My second novel, Pushing Water, will be hitting the market any day now!
It’s been a long time coming. There for a while I didn’t think it would ever get finished.
But one thing about writing is that if you keep at it, I mean earnestly write your heart out, eventually it gets completed.
This has been a particularly difficult couple of years with some major ups and downs. But I kept writing.
Now, with the publishing day so close, it feels like I can take a breather, appreciate my life.
What’s interesting when I look back on the last couple of years is that the New York Subway system has been part of these ups and downs. Reliable or unreliable, the subway trains eventually took me to where I was going. I frequently wandered the city, my mind totally absorbed in working out an aspect of the plot, or trying to figure out how to deepen a character, while I traveled uptown, downtown, visited the zoo, stopped at museums, or ate a hotdog from a street vender just outside a subway station.
I never knew what I would experience when descending the stairs at a subway station to go on one of my daydream journeys. Once I encountered a subway clean team. My eyes stung from the fumes of the strong chemicals. I did my best to sidestep the sudsy puddles, while I listened to the workers sing songs and joke with each other.On the days when I felt my least creative, the subway platforms looked as if they were the loneliest places in the city.There is a powerful sense of resilience in subway stations. Not only can the traveler depend on a train eventually arriving; there are loyal musicians who return again and again to the same spot on a subway platform. For several years I’ve seen this gentleman playing the steel drum at the 34th St. station. His music reverberating through the tunnel always lightened my mood.I have often watched people beat out a raw rhythm on nothing but plastic buckets. This woman beating away with her drum sticks was just as talented as the man. They both worked up a mighty sweat as they took turns trying to outdo each other. For months I saw them regularly at the West 59th Street station. Then they were gone. Perhaps one day I’ll write them into one of my novels. The subway cars often become the stage for impromptu entertainment. One day when I was headed downtown, these men hauled conga drums into the subway car. Their music sounded as good as any professional that I’d ever heard. Jolly and quick, these guys provided a delightful interlude to an otherwise drab ride.One very hot August afternoon, I was totally mesmerized by this didgeridoo musician. That particular day the subway station felt like a sauna. Everyone looked on edge and more bedraggled than usual. Ugh, I felt as though I was melting!
Then I heard primitive music coming from deeper inside the subway station. This musician, decked out in a safari getup, looked as though he had just arrived in town from down under. He was blowing into his instrument while sweat poured off his forehead and dripped from the back of his neck. A small pool of perspiration puddled at his feet, but his performance remained lively. For an instant, I could have believed we had all been transported to the dry desolate planes of Australia. I dropped a dollar bill in his kitbag. He looked up, a sweaty scowl on his face, and kept blowing on his didgeridoo.Once when I descended the stairs into a subway station, I thought I heard angels singing. Then I recognized the sweet melody of a Mendelssohn concerto. This ethereal music came from a lone violinist somewhere on the station platform at 14th Street. If humans could levitate, oh, with the sound of that beautiful music echoing through those underground tunnels, that day I could have believe it was possibleThen there were times in the subway station that were filled with smiles and giggles. Children unselfconsciously dance when they encounter a subway musician. This mother and daughter had a great time while they waited for their subway train to arrive. A few other people joined in the dance for a brief minute before scurrying into an arriving subway car.Then there are those unexpected acrobats who jump into the train like marauding pirates, taking the travelers totally by surprise with their amazing gymnastics. What fun they are to watch.The subway station was a perfect mode of transportation for this jolly couple on their way to a Halloween party. They were having a great time posing for people taking photos of them on iPhones and of course, me with my trusty Nikon. I never knew what incident, what quirky character I might encounter in a subway station. I looked at the faces of my traveling companions wondering which person would lighten my writing dilemmas with a gesture, an overheard conversation, or who might open me to new possibilities with the characters in my novel.The 59th Street station is a regular hangout for this guy at Christmas. He plays and sings Christmas carols while the battery operated dolls lined up in front of him, dance and wiggle to the music. I’ve seen him in this same location on the hot, miserable days of the summer, when the temperature inside the train station is ten degrees hotter than it is outside on the street. He is always well dressed in his suit coat, playing his guitar. His dolls, dressed in summer attire, some wearing hula skirts, gyrate to the music.All NYC Westside subway trains pass through Penn Station. It is a big, noisy and very busy station. Not only can a commuter make connections with subway trains but this location also accommodates a railroad system that sends trains east out to Long Island and west to New Jersey and beyond. Many musicians spread themselves throughout the multilevel building. I’ve seen old blues singer perform in a wheelchair on the main floor. Tucked here and there I’ve heard gospel ensembles, folk singers, women singing show tunes. I’ve heard just about every form of musical entertainment in this building. It’s as though this train station is transformed into a performance hall.The 42nd Street subway station is also a good location to catch some interesting entertainment. One afternoon I listened to a Mennonite ensemble perform. The area is extremely busy and the group sang as composed as if they were standing before a congregation on a Sunday morning.Subway tunnels have great acoustics and any trumpet player will tell you that the echo of their instrument gives any tune a bit of extra depth. This musician was certainly entertaining and with his suit and tie it appeared he might have been between a brunch and dinner gig.The entertainment on a subway ride is not limited to musicians and acrobats. This little girl, dressed in the same outfit as her doll, was having a great time traveling on the ‘L’ Train coming out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I’ll never forget the subway ride with Devon two years ago. We were on our way to see his new sister, the new little jewel that had just joined our family. It’s interesting how many memories are tied in with the New York subway.Two years ago, while I was still plotting Pushing Water, our granddaughter was born. She, like her older brother, Devon, has also become a subway rider. Bundled up in a heavy winter coat, she no, travels back and forth with her mom.
I’ll take the subway today, perhaps ending up at a museum or maybe just travel to a neighborhood to take some photos and to watch people from a coffee shop window. I’ve begun working on another novel. I look at the faces of the fellow travelers on the subway, picking and choosing what facial expressions, what hand gestures, what personality type would best slip into this new piece of writing.