You are walking north on Park Avenue South, after a day of work at the magazine, toward Grand Central.
It is 93 degrees in the shade, and there is no shade, as it’s Manhattan.
All you can think about is being enveloped in an air-conditioned Metro-North car for 45 minutes, with your paper and your iPod.
You’re walking quickly, as you don’t have much time before that 5:27 climbs toward cooler climes to the north.
The outdoor patio at Pershing Square is empty, save for a few tables of hardy souls. Usually it’s packed on dry eves. But it’s just too damn hot.
You hit Grand Central with 60 seconds to spare, and make your way for Track 27.
The train is jammed. You walk toward the front of the car, where an aisle seat usually frees up. You walk through another car, and another car. Middle seats are taken. Fucker’s full.
At least it’s cool.
You walk further. One more car, you say.
You recalibrate your expectations. Suddenly an unclaimed corner of the vestibule for standing will suffice.
The next car has no air conditioning. You can almost see the air, like the heated vapors lifting off a Jamaican tarmac in August. Yet its seats are all claimed.
One more car, you say.
The train takes off. The next car has no air conditioning either. And all seats are full.
You claim a quarter of the standing vestibule area. The lights are out too. The air is thicker than Veselka pea soup, deader than Cobain.
It’s a shitty old rustbucket train, a.k.a. the New Haven Line Special guesting on the Harlem Line.
Maybe lights and air go one once we get trekking, you say, trying to concentrate on the Times. These old trains can be finicky.
The train crawls through Grand Central’s tunnels, slower than a second-string catcher.
There’s an announcement at 5:39. By 5:39, the 5:27 should be clear of 125th and the river, the Manhattan skyline waving good bye until the morrow. Yet you’re still in the tunnel. The lights are still out. The air conditioning is still on the fritz.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” says a woman’s voice on the PA system. “We apologize for the lack of lighting and air conditioning. Unfortunately, neither will work for the duration of the trip.”
You are paraphrasing. It was very difficult to hear what she was saying. You confirmed it with the other standers in the vestibule. It was bad news, all around.
Several riders head to the south six cars, where there is air and lights and, unfortunately, lots and lots of people. Their vacated seats are promptly seized.
The train still crawls. Finally you emerge from the tunnel and are happy to see the sun, before realizing, it is the sun. It is 93 degrees in the shade, and probably hotter in the train. With that sun streaming through the windows.
The train comes to a stop.
The PA system crackles.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the train in front of us is having mechanical trouble,” it spits. “We hope to be moving shortly.”
At least it’s not us, you say, then realize having a busted train in front of you isn’t all that different from being on a busted train. People whip out their phones and tell loved ones of their misery.
You try to be upbeat. A bad train ride, nothing more. Shorts, central air and a beer await at home.
You get to 125th at 5:44. You make decent progress after that. Air actually comes in an open window. It feels like cashmere on your irritated skin.
Every few minutes, a few riders on the hot car can no longer take it, bolting for the cooler cars like a girl running to her room to burst into tears after a ribbing from her brother.
Some doofus moves next to you, as if that square foot in the vestibule is prime real estate. His sweaty arm brushes yours as he scrolls through his Blackberry.
You have to move. A seat is open, an aisle on a four-seater with one person on the window. She reads Tina Fey’s memoir. She has a NY Post next to her. You’re done with the Times and ask about the Post. She says, grab it. You do, and read of Anthony Weiner’s endless efforts to turn all e-conversations with young ladies into discussions of his willy and sex. Tweet nothings, you mouth.
After North White Plains, you figure the cooler cars should have opened up a bit, and you too join the legions of girls running to their room to besmirch Strawberry Shortcake bedspreads with their salty tears. Alas, the aisles are jammed in the southern six. You stand in the morass, longing for your seat in the heat.
At 6:18, you roll into Hawthorne. You step off the train, into a heat that’s slipped to, oh, 92. You wouldn’t think 92 degrees would spell relief, but there it is.