New York City has two iconic images for me: the skyscraper and the subway. Yet, I lived in a sort of Middle Earth in New York, rarely experiencing either the skyscraper or the subway.
My fifth-floor apartment was on the top floor of my Greenwich Village building, and my office was in a rather run-down old building on lower Fifth Avenue, so I never got all that high (in terms of altitude or chemical adjustments). Since I lived close enough to my office that I walked to work, could even walk home for lunch if I wished, I did not ride the subway on a daily basis.
I never had strong feelings about the skyscrapers (although I enjoyed the view of the Empire State Building from my apartment at night). I had an outright affection for the subway, however, which provides New Yorkers a cheap, convenient way to get around the city without having to deal with ownership of a car. The only one of my Manhattan friends who had a car paid more to rent garage space for his car than I paid to rent my apartment.
The strange encounter
A friend whom I had been in college with visited me in New York City. We scurried around the city, and like most visitors, he did not share my enthusiasm for the subway.
On Manhattan, the subways basically run up and down the east side and the west side of the island, joined by the 42nd Street Shuttle, between Grand Central Station and Times Square. Any time I ever rode it, it was crowded, hectic, leaving me glad that the trip is not quite a mile.
Jumping onto the train just before it left Grand Central, my friend and I were lucky enough to find seats. A man across the car from us stared at us, and before the train had completed half the run, he and my friend were standing in the middle of the car, shaking hands and babbling like the long lost friends that they were.
The prince on the subway
When my friend and I were in college together, in Georgia, almost a decade earlier, he had become friends with an exchange student from Ethiopia, who was supposedly a nephew of Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie. Although we saw each other around the campus, especially in the presence of my friend, he and I never got to know each other.
Oh, yes, that was he whom my friend met on the subway. If I had been alone, he and I would not have recognized each other, as he and my friend did, after several years.
He had been in and out of the United States several times since we had last seen him. This time, he said, after we left the train and were standing in the crowd at the Times Square Station, he would be in the country for a couple of weeks, and…
And, somehow, he was gone. He and my friend had not exchanged addresses, and I was left wondering if we really had run into an Ethiopian prince in a crowded subway, or if I had just imagined it.
My friend and I continued on our way, taking a west side line down to the Village.
You can find an index to all my unforgettable New York City stories, “My Experience of Unforgettable New York City,” here.