samedi, juin 24, 2006

Six Feet Under

When I woke up late, I had a feeling it was going to be a bad day.

Rushing out of the house, I threw on some flip flops and put my high-heeled shoes in my bag to change into later.

Running down the steps to the subway platform, I tripped and nearly fell flat on my face. When I reached the bottom, I carefully took a step and tripped again. Confused I was actually that clumsy, I looked down to see that the rubber sole of one of my flip flops had started to come off. I sighed and sat down to change my shoes.

I had worn the flip flops specifically for comfort and - gasp - practicality. For some reason I have yet to figure out, the paving stones on the bridge leading to work are only sealed with cement at the corners, leaving big gaps all around the sides. On any given morning you can watch the hordes of people rushing to work and, invariably, you will see every other woman in heels suddenly get stuck mid-stride, try to extract her foot, curse up a storm and carefully insepct the damage. It's a pretty effective way to ruin a good pair of shoes, which I have a knack for doing under any conditions.

I made a mental note to be careful on the bridge this time.

I changed trains at my usual stop and was just squeezing into a space inside the car where I could breathe without sucking someone's hair up my nose when the train came to a screeching halt, sending everyone flying backwards into each other. Then the lights cut off and the engine died. The passengers looked around quizzically at each other, and the conductor's voice came on over the PA system:

"May I have your attention, ladies and gentlemen," a note of stress in his voice, "We have a....problem..."

There are often "problems" on the subway lines. Usually, they are called by their wonderfully euphemistic names. A "social movement" is a strike. A "technical difficulty" is a strike. But an unnamed "problem" is kind of spooky.

People shifted uncomfortably and muttered. It was very hot, and now that the train wasn't moving, there wasn't even a breeze. I took out my fan, grateful to have remembered to bring it. The woman in front of me looked at me wistfully.

"Ladies and gentleman," came the conductor's voice again, "we have a problem, and we will be here for a while. Thank you for your patience."

They NEVER say, 'a while'. Usually it's 'a few moments.' 'A while' means hours. Cell phones got whipped out from left to right.

"Jean-Pierre? It's Benoît. Look, I'm stuck on the train. No, we're in between stations, and they say it will be a while. Yeah. Christophe is there already?!? You're kidding. I'm going to be later than Christophe?"

"Marie-Christine, it's Claudine. Yes, the meeting? Can you tell them to start without me? I'm stuck on the train - no, in between stations - I don't know, they just said ' a while.' I know. Doesn't bode well. Hey, maybe I'll make it in time for lunch?"

Surprisingly, only one lady seemed to take it personally.

"I don't know why these things always happen to me. Well, I'm calling you to let you know I'll be late, so I don't see why you have to attack me. I'm the one who's stuck. Well, I think you're wrong to come after me like that. I can't believe I take the one train that gets stopped and call you and get yelled at. You are so wrong to treat me this way...."

People moved away from her as her voice got higher. I was hoping she wouldn't totally freak out and start thrashing around. There was hardly room, and it would have just stirred up more hot air.

"Ladies and gentlemen," came the conductor's voice again, "there has been a passenger accident at the preceding station."

Metro speak for suicide. Good morning! Someone threw themselves on the tracks back there!

"We will be here for quite a while. Those of you who would like to evacuate, please proceed to the front of the train. You will walk to the next station through the tunnel. Those who would prefer to wait on the train, please make room for those evacuating."

"Oh, no fucking way!" said the impossibly hot black chick next to me into her cell phone, "There are like, mice, out there!"

Great, I thought, how the hell am I going to walk down the tracks and side step rats in the dark in these shoes?

Maybe the broken flip flop would come in handy after all. If I brandished it as a weapon.

"Shoo, vile rat!" Flappy flap flap!!! "Away with you, metro mouse!!" Floppy flip flop!!

I even briefly considered using a lighter to guide me. Better yet, I could light the broken flip flop on fire and use it alternately as a torch and flappy flame-throwing rodent killer.

I am - in a word - brilliant.

I moved to the middle of the car to make my way to the front of the train to evacuate. Did I mention I was on the next to last car? I had a very long wait ahead of me.

One guy behind me was looking rather panicked, and explained to the lady next to him,

"I have a final in an hour," he said, shaking his head in disbelief, "and the exact same thing happened to me last semester - a passenger accident. I left two hours ahead of time this morning just in case, but I still think I'm going to be late. They'll never believe me."

"Well go on ahead, young man!" the lady said, giving him a friendly shove, "tell people you need to jump ahead!" She maneuvered her way alongside him, tapping people on the shoulder to ask them to let him in front.

"If he won't say it, I will!" she said to me when I smiled at her and let them pass.

After an eternity of waiting and advancing only half a step at a time, the line to evacuate started to actually move. At that moment, the conductor came over the loudspeaker again.

"Ladies and gentlemen, good news. We will be able to leave in fifteen minutes. Please be seated."

You know the moment in musical chairs when the music stops? It was like that. But hot.

And then we waited. And waited. And waited. For more than thirty minutes.

"Like I said, we should be starting up again in just fifteen minutes," the conductor announced, sarcasm seeping out of the speakers.

At this point, people just gave up and laughed.

"Okay, ladies and gentlemen, here we go for real!" he chirped, as the lights came back on and the train began to move. "And thank you for your patience. You have been very good."

I got to work three hours late. But with the best excuse ever. And come to think of it, I'm kind of disappointed I didn't get to evacuate. I was sort of curious to see the tunnels. And when else would I get to emulate Isabelle Adjani?

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