I probably could have jammed myself into the subway train, had I really been obnoxious and pushy. Literally pushy. But I’m so lazy that instead of doing that, and having to stand up all the way from the arena to the train station, I decided to take the next train. I understand that I still had to stand there, outside, for another three minutes waiting for the next train, but then I’d get to sit down, I figured.
The train arrived, and sure enough, it was almost empty. I got a window seat, and continued reading my book – Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro – as the doors closed.
“Mind the doors … closing the doors,” said the driver, and I thought about the joke Son’s Godfather and I had years back about an immigrant who learned his Swedish from the subway announcements, perfectly imitating their rhythm and nuances. I smiled, and glanced at the people in my four-seat group. There was a young woman in front of me, an older gentleman with a black Jacques Cousteau hat on, and an empty seat next to me. On the other side of the aisle, there were two young women, deep in a conversation about something.
“This is the train,” announced the driver.
One of the girls snickered.
“What? What’s that supposed to mean?” she said.
“What did he say?” said the other one.
“He said, ‘this is the train’, or maybe, ‘this is a train’,” she replied.
The doors closed, and the train shook, just before it started to move. I went back to my book, and the girls returned to their conversation. The man in the Jacques Cousteau hat said nothing.
And then, a guitar. A loud guitar taking the first chords of a song I recognized almost immediately was on the speakers. The sound was bad, as it’s always on all subway cars (and airports) all over the world because They don’t really want you to understand what is being said.
But the guitar cut through everything. The girls stopped talking, and started to laugh. The man in Jacques Cousteau hat had a big smile on his face, as he started to turn left and right, as if to see if he was the only one in the car who could hear the music.
“Rock’n’roll,” he then said, laughing.
“Van Halen,” I muttered to him, thinking back to the summer of 1986 when I bought my denim vest, just like the one Bryan Adams had on the cover of the Diana maxi single.
“Is this heavy metal?” he asked the girls who were now laughing out loud. Let me rephrase that. They were LOLing.
A pause. A grunt. More guitar. Drummer tapping a beat on the rim of a drum, then getting into the song.
“Oh yeah!” yells the singer.
We’re all smiling now, and looking at each other.
“I’ll take this any day. They should do this more often,” said the man in the hat. “What is this?” he asked again.
“It’s Van Halen,” I said, again.
“I like it,” he said.
“Well, this is the train,” I said, not really sure what I meant, except that I was trying to make a funny remark about what the driver had said earlier.
We arrived at the next stop. The music stopped as the doors opened.
“Mind the doors … closing the doors,” said the driver.
The train jumped again as it started to roll onward. We all sat on our seats, smiling, and waiting.
But the music never came back. I continued reading, and girls went back into their conversation, only now including the man with the Jacques Cousteau hat.
He was still smiling.
Sometimes, all it takes to make us connect with each other, is just the tiniest little nudge from the outside. A wise man once said: “Contact is all it takes to change your life, to lose your place in time”. But that’s another Van Halen song.