My entire life I have ridden NYC Public transportation. When I was a kid and teenager mostly the bus because the subways were still kinda dangerous, and since then the subway. I don't remember being taught to offer my seat to the elderly, the pregnant, and moms with young infants but it is an ingrained trait of mine. I also stop to help women struggling to carry strollers up and down the subway stairs. Gerald independently of me, has the same feeling. Coming off a train, we once both reached down and offered a woman help with her stroller at the same instant which made all three of us laugh. As I was 6 weeks pregnant at the time, Gerald won the brief struggle to help the mom up the stairs.
Until a year and a half ago, I had no personal experience being pregnant or being a new mom. Now I do - and what I have found out is that the people living in New York City seem to have forgotten how to take a moment to help someone.
Being pregnant gets tiring very quickly. There are a lot of wonderful things happening to your body. My hair and nails grew really fast, and I had that "pregnancy glow" people talk about and I totally dodged the morning sickness thing. But after about month 4, the whole standing and walking around thing started to get really tiring. I made a joke to a co-worker during this time: That the answer to the question: "So you want to sit down?" was always going to be yes.
At the time I was living in Jersey City with Gerald and commuting five days a week to my job in Midtown. This involved a twenty minute ride on the PATH train which is sparkling clean and puts the NYC MTA to shame, (and ironically, costs less to ride), a brief walk, and then the B or D uptown to Rockefeller Center.
I naively assumed that because I always offered my seat to pregnant women that I would be offered one on every ride. Some sort of karmic payback. Now I understand that there is a window of time in a pregnancy where people aren't sure you are pregnant and don't want to offend you but from month five to delivery I looked really, really pregnant.
Riding the 2 trains for the four months I was visibly pregnant, on 20 train rides per week, I can count on both hands and feet the number of times I was offered a seat. That, my friends is appalling. Now there were plenty of times where a seat was available. But there were many more times on crowded trains where I stood for the duration.
The people who offered me a seat those times were most often Latino women, then Latino men and once and male Irish tourist who actually said something to the train car at large when no one would stand up and offer me a seat.
I was uncomfortable asking for a seat but after a while with my swollen feet barking up at me I would try to catch someone's eye. The one's who most quickly averted their gaze were the well-heeled men and women in power suits reading the Wall Street Journal or the Financial Times on their way to their banking or finance jobs.
One time I rode a car that wasn't that crowded but had no seats available. I was standing next to a man that had to be a 100 years old. We were the two standing and no one stood up for either one of us.
I want to know when New Yorkers stopped looking each other in the eye. When I was a kid here I knew all the store owners and all my neighbors. Now it seems like no one is here to stay and they would rather step on you than hold out a hand. Everybody is so busy trying to "make it" here they don't have time to talk or even look at anyone else.
One positive is that now when I ride the train with my impossibly cute gurgling baby, her smile seems to crack the composure of even the most hardened subway rider. I have had some great conversations with strangers on the train thanks to my little Clara.