I can hear the subway creaking along the curves in the outdoor tracks that weave between the buildings in Bushwick, Brooklyn. It’s dark outside, just before midnight, and I’m having a beer with my window open. Today’s temperature nearly struck 80 degrees. A few nights ago I was shivering beneath my covers, thinking that Mother Nature is kind of a bitch. Today, she smiled. Spring in the city.
The warm air carries different sounds. The wind doesn’t whistle; it puffs. Baseball bats crack. People talk through smiles, their open jackets flapping. Sunglasses and squinting. Flowers for sale on the sidewalk.
Spring is streaky, an in-between that never lasts. But everyone feels spring. It’s audible. And my ears perk up to happier people and their sounds in the warm air.
Last week I read an interesting article on the declining interest of white people when it comes to the NBA.
In the article, Buzz Bissinger writes, “I also make a habit of asking every white sports fan I know whether they watch the NBA. In virtually every instance, they say they once watched the game but no longer do. When I ask them if it has anything to do with the racial composition, they do their best to look indignant. But my guess is they felt very differently about the game when Larry Bird and John Stockton were playing.”
I found this wildly intriguing. It’s true that viewership of the NBA is down and many complain that the NBA All-Star shenanigans aren’t what they once were, but on Saturday night, three white girls (myself and two roommates) hunkered down on a couch in Brooklyn, set our table with snacks and beer, and watched (and “ohhhh!”-ed at) most of the All-Star Game challenges, and returned the next night for the game.
Two of us even voted during the Slam Dunk contest (Blake Griffin jumped over a car. I mean, come on.).
One other roommate was returning from a trip home to Pennsylvania, and when she arrived she found us lit up with the basketball festivities, shouting at the three-point shooting contest. She entered with her parents and grandmother. I thought her dad might weigh in on the competition, but it was her grandma who offered a comment on the shooting prowess of whoever was running around beyond the arc at the time. And as her mother walked by with groceries for our refrigerator, she paused to watch a struggling contestant.
“He’s not squaring his shoulders.”
I nearly died. It was perfect.
So, I don’t discount the numbers or research when it comes to the alleged dwindling interest in the sport on the whole, but this year the All-Stars put on a show. And we were very appreciative.
On Sunday night, I watched the Pittsburgh Steelers capture their eighth AFC Championship. I was at a pub with about ten other Black&Gold supporters, squashed between two gaggles of Jets fans. The bar itself had several inflated Jets players outside, and a Jets flag swayed in the frosty wind from an upstairs window. We were the minority, but we were more than okay with it.
Our server, another Pittsburgh native and high school friend of a few of us in the group, stole one of the several Terrible Towels we had displayed and at the ready on the table in order to go swing it around the kitchen where the cooks grumbled. We were nervous for the state of our food but chuckled in support.
To quote something I read this morning, “Pittsburgh has won more Super Bowl titles (six), more AFC Championship Games (eight) and played in (fifteen) and hosted more (eleven) conference championship games than any other AFC or NFC team.”
I want to state plainly that those who say the New England Patriots are the dynasty of this era (the 1970s Steelers being the dynasty of old) might be mistaken. Yes, the Patriots won their three Super Bowls in a span of four years (the second team to do so, the other being Dallas), two of those Lombardy trophies coming in back to back (wins in 2001, 2003 and 2004), but they capped a perfect regular season in 2007 with a loss in the game that mattered (falling to the New York Giants 17-14). In both 2009 and 2010, New England was the #1 seed in the AFC and yet they lost in early playoff rounds (falling in the Wild Card to Baltimore in ’09 and losing to the Jets in Divisional Playoffs this year). Dynasty? More like Dynasty of Almost.
Please don’t be confused – I am not arguing that the present-day Steelers are worthy of the title of dynasty. They still have a lot to prove. The Steelers failed to even make the playoffs in 2006 and 2009, the seasons following their two most recent Super Bowl wins. Dynasty just isn’t a word to throw around lightly.
But should Pittsburgh win its seventh Super Bowl on February 6, 2011, it would be unprecedented in the sport of football. That doesn’t make them the “new” dynasty, but it does set the franchise apart.
As any yinzer (read: Pittsburgher) would say, Go Stillers.
I remember watching 1999 tick over to 2000, and for the life of me, I can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that we’re now a decade deep in the 2000’s. My brain is something of a sponge, absorbing masses of details every second I’m living and experiencing, but doing a full recall on the decade sounds a bit taxing on my noggin. And terribly boring for all of you. So, I’m going to talk about 2010.
January 2010 marked six months of living in New York City. Well, I was living in Queens and working in Manhattan, and I certainly learned the differences (real and perceived) between all of the boroughs. Absurdly (to me), there are Manhattanites who refuse to step foot in Queens. I am generally a laid-back lady, and I did not feel the same — my roommate and I gave our new-found home borough the tagline “Queens : Come as you are.” In Queens, you can leave your house in sweatpants.
The spring was bustling, mixing concerts with visits from family members and friends, dancing in my neighborhood (please go look up Jackson Heights), dancing everywhere. Easter Weekend sangria. So many friends, mostly old and Penn State or hometown-proud (respectively amongst my closest friends), but a few new. But certainly there are downs that accompany the wonderful ups. Such is life. And during the spring, like the sporadic but necessary storms that rumble and erupt overhead, I had a decent amount of rain.
The weather warmed up, and the streets became sweaty, sometimes steamy with unfortunate smells. City smells. Despite how grass-less summers in New York City may seem, I learned that you never have to give up the sports you love, even if they require a field. I was wrangled into a softball league during the summer of 2010, and though I had the same first-day jitters I had when trying out for Varsity as a measly 15-year-old, I found that I loved those jitters. I loved turning them into cockiness (read: confidence) on the field (and I got to explore places like Randall’s Island in order to get to said field), and I loved the feeling of going full-force for the first time post ACL replacement surgery in 2007.
Fall blew in, breathing change cooly on my neck. A fresh start in a new apartment, sampling life in yet another borough (Brooklyn). New professional opportunities sparked a ferocity to continue growing in my field, I challenged myself to a 10K Mud Run (replete with military-style obstacles), I dined at restaurants I’ve never been to in neighborhoods I’d not yet explored, I took walks in the city at night. I did handstands in the middle of a basketball court in the dark. I reveled in the football and hockey seasons, getting used to being a minority fan. A displaced Pittsburgher. I learned what it felt like to spend Thanksgiving in a different state, yet still with my family.
In the pacifying cold of winter, I felt the sadness of older relatives slipping away. And the shock of losing one who wasn’t so old. I learned that moving forward is the best direction, the only direction. I learned that drinking wine and laughing with my family is an incredibly important activity in my life. And I learned that I can love again.
J-G-L-6 (getting to Manhattan from Brooklyn post-blizzard) : Waking up this morning was difficult. Not only is it December 27, two days after Christmas, but I knew I wasn’t going to like traveling to work after the sky decided to open up and dump feet of snow on the NYC Metro area. I peeked out my window to find every car in the lot behind my building buried under puffy white snow.
When I opened my door to trudge the usual 7 minutes to the JMZ stop at Myrtle-Broadway, I found thigh-high mounds waiting for me on the sidewalk and street. After somehow managing to get onto the train platform, a J slowly cruised into the station. The normally-express J was running local, which wasn’t a problem, until we arrived at Hewes St., just two stops from Manhattan. With the subway doors not closing, everyone began to get antsy. Finally, the conductor announced that the train directly in front of us was stuck on the Williamsburg bridge. Ten minutes passed without update. Ten more minutes ticked by. Worse news came with the next announcement – the bridge was impassable and all passengers were asked to find alternative transit. I clambered down to the street with my fellow passengers, and most of us trudged a few blocks to the Broadway G stop. Twenty minutes of waiting for the G… to only go one stop. Twelve minutes of waiting for a Manhattan-bound L. Five minutes of waiting for an uptown 6. When I emerged, Manhattan didn’t look much better than Brooklyn. Two hours and four trains later, I arrived at work.
L (the woman who collapsed on the platform) : I was making my way home late on Friday, December 17, coming from the UES going home to Brooklyn. The 4 on which I was traveling downtown arrived at Union Square around 1 AM (technically December 18), where I needed to transfer to a Brooklyn-bound L. I hurried to the track, noticing from the stairs that a train was still idling at the station. I picked up my pace as to not miss the train (few come at that hour), but much to my chagrin, every single car was packed with people. I walked along the platform to one end, searching for a space I could slide into, but no dice. I turned around and decided to walk until I met the other end of the train. As I passed the stairs I had come down I came upon a large group of people crowded around something. With headphones in, I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying, but I noticed a woman’s legs stretched out on the ground, facing downward. The crowd parted, and I saw that the woman was shaking, maybe seizing and probably unconscious, her head cradled on the lap of a young woman who looked to be in her mid-twenties. There were MTA support members there, but the young woman seemed to be taking control of the situation medically. I instantly thought of my friend Beth, who is my age and a nurse. I thought that Beth would have done the same thing, jumping into action in the real world if necessary. Calm and compassionate, yet strong and in control.
I witnessed a few things that evening that made me hopeful for the human race and alternately made my stomach turn. The young woman, who I would bet any money is in fact a nurse, was beyond brilliant. The MTA support listened to her instructions as she held the woman in place, supporting her neck and head. She calmly and kindly asked the man holding the woman’s purse and coat (who I can only assume was the fallen woman’s husband), if she had taken anything, if she had eaten anything that she could be allergic to. Many bystanders were concerned, wondering aloud if they could do anything, put a call into the paramedics, anything. Some were not so concerned, pulling out their smart phones to take video, for instance. A group of young men even hit on a young woman a few feet away from me. She was appalled, looking around after it happened to see if anyone noticed. I did, and I gave her the palms up and rolled my eyes. “I hate idiots like that,” she said.
Eventually the overcrowded train pulled away and another L arrived. As I stepped onto the train, I felt torn about leaving the face-down woman, though I was never directly involved nor do I have any medical knowledge or expertise. It just felt strange to walk away from something like that, turning my back on an emergency. The scene took quite a while to leave my mind and leave me in peace. I still think about that woman, though, and I hope she is okay.
After writing about my experience on the J train a few days ago, I started to think about how many interesting moments take place on the subway. Specifically, I was thinking about the things I’ve seen and how new moments of note occur in front of me on a daily basis. I take two to three different trains every day, and each line is populated with very different varieties of travelers. Today, I begin “Subway Thoughts”, in which I’ll provide accounts of what I see, and maybe even what I hear (although most of the time I’m rocking out internally, scoping out the scene to the soundtrack of my choosing).
L (the guy who kept trying to talk to the girl with the headphones in) : A man squeezed himself next to a young woman on one of the two-seaters you find at the end of a car. She had headphones in, bobbing her head to the music while she picked fries out of the McDonald’s bag on her lap. While the man began to read at first, a few minutes into our Brooklyn-bound journey he attempted to engage his seat-mate in conversation. She slowly removed one ear bud to listen to whatever he wanted to say, curtly answered and attempted to replace her headphone. The man would not stop talking, much to her chagrin. This chick’s blatant annoyance was key. She’d barely turn her head to emit her brusque replies, and I noticed her looking around to see if anyone was aware of what was happening to her. She didn’t notice me, but I noticed her and the man lacking self-awareness next to her.
F (the guy who wouldn’t stop shadowboxing) : I sat in the middle of a long bench in the middle of a long F train. Across from me, one t-shirt-clad, long-haired guy and all of his belongings took up enough space for three people. The young man was jiggling a foot and staring at himself in the reflection of the subway window. I didn’t think anything of it until he began to shadowbox. Jab, jab…punch. A short sequence, and his hands returned to his sides. Two minutes passed, then more jabbing and more punching. A few head ducks worked their way in. The train slowly took on more commuters, bodies filling in the spaces left open for seating. A few women sat near him, unawares… until his fists were raised. The looks of confusion on their faces were followed by furtive glances around the car for communal acknowledgment. Some giggled, some frowned. I smiled a small smile. None of which deterred the shadowboxer, who continued to work on his form every few minutes, critical of his reflection in the window until he exited the train.
There are several Steelers bars in NYC, but sometimes Black&Gold pride pops up in places unaccounted for on the internet. I was walking along 2nd Ave. in the Upper East Side about a month ago when I caught the above blow-up football player.
I truly, deeply enjoy running into Yinzers or finding Pittsburgh anything around New York City. Sometimes, I can’t help but shout ‘GO STILLERS’ when I see a jersey or prominently-displayed logo. Though it’s not unbelievable that there is Pittsburgh pride living and breathing (and drinking beer) in NYC, I think I might need to start taking more (stalker-like) photos of these displaced Pittsburgh fans and amassing my collection here for you all to enjoy.
Oddly enough, I’m thinking about watching the movie ‘Mysteries of Pittsburgh’ tonight, which I’ve heard has little or nothing to do with Pittsburgh. The mysteries continue.
I was riding the J home today around 7:30 PM. I had music on, headphones in. Flicking through shuffle, unsatisfied. I happened to look up from where I was standing, leaning against a pole near the door, to see a well-dressed man in a suit concernedly frowning at something going on to my left. I turned my head. A youngish guy, somewhere around 20, flat brim ball cap facing forwards; red, black, and white Nikes – only moderately beat up; was leaning down to talk to a seated man, well-worn cap on, leather jacket, Blackberry in hand that had seen better days. I did not remove my headphones. I saw an older woman seated on the opposite side of the train watching the conversation. Her eyebrows raised. I looked back at the well-dressed man. Still watching the conversation to my left with great concern. I turned back. Young guy seemed a bit twitchy. With dirty fingernails, every few seconds he’d scratch his face. I noticed from the way the seated man used his hands, he seemed to be talking with serious tone. I became curious. As I removed my left ear bud, I heard the young guy hurriedly thank the seated man for talking to him, and he reached to shake hands. After the handshake, the young man scurried off. I glanced down at the seated man. He made eye contact with me and shook his head.
“I don’t know what that was about. And I don’t know who he was talking to, if you know what I mean. He was high as shit. You see him scratch his face like that? He is asking folks for money, for help, when as soon as he gets some, he’s gonna go run to his crack dealer. Or whatever. I told him if he really wanted help, I could get him a place to stay, right now, right away, but he don’t want that. He’s gotta want to get better.”
The older woman silently nodded her head in agreement. The well-dressed man dropped his stare and opened his newspaper. I continued to talk to the seated man until his phone rang. And I wished him a good night as I exited the train at my stop.
I was able to trek back to Happy Valley this past weekend to tailgate, catch a Penn State football game, and roar through some of my favorite local watering holes. A group of my friends and I were all able to finagle trains, planes and automobiles to get ourselves into town together for the first time in quite a while. It had been almost a year since I’d been to State College, and on my (alarmingly unsafe) return bus trip to NYC, I realized something personally shocking – State College doesn’t feel like home anymore.
I fell in love with State College in my second year of living there. I returned to my hometown of Pittsburgh only the summer after my freshman year. After that summer I moved myself permanently to Centre County. Without hesitation I can say I love Pittsburgh, but it’s a different kind of love, a familial kind almost. I was born and raised there, my family is still very much rooted there, and just driving through the city and surrounding suburbs is akin to putting on a favorite raggedy sweatshirt. Pittsburgh has always been a constant; State College was the first place I could call my own.
The sports, the intensity, the sweeping willingness to always have a good time – those are only a few elements that make up my love for State College. In leaving my childhood home, I found a town in which I became me. Happy Valley embraced me, skidded my knee (in reality, tore my ACL, but that’s a story for a different time), built up my wind chill tolerance, and alternately forced me to sweat out thoughts and dreams over long, hazy summers.
During my PSU trip a year ago, my heart swelled to near burst when I stepped foot in downtown State College. I saw gaggles of friends and stayed on the couches of people who hadn’t yet graduated or moved on. It felt natural, it felt right. My trip this past weekend was altogether different – there were no impromptu reunions and no couches were available, as my friends finally did graduate and move on. I felt like a visitor; an alumni, not a resident.
Returning to NYC on Sunday night, I was simply excited. I’m not sure it felt like coming home, but it felt right all the same. I fell in and out of love with a small town in Pennsylvania, and now I’m flirting and dancing with a big city. There’s so much to learn, to try, to taste, to dig into, and I’m blown away by the prospect of it all.