It’s in the Shoes


You can tell who goes where by the shoes they wear.

It’s 5:30 AM, a little chilly from the wind blowing across the Hudson, as I walk up a long flight of stairs that lead to the platform where I can catch the commuter train to the City. I look up, see a small hulking figure wearing a hoodie. I can’t see his face, just his tennis shoes, looks like he’s standing at the top of the stairs. I’m a little apprehensive, hesitate, and just for a moment, it reminds me of that scene from the French Connection. But he moves on, so I keep walking up the steps. I open the door, see another guy, well dressed, standing at the other end of the platform, staring at the floor.

I walk towards him, keep my head down just enough to see him, but so as not to catch his eye. As I approach, I notice the man is wearing a nice pair of shoes; they’re well shined. Then it hits me — it’s the shoes; they tell you everything you need to know, instantly!

I walk down the stairs leading to the platform, pass by lots of figures, some huddled up to keep warm, others scurrying about; they wear working boots, scuffed, tennis shoes with big knobby soles, some wear dress shoes. I head to machine, get my ticket, turn around to look at the people with the shoes. The working boots, wear jeans, heavy jackets and head gear; they’re workers going to the City, what else would they be. The tennis shoes, mostly women, carry large bags, nice coats, no head gear.

One woman is inside the coffee shop, she’s wearing heels, black stockings, a dress, coat with a puffy neck, and she’s made up her hair. She talking to a guy, looks like they know each other — they’re discussing stocks and bonds.

The train is coming, I now know everyone on the platform, what they do, where they’re going, who they know; it’s in the shoes, they tell you everything you need to know!

I sit down; picked a two seater near the door. I put my bag on the aisle seat, you know, to prevent anyone from seating next to me, protect my space — a typical defensive posture, almost universally understood. Everyone does it.

I settle in, can’t see shoes anymore. Everyone takes their usual seats. The ticket lady comes into the cab. She’s smiling, she knows everyone on the train, well, except me; I’m the newbie. But she smiles at me anyway — must be the way I’m dressed. I have to wear a suit today, look formal. I’m going to try and meet an important potential client at an event this morning, in Long Island; have to impress, I’m wearing black and clogs. The ticket lady is wearing bus driver shoes, very shiny; goes with her tidy uniform.

The train gets going. More people come in, the seats start to fill up. Someone is approaching, slowly. I try not to make eye contact, but I can see from the corner of my eye; a cane pops forward, then two black suede shoes. I hear a voice, “May I”, the lady says. She’s talking to me. “The seats are filled up”, she continues. I take my bag, move it out of the way. She sits down.

A nice lady, well dressed. She’s wearing black; black shiny winter coat with a puffy neck, black bag — everything matches.

I’m supposed to get off the train at 125th, the Harlem stop. I’m not familiar with the train routine and am thinking, they announce the major stops anyway, so I’ll be fine. The 125th is a major stop along this route.

The nice lady had fallen asleep. I mind my own business, not noticing the stops; except her shoes. Time goes by, my mind is somewhere else, on the meeting, and I’m rehearsing.

I look up, we’re not moving, the train has stopped a little longer than usual. It’s the 125th!

I have to get out, but I can’t. The lady with the cane and black suede shoes is still asleep. “I have to get out” I exclaim, grabbing my stuff. She wakes up, slowly. I move past her, get to the door. But it’s too late, the train had started to move. I miss my stop, frustrating — now I’m heading to Grand Central station!

I text my colleague, he was supposed to pick me up at 125th. I tell him I will double back, and to wait for me there. 

The train pulls in to Grand Central. I’m in a hurry, have to catch a train back. The train empties, I look down the platform — there is a mass of shoes, all walking in the same direction.

You can tell who’s going where, by the shoes they wear!


Life on the Bus

I grew up in Mexico, lived in some rough border towns for much of my childhood. To get around, I traveled by bus, pretty much across the country; so you learn how to “sense” when something doesn’t fit, or someone doesn’t look right at the bus station or between stops: these places are about routine and everyone, the bums, taxi drivers, passengers, bus drivers, and ticket tellers, move a certain way.

Well, this morning, like every morning I travel by bus, I get a cup of coffee from the coffee shop next door to the bus station in New Paltz, where I routinely take the 8:30 AM to get to Albany. I look through the window of the coffee shop and see two guys walking in to the station; one is tall, has a white beard and a quick gaze, he’s carrying a piece of paper in his hand, the other is short and unassuming; but they don’t fit the scene, they don’t belong.

I enter behind them, walk to the teller window to buy my ticket, and I overhear a conversation taking place between the two guys and two well dressed women, curiously standing in the middle of the station. I take notice because the women don’t look like they’re going anywhere, they have no bags or tickets in hand; and as soon as I had walked in, the two guys snapped their necks, and turned around to look at me — intensely.

So, I thought, “Uh, am I in the wrong place, here. Who are these people. What are they waiting for. Why do those two guys look like cops?”

Because they are!

The tall guy with the beard is dangling a police badge from his neck, which I now see as he turned around to look at me — intensely; the little guy just stood there, but I could see he was carrying a gun- he’s the backup, casing the joint, probably runs very fast.

The story unfolds; one of the women, the one whose voice is breaking as she nervously shakes a bit, is the mother of a young girl who is on the 8:30, on her way home from Phoenix. The girl is 22, a heroin addict, ran away with her boyfriend, he’s 34, he’s a heroin addict too; both had jumped parole and were being tracked by the police — on Facebook!

So you see, this morning is not routine, but no one else in the station pays notice, the passengers come in, buy their tickets, go about their business: one is a well-dressed woman with heels and a short black dress, big handbag under her arm, “Yep”, I said to myself, “She’s going to the City”.

Another is a woman with a stroller and a young child. And all of a sudden, as police cars come into the parking lot and start to position themselves and their vehicles, I’m thinking, “This is no good, what if the runaway guy, or the girl, are armed. Where is the safe spot to move to. How is this going to go down?”

The bus rolls in. I had moved to the safe spot; the inside corner between the coffee shop and the station. From there you can see everything, and everyone — the whole scene. The woman with the stroller had also moved there, but she hadn’t noticed anything, she simply moved to the spot where she was out of the way, because of the stroller.

As soon as the bus driver opens the door and walks down, the parole officer and the little guy walk right in, come out first with the guy, then the girl. He is put against the bus, gets cuffed doesn’t resist. She comes out, looks at her mom, in disbelief, and starts to yell at her. She knew. Her mother had turned her in, had called the police — how else would they have known to meet them there. The story, arranged by the parole officer and the mother during that conversation at the station, was that they police followed them on Facebook, knew they were coming home. You see, this way she would not be lying to her daughter, because this was partly true, and she had done the right thing, she told her fried — her daughter needed help, was coming home.

The tragic thing is, though, the parole officer, warrant in hand, had to take the “kids”, as the mother referred to them, straight to jail, then back in front of the judge, then I don’t know where.

The mother had thought the police would let her take them home, have a shower and rest; they had been traveling by bus for three days now and she just wanted to get them home. But this was the wrong thing to do, the parole officer had told the mother earlier during their conversation. “They’ll just pick up and run, and we have to chase them again”, he said. “This is the best thing for them now, they are not kids anymore. I’ve been doing this for 37 years and believe me, drug addicts know how to be convincing; they learn that and play at your strings”.

The girl, cuffed and put in a separate police car, is sitting in the back seat now, her mother, the friend and the parole officer approach the car while the passengers board the bus — incredulous of what they had just witnessed.

I come up to the bus driver, he looks at me, says: “I’m not going to New York” (remember him). “I know”, I replied, “You’re going to Albany, I’m going there too”.

Life on the bus, is strange, but true — on any given day!

An Expression of Our Individuality

I was waiting for the bus at the New Paltz Trailways station on my way to Albany yesterday morning, a young guy, wearing a trendy grey scarf, carrying a smart backpack, eagle scout, outward bound pins all over says to me, “Is this the bus for New York?” (I thought, here we go again). I reply, “No, I’m waiting for the bus to Albany; they look the same! You gotta read the sign in the front of the bus”.

“Oh, he says”.

“It would be easier if we had a coherent sign and schedule information system, and if we had an integrated transportation network, like other civilized countries have- confusion would not be a problem”, I declared, thinking; this will throw him off!

He thinks for a moment, (more like a 2 minutes) and he says, “Well, you see, we live in America, we drive cars, because they are an expression of our individuality! “I may be young, so my opinions may be different, but if we had integrated transportation, we have to pay more taxes and it would cost money”. “When I go out with my parents, I’m the first to volunteer to drive”.

“Ah”, I replied, “You know, the Germans, they love their cars more than we do; yet they have integrated transportation, and they take walks in the forest every Sunday morning”.

So, today, I’m on my way back, and I see this guy, sitting on ‘the king seat’, for you theatre majors (notice the fastidiously correct spelling). He’s wearing a feather on his head…on the bus!

That, dear boy, is an expression of one’s individuality!



Fear and Loathing on the Bus!

The bus driver glances at me (he’s lighting up a cigarette) as I approach the 8:35 AM bus to Albany, and he says, “You’re on the wrong bus”, in a declarative tone. I replied quizzically, “Albany?”, handing him the tickets. “Oh”, he says, “thought you were going to New York (it’s how people upstate refer to NYC- minus the city).

I must look like I should be going to NYC, not Albany!
After all, business people upstate take the bus to NYC from New Paltz, not to Albany.
In Albany, business people take the Northway Express between the two cities; this bus is very posh, and the people are nicely dressed. But between Albany and Schenectady, everyone takes the BusPlus, an express line with limited stops, connecting these two cities along the old carriage road, now a major commercial strip with mini-malls, dealerships and fast food restaurants (all the attributes of the car culture).
Three different buses, three different socioeconomic class cultures and experiences.
It’s all a matter of perception- and fear, but for many, it’s everyday life!