June 28, 2012
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“Two tickets for the N Line,” says the middle-aged Indian man from behind the security window. The sound is carried through a speaker in the thick glass that distorts his voice. I noted that he spoke in a high-pitched voice, and I had to suppress a laugh.

My mom takes the passes from the clerk and smiles at him. “Thank you.” We walk back the way we came, following the signs marked with the yellow letter N, and arrive in a slightly larger hall. This room is much more crowded. A group of street performers are sitting on a bench wearing mime masks, taking a break between performances. The remnants of a small crowd are still evident, slowly drifting apart as waves of commuters and tourists fold through.

The subway is busy at this time of night; passengers waiting for the train span about fifty feet each way. Suddenly, a loud rattling noise breaks above the noise of the crowd, and two bright lights come into view down the track. As the subway emerges from the tunnel, a faded yellow emblem bearing the letter N can be seen on the front of the first car. The train grinds to a halt, and the doors push themselves out of the way of passengers attempting to disembark. As soon as no one else appears to be leaving, I cross over the yellow line separating the platform from the track. The train is saturated with passengers; I grab hold of a steel pole that is already occupied by the left hand of a man wearing a business suit. His smug facial expression makes him look like the type of greedy Wall Street mogul who only cares about his own success. As I look around the car, I notice a tall black man walk in on the opposite side of the car holding a massive black duffel bag. A long scar creeps down the length of his face, starting at the top of his forehead. His scalp is covered in long dreadlocks of black hair that fall to the sides of his brutal face. His features are so noticeable that I cannot believe no one else gives him any regard; the other passengers are busy talking, reading, and looking at their cellphones. Was this man involved in a street fight? Did a rival gang attack him in a drive-by shooting? I wonder if he deals drugs. As the train gathers speed, I turn my focus to the huge gym bag. It is full of homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and pouches of Caprisun juice.

All of a sudden, a strong, deep, and commanding voice fills the car, and everything becomes quiet.

“Ladies and gentleman, can I have your attention? Is anyone in this car hungry? I have plenty of sandwiches and drinks if anyone would like to eat! They are free! I repeat, free! Is anyone in need of shelter?”

The car remained silent until the next stop. The negative connotation I discerned from this man changed in an instant. Suddenly, I felt sorry for making fun of the Indian clerk’s voice earlier. Maybe he was made fun of throughout school because of his disadvantage, and his low self-confidence prevented him from being more successful. Perhaps the man in the suit came to New York representing an organization fighting to defend the environment. He could be part of a team developing and marketing zero-emissions vehicles. And who is to say that the black man was not injured in fighting for his country? The way my perception of this man suddenly changed makes me think more carefully about the way I see everything.

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