Reading on the New York Subway

Again I am posting about something else I found online, but the internet is just so full of fun stuff. This photography project Underground New York Public Library encompasses 4 of my favorite things:

  • Reading
  • New York subway
  • Photography
  • Reading on the subway

This project is pretty awesome and touches on so many topics, while somehow still managing to be straightforward and simple. At first sight it is a tumblr of various photographs of people reading on the New York subway, with the caption naming the book and author. But go a little deeper and it’s much more than that. It’s street photography and all the questionable ethics that go along with it*, it’s people we see everyday, it’s people learning, it’s getting lost in a good book, it’s connecting with strangers, it’s capturing the various walks of life that make up NY, it’s introducing us to new books and authors, it makes NY feel a little smaller, it brings up the book vs e-reader dilemma, it’s relatable, it’s hopeful (maybe because it seems less people are reading these days, and these images capture all ages, genders, ethnicities reading), it’s “like meditating” (I agree with this, because looking at the photos I’m reminded of how soothing it is to get lost in a book), it’s friendly, it’s inspiring, it’s a calm moment among the chaos of NY, and the photographs themselves are full of talent.

The subway seems like an obvious and perfect choice for this project in New York. I’m sure the same could be done in parks or cafes, but the subway is just so New York. Reading is obviously a big part of the subway for a lot of people, including myself – it’s where I get most of my reading done because it provides time, a familiar atmosphere, is generally pretty quiet, and maybe the movement of the train is soothing. I’ve actually gotten on the wrong train when reading on the platform, and have almost missed my stop because I was so engrossed in a book. I’m sure I’m not the only one..

*I struggle with this and often miss out on photo opportunities due to feeling like an intruder on someone’s life. P, a talented and curious photographer who likes to capture people on the streets, told me he bought a portable printer so that when he took a photo of a stranger he could give them a copy right then and there. I thought this was a great idea, as it breaks down barriers and makes the subject feel special.

M

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See two posts down

I loved Meghan’s post below. You should really check it out. Not that I am trying to steal her thunder, but today brought about a similar experience of never judging a book by its cover.

Fortunately patience is something that has been instilled in me somehow or another over the years, and it has allowed for an appreciation of an otherwise unappreciated demographic in DC.  Maybe unappreciated is not the exact word … undervalued could be a more appropriate one.  This demographic is the ever-expanding Latin American population in the city.  Many people joke about Mexicans and manual labor.  Joke all you want, many came from really harsh circumstances for a better life, for them and their family.  And how many of you think you could cut it doing heavy physical labor a minimum of 10 hours a day, at least five days a week?  Thought so.  But they are not all “Mexicans” and they do not all do manual labor and they do not all just speak a few words of English, and any other negative connotations one may associate with this particular group.

Well … waiting in line at a Bank of America this afternoon there was a gentleman attending two customers.  Silently.  The gentleman a stereotypical example of a middle-aged Latin American.  Pass him on the street in casual attire and you wouldn’t give him more than a second’s thought at his “immigrant” appearance (aren’t we pretty much all just immigrants in this country anyway??).  This attendant gentleman was clean cut in a pin stripe suit sporting a name badge, like any respectable bank employee would be expected to be dressed.  However, he was silent, as were the two young men he was across from.  After a moment I realized that he was “speaking” with the two clients in a third language (I’ve seen him before and he definitely speaks Spanish as a native and educated English as the gentleman he is being referred to in this post).  This third language was sign language.  Maybe English maybe Spanish, I am not very versed in any type of SL.  At this point, I just started smiling.  Not because I was surprised that he was using sign language, or impressed that he knew something more than Spanish, or even that I may have stereotyped him from an initial physical appearance.  I think it was more just thinking of those around me, if they were even paying attention to what was going on, if they were cognizant of how able this individual was to communicate with others.  Of how people stereotype.  Of how people judge immediately.  Of how inconsiderate we are of one another.  I just smiled.  And when it was my turn, he smiled back, and spoke to me in perfect English.

Realmente, como Meghan, a nosotros nos gusta la gente de todo el mundo, da igual de donde viene una persona, de cualquier país … ni importa el idioma ni el color de la piel ni si tiene dinero o no.  El mundo es más rico con una mezcla así.

P

P.S. Read Meghan’s London cabbie thoughts!

Just Here’s Fine

As noted in a previous post, I enjoy chatting with cab drivers, on the rare occasion that I do take a cab. Sometimes I want a quiet ride, and sometimes they want a quiet ride, but it’s nice to at least test the waters with small talk and see where it will go. People are interesting and you may learn something, hear a great story, get some (unsolicited) advice, or a tip about the city. Plus it’s just friendly to talk to someone you’re sitting in a car with.

So, it’s fair to say I really like this project I recently stumbled upon, Just Here’s Fine: a look at the lives of London’s cab drivers. The artist, Victoria Hannan, shares a photo and brief bio of cab drivers from around London. Each driver is completely different, has a different reason for choosing this job, has their own routine and habits, has their own crazy stories.. things you would never know by looking at all drivers as the same person. Victoria breaks each interviewee down into their own person.

Everyone has a story and a life you don’t see, especially if they are in a profession where only formalities are exchanged: “I’m going to Penn Station, thanks”, “Can I please have a medium iced coffee with skim milk?”, “Do you take credit?”, “No, there will be nothing else, thanks for your help.”, “We’ll take the check.” Most of these interactions are strictly business with no room for anything else, which is fine, but it’s nice now and then to get to know people as, and make them feel like, more than just the person who hands you your morning bagel or drives you from point A to point B. You never know what you will get out of it, even a “hello, how are you, beautiful day” and a simple “thank you” will probably brighten their day as well as yours, and maybe it will be passed on to the next person. Cab rides seem to provide opportunities for a more extensive conversation, which is maybe why the artist chose cab drivers as her subject for this project.

If you’ve ever visited a Trader Joe’s (if you haven’t you’re really missing out) you know well how the interactions at the checkout lines go. The cashiers are all so freakin friendly and chatty. It’s obviously a prerequisite to be able to start a conversation with a stranger. They offer more than just a “Hi.” I’ve been asked how my day is going, what I have planned, and have found myself joking around with the cashier. It makes some people uncomfortable, admittedly including myself at times, because we unfortunately live in a society where not talking to people we don’t know, even if they are helping us or sharing an experience with us, is normal, but I love that Trader Joe’s does this. I feel like they’re breaking people’s guards down one perfectly packed recyclable bag at a time. One time the cashier saw I had the makings for “guaco”, ie guacamole, in my basket but was missing cilantro, and offered to go get it for me because he knew exactly where it was and “you can’t have guacamole without cilantro!” He left me at the register with a line forming and went all the way to the other side of the store to get it so that my guacamole wasn’t missing cilantro. He wasn’t even going to get to eat the guacamole! It’s these little gestures and interactions that restore faith in humanity and makes us feel connected, which is why I’m really enjoying Just Here’s Fine.

“I am the laziest ambitious person I know.”

So opines Tom Kreider in his The “Busy” Trap contribution to the NY Times.  It’s something that I have become very aware of and do what I can to not feel pressure to always be doing something.  And to feeling that doing nothing is actually something, and many times a more beneficial something that another something I could be doing.  If you know what I mean.

I have had the fortune to have experienced an extended amount of time among another culture that does not take work so seriously as Americans, especially us Northeast corridor folk.  As a matter of fact, I am being forced not to work as a result of the somewhat destructive storms that rolled through the area Friday evening.  Lots of power outages, downed trees and power lines, lack of clean water, and, unfortunately, a few casualties as a result of those storms.  The storms actually having a name – derecho – associated with the culture that I was about to name: the Spanish.  An almost nationally mandatory midday siesta, enjoyment of one another’s company over a few beers and tapas or a coffee, walking most places, separate food stores for each items bread, meats, pastries, etc.  I know I know, they are in a financial crisis much worse than what we have seen over here, and you may be thinking that they asked for it with the lifestyle they lead.  But that’s for another day.  The Spanish generally do what they can to not get stressed out over having too much to do, because they know how to generally keep themselves in check, and are aware of when they need to slow things down, and take more time to go for an evening walk before dinner or meet with friends on a Sunday afternoon to savor the last few hours before Monday’s mid-morning before-work coffee with other friends.  And taking a look at South American culture, which, as you know, was and is greatly influenced by the Spanish, they’re pace of life is even slower.

And it’s Friday and the above was written a few days ago and so I figure I better get this out.  Hope all had a nice, safe holiday (my new neighborhood is a fan of launch-it-yourself fireworks so I spent a lot of time dodging them) and stay cool this weekend … 105F forecast for tomorrow here in DC!

P