Riding With Strangers

I primed myself for yet another “shitty morning”, as my fellow train rider awaiter “Ashley” so eloquently stated yesterday. The rain was falling, meaning the bike stays in the garage. I headed out on foot and encountered a burly neighbor with a burly dog nearby. I remember him telling me at the summer block party that he’d been laid off, then went and lost 20 pounds. We’d joked about him getting downsized after being downsized.

“Stay dry!” he said with a smile.

“I’ll try!” I said, briefly wondering if I could respond in rhyme throughout the entire day.

I did indeed stay dry, as no more than five seconds after saluting the neighbor, a non-descript white compact car pulled up to me. An older man opened the passenger side window.

“Going to the tr-r-r-r-rain?” he said in an eastern European accent.

“I am,” I said, and hopped into the car.

Of course, on the surface, climbing into a non-descript, peculiarly smelling white compact with someone you’ve never met before makes absolutely no sense, and leaves one open to abundant second-guessing should the worst-case scenario happen to play out. But our neighborhood is stable, I’d had a positive experience with climbing into a car with a stranger before, and my judgement simply said it was OK.

And, of course, it was raining.

The man’s name was Mike. The accent may have been Russian; it certainly was thick, belying the 40 years he told me he schlepped to the city, first as a tool and dye guy–$100 a week!–then as a construction worker making considerably more money.

We discussed the merits of train travel versus driving into Gotham. We almost had an accident crossing Bradhurst. We joked about sleeping through stops on the way home.

“I woke up in Brewster once,” he said. “I’d been at a party. My friend and I, he lived in Pleasantville, shared a cab home. It wasn’t too bad.”

We almost had another accident going from Chelsea to Elwood. The southbound car on Elwood that swerved around us laid on the horn. Mike shrugged and blamed the weather.

Mike pulled up to the new crosswalk on Elwood and told me he’d wait to let me cross. I shook his hand and thanked him, then scooted across the way to the train–dry, and with 10 minutes to kill that I never envisioned I’d have.

If my kids ever get into cars with strangers, I’ll ground them for life.

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