The Q to Brooklyn can be more crowded at midnight than midday: mothers with strollers; older women with shopping carts; girlfriends sharing earphones and mouthing lyrics. It all makes for a comforting sight at that late hour.
On this particular night, the car I was on was empty except for three men who were sitting evenly spaced out across from me.
As the train rattled across the Manhattan Bridge, I shut my eyes against the fluorescent lights, my thoughts tumbling down into the dark water of the East River below.
I heard what I thought was a woman singing softly. Startled, I looked up at the three men across from me: an older one who was closely studying a small book; a young punk leaning forward and swiping his phone; and a big construction worker cradling his helmet as he slept, his mouth slightly open.
I must have fallen asleep too, I thought to myself.
The train went back underground, and I let my eyelids fall. I heard the beautiful voice rise again, more confidently this time, and a few notes of what sounded like opera. I tried to figure out where it was coming from, but the melody came to a halt.
Just the same three men, in the same positions.
I got off the train at Seventh Avenue and the construction worker did too. As I walked up the stairs, he broke into full song behind me. We went in different directions, but I could hear his soaring falsetto as it bounced off the buildings and filled the night sky.
I could still hear it faintly when I locked my apartment door two blocks away.
— Michelle Fawcett
It was a very rainy and windy Tuesday afternoon, and I was walking along Fifth Avenue near Central Park. I was in a suit and tie and had my double bass and the remnants of a cheap umbrella.
I had just turned at 87th Street to walk through the park when a UPS truck pulled up, stopping traffic in the process.
“You want a ride?” the driver asked, and then opened the passenger-side door before I could muster an answer. “Get in.”
Cars were honking, the rain was still coming down and I had a 20-minute walk ahead me.
I climbed in, sat down and balanced the bass between my body and the inner wall of the truck. The driver dropped me at the C train station. He was cracking jokes the whole way there.
— Noah Garabedian
Standing tall as a soldier
The blintzes and stuffed cabbage
Our lips sealed
With a fear
Of treading on sacred ground.
“Na,” she whispers,
The wrinkles on her forehead
Moving like soft waves,
An ocean of old country
Coming back through
The swiftness of hands,
The scent of food
Becoming an incense-like aroma
From the inside of history
While the impatient honking
Of city traffic
Brings back the day.
— Kathryn Anne Sweeney-James
I ordered a ride-share car to take me back to the Upper West Side from Queens. When it showed it up, to my delight, the first female driver I’d ever had was at the wheel.
We soon made another stop to pick up an elegantly dressed woman. When she slipped into the car, the driver and I remarked on how wonderful she looked and asked whether it was a special occasion.
“It’s my first date after my divorce,” the woman said, acknowledging that she was nervous.
Knowing our role in this moment, the driver and I expressed our confidence. The driver volunteered that she was about to get married again, 35 years after her first wedding. She said she had found someone who adored her.
“You have to hold out for love!” she said.
The attention then turned to me now.
“Me?” I said. “I’m single. No one in my life at the moment.”
The driver smiled at me in the rearview mirror:
“No one yet,” she said, “but you’re in New York City, honey!”
— Annie Fox
It was some years ago and I was working in Midtown. One day, my wife called and asked me to stop at a fishmonger near the Port Authority Terminal on my way home and pick up some fish for dinner.
I walked into the place, where an older counterman greeted me and quickly filled my order. I asked him to add a fresh lemon.
“I have a deal with the greengrocer next door,” he said, looking up. “He doesn’t sell fish and I don’t sell fruit.”
— Howard Schwartz
Illustrations by Agnes Lee