September 22nd, 2011
The D Train
Walking up 188th street, which is on an upward incline and feels like climbing a mountain, I reach the D line located on the corner of the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. The stair case leading underground is worn with yellow painted hand rails slightly peeling from the elements and the stairs are granite with cracks and missing portions of stone. As I submerge into the depths of the station, I am bombarded by posters adorning the staircase walls advertising some new television show, or product that you must have, trying to appeal to any passerby’s preferences. A quick left and I am led down a short corridor that I like to describe as the marsh lands. For some reason the floor is always flooded at the base of the short staircase that takes you up to the metro card machines, ticket booth, and turnstiles that lead down to either the uptown or downtown trains.
A quick leap avoiding the mini indoor lake and I am on my way up the short steps that connect to the main corridor. Once past the ticket booth I approach the turnstiles where I swipe my card and finally take the staircase to the downtown side. This staircase is longer than the rest which leads even further underground and is in similar disrepair as the initial steps leading into the station. Since it is a Wednesday afternoon between the hours of three and four PM, the platform is crowded with middle school kids judging by their random and deviant behavior, high school kids who are calmer, and other miscellaneous passengers either conversing, pacing, or patiently waiting for the train. The noise level is high with the middle school kids acting rowdy, yelling at each other, and playing what I guess to be some form of tag. Contributing to the noise are the uptown trains pulling in and out of the platforms and the rustle of passengers entering or exiting the staircase leading to the top floor of the busy station.
Finally I see the two lights of the train emerge from the dark tunnel, which begins to slow down only after it swishes by me at a high speed, blowing a gust of wind in my face that I can only describe as a welcome temporary relief from the mugginess of the hot day. The doors part in both directions to a distinct ding- dong sound that indicates the doors are opening. Passengers crowd the entrances leaving only a walkway in the middle for emerging passengers to exit the train. As soon as the last passenger steps off the train (or maybe even before the last person exits) passengers start rushing through the doors to commandeer any available seat they can find. I grab a seat at the far end of the train, next to where the little booth that houses the employee in charge of opening and closing the doors, so I could get a good view of the length of the train. The train is well lit with advertisements running like banners through the top portion of the length of the train with a poster directly behind me and another adjacent to that one. The train is fully occupied with a good portion of the passengers standing and holding on to any available pole to keep their balance.
I focused my attention on a trio of male middle school children who are laughing and narrow it down, more specifically, to the male in the middle who is initiating most of the laughter from the other two. All three students are standing directly in front of me holding on to the middle pole that lies in between the two entrances to the train. The student of focus is wearing white sneakers, dark blue jeans, a white and blue striped T shirt, a black book bag, and a blue Yankees fitted cap. I also notice white head phones with one ear piece in his left ear and one ear piece hanging down to his side. I assume the ear pieces are in this configuration to allow him to hear his friends while also listening to music as a back drop. The student, I assume, is of Spanish descent judging by his darker skin tone and the fact that he switches between Spanish and English, the English to make the jokes and the Spanish to emphasize his agreement or when he is cursing or calling someone a name. I think these students were between the ages of 11 and 13 by their height, weight, facial appearance, and their childish, mean, and confrontational behavior.
The student of focus told jokes and simultaneously threw playful punches toward his friends’ legs and arms. I could tell that other passengers are getting upset since most of these attacks caused the recipient friend to jump towards the other direction in a rapid and sudden motion that usually invaded the space of some unsuspecting passenger. Also, the tone and loudness of the students’ voices are well above the rest of the passengers’ voices and quickly reached the point of disturbing to the people in close proximity. The passengers’ apparent dissatisfaction was written all over their faces by their expressions of anger, and their avoidant and uncomfortable body language.
I could tell that the student of focus is the most aggressive since he was the only one throwing punches while the other two evaded in laughter. As the train passed each stop and passengers exited and entered the train, it seemed the students were oblivious to anyone outside of their immediate circle. The student of focus would carelessly zig-zag through the coming or going traffic of passengers at each new stop never missing an opportunity to playfully attack one or both of his friends. I would say his mood was in high spirits, the mood usually felt by a child after finally leaving the school days structure and rules behind them as they headed back to their alternate lives of their neighborhoods. Once the train reached the 125th street stop, the student of focus quickly hopped off the train with his two friends following close behind. Then all three, in a light sprint and loud tone, disappeared down the platform toward the staircase and out of sight. I could tell from facial expressions and floating comments that the remaining passengers had mixed feelings of relief that the middle school kids were finally gone and disbelief that these children could be so reckless and misbehaved.
Watching the student of focus gave me some insight into the dynamics of a relationship created by a group of friends. It’s interesting how each member through time, interactions, and individual personality, gets assigned into a specific role in the group as a whole. Through these roles each member defines his relationship with the others and shapes their corresponding reactions to other members’ behaviors. The student of focus, in my opinion through traits of his personality, won the adoration and respect of the other two friends granting him the position of dominating male in the group. Through his actions, the student created an atmosphere of fun and play (at least for the kids themselves and not so much for the other passengers) for his other two friends causing them to be happy and willing participants in the game being played.
I viewed another important aspect of the group dynamic that was affected by the surrounding passengers. The student of focus was feeding off of his friend’s attention while reciprocally his friends were feeding off of him and all three of them were feeding off of the reactions they were getting by the surrounding passengers. I think that the kids were already having a good time messing around with each other but the fact that they had an active audience caused them to view all their antics as even funnier and more entertaining which further fueled their disruptive behavior. I suspect, due to their age range, that these students were consciously and purposefully deviant in this environment of close proximity to complete strangers.
The feeling of rebellion can be intoxicating for young children because they find rules to be a part of their everyday lives; whether it is at home with their parents or guardians; or at school from teachers and administrators; or society as a whole where you have to follow rules of a specific city or national government. These particular children have yet to learn and submit to the norms governing a large group of people such as in a city, or nation, or even a crowded subway train and never realize that these environments only thrive in an atmosphere that is free of intimidation, malice, and fear allowing for the coexistence of large groups of people.
Studying a persons’ behavior and trying to determine corresponding motives can be tricky. Especially since our determinations are usually guided by personal experiences, attitudes, stereotypes, and our individual points of view of right and wrong. I come from a very strict family where deviant behavior and disrespect or deviations from family norms were never tolerated. I think that these past experiences have shaped my views toward proper and improper behavior which may have also shaped my view in the case of the student of focus and his friends. It’s possible that my bias toward this experience only allowed me to see the situation from the other passengers’ points of view due to my subsequent feelings of annoyance. I feel that my socialization into society also gives me specific views of how to act that is appropriate and responsible towards people around me and may have made me a little biased towards the actual student of focus and his friends point of view.
Trying to put myself into their shoes with all their laughter, playing, and the security and feeling of belongingness that was evident in their comfort in interacting with each other, I see an entirely different point of view. I find myself not caring about the people around me caught up in the randomness of my actions and empowered by having a shared experience with close and trusted friends. I find myself a little envious of these kids and their carefree times of being a child and how their whole world is limited to their reality. How most of their thoughts revolved around their own personal interests and the word responsibility had limited meaning. I think to myself how lucky they are that they are not restrained by rules and have the freedom of unrestricted actions. Their actions only restrained by their imaginations and their imaginations having yet to be tamed by the socializations of a rule filled society.
But then the father in me sees a different picture. I felt anger that these students were so selfish and had no care in the world of whose personal space they were invading. I felt pity that if these students continued their reckless behavior it will only lead them to disaster and unfavorable consequences dispensed by societal laws. I fear the penalties of their actions will cause them unwanted grief, pain, and would cause them to lose a part of their happiness in the process. Finally, I see in them everything I don’t want my children to be. I see an example of personalities that are unguided and unprepared to successfully maneuver in today’s world. These realizations make me adamant to be a good role model for my children and to do my part to help them live happy, productive, and fulfilling lives.