Subway

Metal is a rather peculiar thing. Thereís that scent Ė you know, when you hold a dime in your palm for too long and it gets sweaty and all and it starts to stink. The tokens are like that, too, but they also have that ugly, dull brassy look to them that is more pallid than antique, although I suppose now that theyíve phased out the tokens, they may as well be antiques, beside those old torch-lights and slightly-tarnished menorahs and wrought-metal weeping willow sculptures that probably would cut your hands before you could wind them up enough to play back that old tune your grandfather used to hum to your mom when he would sit her on his lap on the front porch.

I have a token in my pocket at this moment; it is pressed between my index finger and my thumb. I can feel the impressions on each side, the asymmetry of it all. Itís awkward. I flip the coin around with a quick half-turn of my fingers, over and over again, like lovers opposite one another in a revolving door with no exit.

I keep this token in my pocket for good luck. Or rather, more on that unlikely glimmer of hope that maybe one day, time will turn back. Iíll know because the proximity readers will be replaced by those little tin cartons with the slits in the top. Iíll know because thereíll be a person sitting in that booth again, listening to the radio, reading a book, doing anything but giving you tokens Ė and even then, counting your change wrong, to your dismay. They donít listen. But then again, neither does the empty booth thatís there now.

The subway is full of relics of times gone by. Even the trains themselves are getting kind of old. Only one thin little ring around the wheels stays that pristine, paladin-armor silver. The rest of the wheel is some strange shade of mauve that looks kind of like rust that it is, but without that sickly peeling that seems to always peek through abandoned buildings and really old cars.

Still, the trains have a function; my token does not. As my left hand swipes the card, my right hand stays firmly in my khakis, turning the warm coin over and over. I walk out onto the platform, steering abruptly to the right when I see that bright yellow slab that youíre not supposed to step on, although a couple guys are playing some sort of game of chicken on it.

I wait, leaned up against the wall, the tiles on this narrow mosaic of sorts squeaky clean, the whites shining brightly to create an effect something like seeing an wrinkly, scruff old man who nevertheless has some pretty spanking new dentures in his mouth. Iím leaning against the subwayís dentures.

The wait is kind of long, not agonizing, just long. Thereís a fan nearby, although itís pointed the wrong way and blowing the heck out of this little kid, whoís jumping up and down and up and down, his red-and-blue jacket swaying about and coming off til itís barely clutching his elbows.

My spot, with the clean tiles, has some rather stagnant air. The wait is really getting long. There must be a crowd at the previous station, holding up the train or something. Or maybe they just donít have the right number of conductors to run the system anymore Ė I hear the transportation authorityís pretty far in debt these days. The fare hikes certainly are complicit in that conclusion.

The times change; my valueless token is an artifact; the trains will break down and be serviced; that fan will be replaced by a bigger one; the kid will grow up and become a man; these tiles will grow old and dusty and chip off in the middle to reveal the cement behind them. But the subway isnít about any of that. The subway is about waiting, and thatís something that will never change.