I want to follow up on my whining from yesterday. One thing that is really impressing me is how often NYers give up their seats on the subway so I can sit down. Not the guys plugged into their iPods, who are oblivious, but people who are on the train with the awareness that it is a shared public space.
It started 4-6 weeks ago, when I was still just a little bit ambiguously pregnant. People would tap my arm and offer, "Would you like to sit?" but like, "Pardon me for asking, but are you pregnant? I'm pretty sure you are, but not entirely, but if you are, maybe you want to sit?"
But in the last week or two, the people looking after me have become very insistent. If I try to turn them down, they will make a scene until I take the seat. The most solicitous people are mom-aged (what does that mean?) women from Queens. They look at least as tired as I am but they give up their seat anyway. The woman who stood up for me this morning (a) apologized for not noticing me as soon as I got on the train and (b) defended the seat from another lady who swooped in to snag it before I could hustle over.
It's embarassing to be fussed over like this. I've been trying to ride off-peak and at the ends of the train so I have a better shot at getting a seat without displacing anybody.
But it's also splendid to be treated nicely by total strangers on the subway, complete with small talk. The women who get up for me tell me about their pregnancies and their sisters-in-law in labor Right Now. It's comparable to the level of congeniality I've experienced with fellow comic book riders on the subway asking what issue I'm reading. For me, the subway is the key to understanding how the city can function, how people zone out in the public anonymity of their commute, except when there's something to suddenly join strangers in some common interest, before everybody heads back out into their lives. On a bad day, it's a train stalling with dozens of trapped commuters, but on a good day it's a veteran mom offering a new mom a lollipop for the walk home.