Sometimes, what to write about comes to me early in the day, and that is such a relief. Today was one of those days.
I wanted to get downtown and into a classroom just as the girls arrived – today they were going to be building their first robots. Not quite robots, but simple circuits using the robot chassis and learning how to use a breadboard to hook things together, how circuits work, how to translate what they built on a simulator yesterday into a real, physical operating thing today, and so forth. My favorite quote from the beginning of the day came when a girl told her group that they would have to do the activity because, “I am no good at robots.” And this was even before the teaching team finished distributing the robots and parts around the room. I made a beeline toward her and suggested that maybe today was the day she was going to get good at robots. She scoffed at me. Just before lunch, though, while the other group members looked helplessly on, I caught her fixing a circuit that someone else in her group had accidentally broken. As soon as she got the LED to light up I said, “Hey, look at you! Good at robots!”. She accused me of trying to deceive her, but she knew the truth. That’s how it works every day at Girls Who Code, and that’s why I love the program so much.
I walked down to the 238th Street station with idea of a single pit stop along the way: Mon Amour Coffee & Wine, to get a cup of coffee, not wine – too early for that. The coffee there is very good, but there is one, actually two, drawbacks to the place. The first, which is not too important for this story, but may be important in a future story, is that they have those peel-and-lock lids rather than the pucker lids (think Solo Travel lids – there’s a whole article about it here, but certain people might want to skip that link; I found an incorrect word, a then/than error, and a passive voice without even trying. Gizmodo need editors with more highly developed revulsion reflexes.) The second drawback is that the shop is only three doors, a cross street, and a staircase away from the train platform. For most, this would be a boon rather than a drawback, but I dislike eating or drinking on the train, which is odd, now that I think about it, because I have no problem drinking on the platform. Maybe it’s because on the platform, we are all facing the same way, whereas on the train, someone who doesn’t have food or coffee could be looking at me. It’s a mystery inside my head, folks, a complete mystery. Anyway, I adjust for my eccentricity by ordering the coffee with extra cream or milk, to cool it down, and then drink it as quickly as I can without permanently damaging my mouth. (An animal was indeed harmed in the making of this story. He is all right now, but his lower lip is rather tender.) I also skipped the first train that came through, just to buy myself an extra three minutes to finish the coffee. And finish I did, just as the next train rolled up.
I hopped on to the car with its door closest to me, then hopped right out again. This was a scene I saw played over and over the entire trip downtown. Someone would step in the car, say, “Ugh.” and step right out again and get in the next car. If the train had already started to move, they passed between cars to get out of that one. You see, the air conditioner was broken, and the car must have been sitting in the sun for a while, because the temperature inside was about 93 degrees, while the temperature outside was a much more pleasant 76. This prompted us all to move to the next, air-conditioned car, resulting in the cars to either side of the hot car having to carry half of its load. In other words, those other cars were starting to get pretty crowded, even by the second stop. It was SRO when I got on. Well, not quite, but nearly so. Enough that I knew I would give up my seat and end up standing for most of the fifty minute ride.
Then I had this other problem: I still had my empty coffee cup. There are no garbage cans on the 238th Street platform, and I’m not willing to leave my coffee cup on the ground. However, I know a (not too) secret, which is that there are garbage cans on the platform at 231st Street. (Don’t ask me how I know this – I told you, it’s a mess up there.) I made a bold decision – to hop off the train at 231, drop the coffee cup in the garbage, and hop back on. You can see where this is going, right? Joe misses his train. Nope, I got right back on as planned. Only, I had made one other decision just as the train pulling into the stop: when I re-boarded, I hopped into the hot car.
Two things were going through my mind. One, I could sit down – the car was utterly abandoned. Two, I was already hot, due to the combined effects of walking down the hill carrying my backpack and laptop case, and quickly downing sixteen ounces of still-pretty-hot coffee. I figured, if I could just accept the heat, I’d be OK.
You’re thinking “OK, Ochterski, you’ve really gone off the deep end now. Are you sure you didn’t get bumped in the head or something?” Well, no I’m not sure, but hear me out. I have a pretty regular daily meditation practice, for which I use the Calm app. They have a thing called “The Daily Calm”, which is a semi-guided meditation with a theme that is talked about at the end. The whole thing takes about 10 minutes or so. Last week, the theme was “Pain”, and they suggested accepting pain rather than fighting it. I was having a pretty good amount of muscle and joint pain, and fatigue at the time, especially going up and down stairs, so I thought, “Hey, what have I got to lose?” So I tried it. I tried accepting my pain. You know what, once I did that, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Instead of trudging up and down stairs, I try to keep my legs loose, no fighting, and dang if it’s not easier to go up and down. A lot easier. I’d say that about eighty five percent of my pain and fatigue is gone. When I feel it coming, I just loosen up and accept the pain that is coming, and most of it goes away. I think I have more energy, too, since I’m not using it to fight the discomfort.
So, I tried that with the heat. I accepted that my ride was going to be hot, and it was, but I wasn’t miserable, because the heat was just part of the trip. It was rather fun to watch people step to the car, not even all the way in, and turn and move to another car. I had the whole thing to myself for about eight stops, when it gradually began to fill. At one point, I joked with the woman sitting next to me that we’d feel better when we went out into the hot stations, while all the air-conditioned people would feel worse.
As the subway went underground and neared downtown, I felt something unexpected – a cool breeze. Someone at the front of the car was holding the door open by placing the strap of his bag through the door handle and hanging onto it with his fingers. Curiously, someone at the other end of the car was doing the same thing, unbidden. The effect was creating a breeze of cool tunnel air through the whole car, and cooling everyone in it. The ride was long. The ride was hot. But I wasn’t miserable, though I could’ve been.
So the point is this: maybe, just maybe, if we are willing to accept a little discomfort, things might not turn out as bad as we think they will.