October 4, 2011

Mimes and MetroCards

New York University. It's just a school, right? So why is it that when I stepped off the subway yesterday in the fading October light, and looked up at those purple and white banners, a sense of awe and excitement rushed through me?

I have to back up for a moment here. For those of you who know me, your heads just did a synchronized exorcist-spin. I loathe the NYC subway system. I prefer my shoes hitting the hot-dog-scented pavement. Or a cab. Plus, I tend to have this fear that I'll board the wrong subway and end up lost. (Don't laugh, I've done it. Actually, go ahead and laugh because I’ve done it.) But I knew when I registered for a course at NYU that it would be too far to walk on cold Autumn nights, and cabs could become costly. So, along with my LIRR ticket, I bought a MetroCard.

It's a little thing really. Fits in a credit card slot. Has a digital strip you swipe for rides. But I was more afraid of losing this little yellow and blue card than I would be my license. Why? It's not about the twenty bucks. It's standing in line, in the sweltering heat below the city streets, waiting to buy a new one.

Museum of Natural History
Growing up, I'd spent lots of time in the city. Both my parents worked in SoHo, and my brother and I travelled with them sometimes. We went everywhere: the Museum of Natural History, the Empire State Building, South Street Seaport... I loved the city. Still do. These were the days of token-turnstiles. But that all changed when the world went digital. Ready to laugh again?

A few years ago, I went to a concert with some friends. Standing in line, chatting about the band, I hadn’t realized that the token machines were gone. I approached a touch-screen, and blinked. What in the hell? I was prepared for a token machine. I had no idea how to buy a ticket. My friends had already passed through the turnstile. I clicked a few buttons, and it brought me back to the home screen.

Well, this was absolutely unacceptable for the skirt-and-sneaker-clad woman behind me. She let out a sigh that could have been mistaken for the words, F#$%ing Moron, and shoved me aside. I watched over her shoulder as she flew through memorized choices, bought her ticket, and nearly elbowed me in the face on her way out. Not all New Yorkers are like this, but they do exist. The next lady in line walked me through the simple steps. I bought my MetroCard-of-Shame, and headed for the platform.

It’s not that I think a repeat of this event would happen. The system really isn’t that complicated. It was more the idea that something could go wrong. That maybe they’d changed the machines again. That I’d actually catch an elbow to the face this time. Or that there wouldn’t be a machine at all and I’d have to know some top-secret code or pantomime to make that metal cage turn.

Speaking of mimes, my first assignment for class (we’re back to NYU now) is to pretend I'm an Associate Editor and create two book proposals for faux books that I would pitch to my company. All I could think was: Well, we could do a book about street performers. Mimes. From their perspective. My next thought? I wasn’t sure if they’d have anything to say on the subject. I know, I know. But a mime joke is a terrible thing to waste. And it’s really what popped into my mime... er, mind. I prayed that the instructor wouldn’t call on me, because after the mimes invaded my brain, I couldn’t actually think of anything else to say. Perhaps it was contagious?

After class, I roamed the hallways for a few minutes. I’d always wanted to attend NYU. It was my dream school. I’d passed the campus a hundred times. Seen it in movies, on TV. (I even pondered making a pilgrimage to Felicity’s Dean & DeLuca.) I’d wanted to attend NYU for my undergrad work, though after careful consideration, the tuition cost was just not in my budget. I promised myself that one day, somehow, I’d figure it out.

Then, while researching programs in publishing and editing, I happened upon NYU’s website. The purple and white snagged me again. That’s why, when I walked up into the cool New York air and those banners were the first thing I saw, I was exhilarated. I finally felt like I’d kept my promise.

What promises have you made to yourself? Have you kept them?

For a little history on NYU's Silver Center, check out this article from the Daily News. NYU offers an MS in Publishing, and Professional Certificates in Publishing, Editing and Digital Publishing. (Click the links for more info.)


  1. Oh, the Metro! I've been lost on DC and Atlanta Metros. I think they intentionally make buying a card complicatedly simple to confuse tourists.

  2. I actually loved the DC Metro. Fell in love with the whole city a few years ago actually. I found myself wandering around Union Station just because it was beautiful. There's nothing like that in the NYC subway system. Oh, now I miss DC.

  3. Natalie, your post reminds me of my greatest fear. How the hell am I going to figure out the train system in Japan when I've only ever been on the T in Boston once in my whole life? Haha.

  4. I have had those same fears on the New York Subway. The D.C. Metro is fair easier to navigate. The London Underground is even crazier.

    Your post reached me on a number of levels. I fell in love with New York University when I was in high school. It was my dream to attend school there. I live in Florida now, so that dream may not come true.

    I dreamed of becoming a teacher and I did. Now, I am working becoming a published author.