The L train serves millions and runs from 8th Avenue to Canarsie. I used to live off the Halsey Stop. It was crowded at all hours of the day. Filled with glassy-eyed commuters in the morning and inebriated hipsters at night. Took me thirty minutes to get to work on a good day.
I rarely got a seat. I didn’t like to stand in the morning because I was tired and dreaded work. And, I didn’t like to stand in the evening because I was tired and dreaded my shitty apartment.
Every once in a while I’d get a seat. And then some elderly lady would hobble on and and I’d feel obligated to surrender it.
One time an empty train car rolled to a stop right in front of me. Not a soul on it. The other cars were packed. I strolled into the empty car and planted my ass right in the center. Felt pretty proud of myself. Like I was getting away with something.
When the doors closed I caught the stench of rancid vomit. We accelerated and left Halsey and I considered walking between train cars to escape. But the MTA says not to do that. I was afraid I’d fall to my demise. So I stayed in my seat and endured the scent of upchuck.
It was the worst thing I’ve ever smelled. It was as though the perpetrator had collected the spew and cooked it in a wok. Or baked it in an oven. Or swallowed it only to shit it out again. Like rotten eggs and curdled milk and hot orange juice and other people’s cooking and feet. A stink so putrid it was visible. Hung frozen in the air like dragon’s breath.
I buried my nose in my sweater and found puke there too. My olfactory receptors were singed. Corneas burnt.
I changed cars at Myrtle-Wyckoff. It was packed shoulder-to-shoulder. I didn’t get a seat.
But I did have a view of the empty car. A man in a suit noticed all the space and goose-stepped right in. Sat center-car, grinning stupidly, like he was getting away with something.
Then the doors closed and his eyes bulged and he grabbed his throat. Opening and closing his maw like a bass gasping for oxygen. Stood up and paced around urgently on stiff-legs, looking for an out. The doors opened at DeKalb and he ran into my car.
He was green and dripping sweat and on the verge of tears. People inched away from him, eying him like he was a crazy man. He smelled like puke.
I surfaced at Union Square. Threw out my sweater for good measure, then went to work.