They step, stone-faced, onto the escalator, hoards of them, out of the E train up toward the exit into Midtown on the East side of Manhattan. People touch each other, but only by accident and such touches are often met with snarls, to which the offender might offer only a defensive apology. It is rush hour after all, not easy to stay to oneself in such crowded environs, although everyone is attempting it.
Would that I could brighten the mood, give gold stars to everyone. But I myself get trapped into the me mindset, the attempt to keep hold of my own psyche as I head into an office where things have to get done, productivity is crucial. A transition is necessary, a need to get out of oneself and focus on external tasks.
I am only going in to Midtown once a week, to help a friend, and yet the weight of that one day, the effort it takes to mold myself once again into the conformity of the mass mentality and then break out of it again is a challenge.
Lunch in Midtown is always interesting. The cashiers at the salad/sandwich/soup cafes are like automatons, trained to move as fast as humanly possible with as little emotion as possible. There is no time for chat.
"How are you?" I asked the girl who grabbed my food and flew fast and furiously to ring me up though there was no line behind me.
The question startled her. "I'm fine, how are you?" she asked, looking up at me for the first time.
"I'm good," I said. "Hungry. Excited for my salad."
She looked at my salad, then, really looked at it. "Oh, what did you put in?"
"Curry chicken," I said. "Doesn't it look good?"
"Yes," she said. She was a human. I had surmised it all along.
The line had begun to form so I paid and thanked her and moved off to dig for a gold star. I stepped back, moving around the next customer she was helping, and handed it to the cashier, whose face, which had fallen into expressionlessness once again, shifted into a huge smile.
She looked at me then with great appreciation. "Thank you so much," she said.
"You're welcome," I said. "Have a great day."
A little human interaction might have actually helped improve this girl's day. It must be hard, I always think, to stand in a place where people can so obviously see you and yet rarely be seen at all. People are busy, moving fast, caught in their own mental swirls. But to step out of oneself, into the world of someone else, if only briefly, to connect over something totally trivial even, is crucial.
I am happy to be viewing Midtown with a new lens, to bring to it my stars so that I can remind myself and others that we are all aligned, if even for just for brief moments.