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Tales From the Underground

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From the Bronx to Rockaway Beach, into the heart of Queens and under the cobblestone streets of Manhattan's Lower East Side run 24 New York City subway lines. Whether you love the underground tunnels or find them claustrophobic, chances are you need to take them to get from point A to point B.

The subway is the fastest way around the city, except on the days it's not. On the days the subway doesn't run as it should and the board announcing how long until the next train comes says "delayed," I go a bit insane. Those interminable waits underground, in the middle of the dark, rat-infested tunnels destroy my sense of time. All of a sudden 10 minutes feels like an hour. I've become convinced, as I stood holding the railing, waiting for my train to start moving again, that my 9 a.m. coffee will emerge from the subway to see the 7 p.m. sunset.

The first time my train stopped in the middle of a tunnel, I had a mini mental breakdown, like Elaine Benes in Seinfeld. The subway car was quiet, but inside my head screams of "Move! Move! Move!" began. Deep breaths; it'll be over soon. No cell service. I should have packed a book. I've finished writing my to do list and already started to check off items. And still the train car sits.

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I've forgotten, like so many of us, how to stand still. To sit with my thoughts. To allow life just to happen. Maybe, I bargain, I could be more patient. I could stop and enjoy moments of rest, like my train car captivity. But this is like a wannabe Buddhist trying to be the Dalai Lama.

Soon enough the terror sets in and I begin to fear that, like in the movie Volcano, molten lava will come pouring into the tunnel, bubbling, boiling, ready to consume indiscriminately every piece of matter in its path -- rats, trash, rails, trapped commuters, and all.

As I become apoplectic, the conductor begins to talk. Hope! We'll be moving shortly, he says. So, we're here for the foreseeable future. The lava's back; I return to the dark recesses of my mind. Of course, the train eventually starts moving again. I arrive at my destination, and when it comes time to return home, I swipe my monthly pass and board MTA once more.

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