Straphanger Joe Wordlessly Manipulates F Train Riders

Handbrake as a Metaphor

By the time I made it to the train Friday morning, after dropping my son off at school (something I love to do), I was damp, my waterproof shoes were wet, and my umbrella was soaked.


I did not feel like talking to anyone or even looking at anyone–my mood having shifted with the weather. I gave a police officer a half smile as I made it to the platform to try and push the clouds away. He looked bored, leaning against the wall with his hands behind his back. He ignored me. Ahh, the subway.


The F train pulled up within a few moments. I stepped on, umbrella dripping, eyes unfocused and low, and took out my iPhone to watch a video I’d ripped the night before (a long process involving software known as handbrake which I amazingly downloaded correctly and seemed to use in the appropriate manner without a single call to the their support line–no easy feat for this techno-bungler). Don’t get too excited about the video though, it was only an instructional yoga anatomy video–interesting only to a yoga teacher and even then probably not all yoga teachers. Still, I’d been trying to watch it for four months unsuccessfully at home. Family life, children’s videos, and work simply hadn’t allowed it.


The F was crowded, but I had elbow room so it wasn’t packed and there is a big difference between packed and crowded–about 6 inches of personal space. Six inches of very personal, leave-me-alone, space. More than enough to gaze down into yoga-land and pretend I was somewhere else.


With my usual place by the door I was distracted for a moment by the woman sitting to my left. She was using an iPhone also, but thumb-typing a note to herself in Chinese characters. I stared down at her to watch how the letters and numbers from the QWERTY keyboard translated. I still don’t get how that worked–English letters into Chinese characters–but it made me smile.


Then, I put in my earphones and went to my video section–which up to this point in my iPhone’s existence had been empty. Time to disappear inward. Only when I got to the section, I found it … empty. I’d missed a step in syncing somewhere – must have. Choose your own four letter expletive. No movie this morning. I looked down at my foot. My umbrella, hanging down from my arm, had been dripping water onto my toes. It figured. Good thing, though, the shoes were waterproof.


I took out my book–as a veteran traveler of the NYC subway system I was prepared with my backup, Definitive Book of Body Language, by the Pease’s, Alan and Babs. As we traveled beneath the East River, I read on about how to manipulate people and “be a more powerful communicator–without ever having to speak a word.”

–Straphanger Joe

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