Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Subway Driver

If you board the first car of the subway and stand as far forward as you can, there is a small window that provides a very unusual perspective on your ride. By looking through this tranparent square of 8 inches by 8 inches, you can pretty much see what the driver takes in as she steers the train along the tracks. And for some reason that I can't quite figure out, I am utterly enchanted by the view from this little window. Maybe, just maybe it is so appealing because peering through it mimics how a film director would frame the image of a rapidly moving train. Traveling in the dark with scant illumination provided only by different colored lights is intriguing enough, but when approaching the much more brightly lit waiting platforms, the contrast seems especially striking. Looking ahead toward these platforms, first you see the light, then tiny forms of waiting passengers, which become progressively larger and more to scale as you finally grind to a stop to take on more riders. Then once again the train pulls out of the station, leaves the brightly lighted platform behind, and plunges back into the darkness, slowed perhaps by an assortment of flashing red and amber signals.

The whole scene seems dreamlike, otherworldly. Maybe part of the thrill comes from a brief but powerful insulation from ordinary experience, an experience that is marked by deep darkness and starkly lighted platforms and the rapid movement from one state into another, with you at the window witnessing all the in-between gradations between light and dark, open and closed, seeing and not seeing. The tiny window, the cramped space, the complete focus on this contrast between light and dark are all that matters for the few minutes that you peer ahead, hurtling by subway through the dark from one inevitable stop to another.

1 comment:

  1. The other-worldly experience you describe jibes with my own view of the subway as a teleportation device. Though not quite as quick as being 'beamed up', the effect is similar. As you enter a 'station' you dematerialize from the street level world, ride the transporter then rematerialize at your new location disoriented and completely unaware of what lies in between the starting and ending points. Even Manhattanites get a taste of this when they take a route different than their regular communte. It's a unique, NY adventure.