Subway Blackout

Subway Blackout

Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash.

“Ahhh! Praise the lord, sweet baby Jesus, and mother Mary.”

The train was about half full in Grand street. Monica had been walking in her black 1-inch pumps for the last 30 minutes and was beyond relieved to have a seat.

“That went impressively- I was impressive.” She smiled as she thought to herself. “I think they liked me, I’m pretty sure they at least think I’m qualified. The position itself is a bit too front-end heavy for me. Is it worth taking? I don’t even know if I got the job yet, I shouldn’t be thinking like this. But if I did, is it smart for my career?”

A Mariachi guitarist came into the train car through the corridor connection. His music was punctuated by a now-rhythmic hiccup that had started before Monica got on the train. This song of the NYC Subway soundtrack was so familiar to Monica that it barely caught her attention, and she would not have even noticed him except for his worn black T-shirt and cowboy chaps. “Isn’t there a uniform to this line of work,” she thought. "And that hiccup is really getting on my nerves."

Done with this distraction she pulled out her phone.

“If I spend a year here, I can probably roll it up to a proper full stack or back-end engineering position. Assuming that the pay is low, and of course the pay is gonna be low with these kinds of positions, these kinds of positions I’m always in...— assuming the pay is low I can switch over at the end of my first year. I’ll be 30, I should be able to score a position making at least 6 figures then. Will I have to lie on my resume? I’ll have to see. God I haven’t even been given an offer yet. I don’t even know for sure I did well.”

The train got a little more crowded at Bleecker street. She now had a slightly overweight Asian woman to her right squishing up against her. She had yellow highlights although her black roots were coming in, and looked to be either in her mid 30s or maybe mid 20s, neither would’ve surprised Monica. “She definitely hasn’t aged very well,” Monica observed.

She sighed, focusing back on her own problems. “So much time wasted. Now I had to start all over again, build up that year of experience. This road to six figures was nothing like that Medium article promised me, what was it, five years ago?”

A thorny thought flashed through her mind, one that has been prickling her thoughts for at least a year now, but recently inflamed. She quickly shifted her focus instead to a Hispanic family across from her.

The mother was standing across the handrail from her husband and her young daughter on his lap. “The mother looks exhausted, more so than I am. The dad's grabbing his daughter a bit too tightly, no?” A man offered the woman his seat across from her husband but she quietly declined. “She looks upset, or sad, or tired of what she’s doing, maybe just bored. The daughter, too, looks unhappy, although more apprehensive than distraught like her mother. No one in this family is happy.”

She chuckled. “Well, there’s really no reason to be happy on this subway car. Did I look happy? Is some bored psychoanalyst examining my face to get a glimpse into my thinking? Certainly I must look happier than that family, I just aced that interview... right?”

Another man offered his seat to the mother, who again declined with a shake of the head and a wave of her hand.

“Ahh god I really need this job.” It’s been a few weeks since she was fired, politely, at her old place. They had told her that she had to go, that while they thought she was a swell coworker, she wasn't cutting it "in terms of deliverables," is how they put it. “6 months down the drain. It’s like a timer. A timer that gets restarted periodically before it can finish counting down, and so it never rings or alerts me or just wakes me up from this... it just keeps starting over.

Fuck, was I right? I hate front-end stuff, I mostly studied Object Oriented Programming, other real programming concepts not this bullshit. Calm down, calm down, calm down.” She breathed deeply, in and out. She had relied on this technique before to give her some clarity and refocus her mind.

"Even if the specific style syntax I mentioned was off or for padding instead of positioning, they would understand. I can always rely on Stackoverflow anyway, no developer actually knows anything.

Or maybe that’s just me. Maybe I’m the one who’s looking up every question, every problem on Google. Maybe that’s what anonymous developers on the Internet say, to relieve the crappy developers that 'it’s not them, it’s everyone'. I'm the crappy developer, I know that right? In this... understanding of events, I’m the crap developer everyone is lying to to make feel better.

How did it even get like this. I wasn’t dumb in school, I was smart. I swore I was smart. I didn’t drink and party like some of the dumb coeds at my school. I did fine at the development boot camp, and that was a grind. A few people dropped out, I survived. Even now I’m smart. I can always tell when someone is struggling to get a grasp of a situation. I can tell when they’re going to ask for instruction for even the most basic of tasks. Or when they “uhh” long enough that a store clerk or stewardess or bartender helps them out.

Then why am I in this position. I feel, I feel it’s not fair. I don’t deserve this. I’m smart, I swear. Right?

The timer resets and I’m back where I was. Stuck in this waking nightmare where I can never excel. My parents... are not proud of me. I don’t see where my future is heading. FUCK! I’m fucked. This is a joke right? How old am I again? I can’t deal with this, I can’t deal with this now. Imagine in 10 years. FUCK! Quit! I can find something more suitable. I can excel in something else, something... for dumber people. I’ll admit it, I don’t care. I just need to break out of this cycle.”

The train noisily rattled along then suddenly went dark, as poor Monica was fretting with her own turbulence. When the lights came back on, Monica recollected herself. She smiled.

“I suppose I must have looked entirely stupid this whole time. If I was judging that family for looking sad, imagine the other passengers looking at a grown ass woman on the verge of tears, her face buried in her hands.”

Indeed she did look distraught. She donned a drab black dress that covered her from the base of her neck to above her knee, with the polished, aforementioned shoes. A smart professional woman, with her face dissolved in her hands, her elbows pressed against her knees, her shoulders slumped down and her knees pressed together. She had sat in that pose for a few minutes, and her mascara was starting to smudge.

Wiping her eyes, and returning to her contently bored demeanor, she looked around for the beset Hispanic family. They weren’t there any longer, they must have gotten off already.

By now, the whole train was full. Strangely, she felt, she didn’t even remotely recognize anyone on the train. The Mariachi singer was gone but that was a given. To her left, to her strange relief, was the same overweight middle-aged-or-maybe-same-aged Asian woman with the blond highlights at the tip of her shoulder length hair. “Were they pink before?”

“Had I been so lost in my thoughts that I didn’t notice all the passengers on this train had gotten off and been replaced?”

An Asian woman, this one perhaps in her 60s sat alone in the corner. She wore an orange puffer jacket and was becoming more and more frantic. “Purse,” She made out. “My purse?,” she asked again but not really to anyone. “Had she had a purse? Was she even on this train before?” Monica thought.

A black man in a Lakers basketball jersey began hiccuping. “Has he been hiccuping this whole time. I can’t remember, I vaguely recall someone hiccuping, but I also am pretty sure he wasn’t even on this car.”

“I could ask someone. ‘Hey, did you get on this train recently?’ 'Did you know if that guy was hiccuping the whole time, or did he just start?' ‘Hey, have I been on this train this whole time or am I actually a ghost who's been cursed to ride this same train line night after night, wooOOoooo?’" She laughed to herself.

"I must have been freaking out a little too hard back then. I know I can get like this and I should accept that I can become overwhelmed, that's healthy. I’m just stuck with this hard choice, or just this tough situation I’m facing. I just need to relax. I wish I had some guidance. Or some support."

She scanned her fellow passengers. A chubby white guy with a Yankee cap on, dressed in a hoodie and sporting Jordans. A mature-looking Hispanic man who was probably in his early 40s but looked more distinguished than past his prime. A white woman with a frayed black bookbag that had a "Stop Animal Testing" decal attached to it.

"I honestly do not recognize a single soul on this goddamn train car, besides this Asian woman to my left who may as well be my best friend. Who are these people. And how long is this guy going to continue hiccuping.”

The elderly Asian woman was still frantically looking around and underneath her chair for her purse, although she was beginning to feel resigned that it was lost and maybe even that she hadn’t brought it.

"That must suck." She tried to think back whether the woman ever had a purse. Maybe she could help. But try as she might, she couldn't recall her being in this subway car before. "I guess there's nothing I can do."

"Nothing I can do. What a common feeling. What day was it? The 15th. Rent was due in 15 days, how much more money did I have in my account? Where did all my savings go? I really need to budget better, this is outrageous. Holy Christ, if I don't get this job. If I don't get this job, or the next one, woww I can really be put out can't I? How is this even possible, to me? For someone like myself?" Hiccup.

She looked around again. A middle-aged white man with a shaved head, sleeveless gray hoodie, and camo pants. "He looks frightening."

"I'll get the job. Don't worry. I'll get the job. Probably. Most likely, I'll get the job. I kinda need it. I actually really need it..." She opened her bank's app on her phone. "I really need it." She let out a terrified laugh.

"Is this really where I'm at, now. Me? Of all people. I had a serious shot at being valedictorian in high school. Or at least salutatorian. God damn it. Was this all a mistake? Why did I ever pick this cut-throat career. I wish I picked something easier. Something where you don't have to think so much and you don't have to spend every afternoon studying. I wish the money had come that was promised to me! All those lucrative salaries and accounts on Reddit, swimming in offers from Silicon Valley companies, making it big in startups... None of it has come to pass. It was all lies. It was all lies to me and now I'm here hung out to dry, no where to go. I'mma be homeless, that's apparently a possibility for me. What do I have to do? Work harder. Just breathe. Relax. Relax? Haven't I been too relaxed? I didn't get this job, who am I kidding. I got the style syntax wrong. I lied about how I left the previous job, but they figured it out. I'm not going to make it. I'm not going to make it!"

The subway car went pitch black for a second, longer time.

When the lights came back on, Monica no longer felt the comforting press on her right thigh from the woman to her left. Nor did she have any one to study, nor did she find out what happened with that ladies purse. Because now, to Monica's utter disbelief, the train was completely empty except for herself. Her scream pierced the inexplicable silence that had hung over the rollicking train car zooming along decade-old train tracks. Hiccup.