Monday, June 23, 2014
What do we do when we ride the subway? Above all else, we avert our gaze. We look out a window, if possible, or maybe we stare at the floor, at our shoes, at other people's shoes. We read the paper. If we don't have a paper, we read the same overhead advertisement six or seven times. If a phone is part of our accoutrement, we stare intently at whatever is on the screen. We shy away from contact with strangers, always.
I'm on the Red Line the other day. A man gets on the train and he has a baby with him. The kid is about a year old and overwhelmingly cute; a boy (I think) with red hair, big blue eyes and a huge never-ending smile. Across the aisle was a man, doing his part as a passenger by not making eye contact. He looked up and saw the kid. And the kid saw him. The kid smiled wide. The man smiled back and gave the kid a little wave. The kid laughed and waved back. The man laughed and returned that wave. And so on, for two stops.
A woman got on. She sat near the waving man. The kid looked at her. She looked at the kid. The kid waved. She waved and smiled. The kid laughed and waved back. Then the kid looked at the man again, waved again. The man smiled and waved back. Everyone else who saw this action smiled.
The father and child were white. The waving man and woman were black.
Later on, I was at the Chinatown stop on the Orange Line. A man entered the platform area with his son. The son was perhaps two, in a stroller. As the kid was wheeled down the platform, he happily informed every person he passed – and I quote - “I ride train!” And everyone responded with a smile, a little laugh, a wave, or even by saying something; “You tell 'em, kid!” or “Good for you!” or “Me, too!”
The man and his child were Asian. The responders were of all colors and ethnicities.
At Community College, a woman got on with a young girl. The girl was playing with a used Charlie Ticket (for some reason, kids love those things.) It slipped out of her hand and fell to the floor. The old gentleman next to her picked it up and handed it back with a smile. She said, “Thank you!” in a cheerful voice. As the ride continued, this happened another four or five times. It fell this way and that, with a different person picking it up each time (I was one of them.) Each time, the kid smiled and said a bright “Thanks!” to her helper. The helpers smiled back, and kept smiling for a little while after.
The woman and child were black. The ticket picker-uppers were white, maybe a couple also Hispanic.
What does it take to get people to acknowledge their fellow riders on the T, while also providing for an enjoyable ride? Apparently, a smiling, laughing, good-natured kid. And, in every instance mentioned, race became a total non-factor in human relations.
Nice, huh? It appears we can all get along just fine, if we're willing to act like children.
[photo from http://www.asergeev.com/pictures/k/Red_line.htm]