plastic glasses and a funny little cap. The Asian guy in khakis. The hipster in knit wool arm warmers. The black chick with headphones. The sweet Metrocard sharing couple, and a few others.

Just before the doors close, we hear a big whoop from outside. In a spontaneous act of call and response, we all whoop and start clapping back, united by euphoria. We smile at each other, each of us jaw dropped at this moment in history that has pulled us out of our silent New York shells. It’s like a first kiss, but between a group of underground strangers. We like it, and we want more. The next stop comes—Smith and 9th. More giddy people climb aboard, and again we erupt into applause and whoops. The newcomers grin all big at this overflowing silliness. The next stop comes, Carroll, and when the newbies with red white and blue balloons get on, we applaud and laugh again.

By the time we’re at Bergen, we’ve established a drill. Each new group gets a subterranean ovation for being a part of this wonderful thing, for being a part of this New York niceness. I’ve lived in New York City my entire life, and I’ve seen many acts of neighborly goodness big and small, but this F journey feels different than anything I’ve ever seen. It feels bigger than neighbors. It feels like our hearts are beating in sync, with each other, with the churning wheels of the train.

When the doors open at York Street, Hipster Armwarmers yells out, “Last applause before Manhattan!”, and we all give it our biggest Whoop yet. Then we streak forward, a big comet of love taking in and spitting out happy sparks all the way uptown.