Did you read the NYT article about the new Connecticut fines for doing anything that distracts from driving while driving? I say, if people want to do all these things: talk on the phone, send text messages, watch videos, eat, or -the one thing not discussed in the article - read the NYT on their way to work, why don't they just take public transportation? Some might think of it as riding with the masses, but I say it's luxury: reading two-week old New Yorkers, drinking coffee, and listening to an mp3 player that shuffles between Chuck Prophet, Alejandro Escovedo, Wilco and about 100 other delightful artists while somebody else shuffles me around. When I'm feeling really low-brow, I drink the coffee, don't read magazines, but instead listen to pulp-fiction audio books (lately Sara Paretsky's Blacklist) while zipping around underground (the other best use of audiobooks is for doing household chores). The other day I was on the other side of things, reading Thomas Schoonover's Uncle Sam's War of 1898, and nearly missed my stop.
Cell phones are an evil in many ways of course. Another great thing about the NYC subway is that there is no cell phone reception there. Halleluja. One place were people aren't talking to unseen confidantes about their mothers, their boyfriends, their bosses, or Nate on "Six Feet Under."
But there are many benefits to the use of headphones and music at almost all times. We are too damn close together in this city, and there are times when you'd like a little private space, free from other people's conversations. While Clyde Haberman wrote about the need to turn off ipods and cellphone to "let minds and feet wander," I find that I use music to give me the space to think more often than not. It all started when I was a bus-rider in Minneapolis. Those eternally boring waits for buses in sub-zero weather were agonizing until I started carrying a walkman with me everywhere I went. My first year in NY, I had several different mixes of Beethoven, Bach and others that were to facilitate the reading of serious books on the train.
The last thing people in NY need is MORE sensory input from the outside world. For instance, since my upstairs neighbors' kids turned five, they have been in the habit of crying and whining about going to school, the doctor, the park, or wherever, right outside the door of my apartment while their parents try to coerce them out the door. "Maaaaah" one of them is screaming right now. As I listen to the escalating conflict, the frantic parental efforts to get the kids to do whatever it is that they're supposed to be doing, I cannot think about anything else. I find this to be the case when I am on the train and forced to listen to other people's conversations, and when I am in a coffee shop trying to read. I just can't concentrate. It's only the eavesdropping that I miss when I've got the headphones on, not the roses.
My best eavesdropping happens when I'm with a friend. Along with pointing out visual oddities or nice architecture, my friends and I do a lot of commentary on the overheard. Last night, I was walking with a friend and heard two men in the West Village, Said one, in a sort of routine way, as if describing a familiar happenstance, "So he goes to your place, you have sex, and then he leaves and"...Oh man, I was dying to turn around and follow them down the street to find out what happened next. The two of us speculated for at least the rest of the block.
Wouldn't it be funny, if one of those times that you found yourself silent and discreetly shushing your friend while trying to get a better grasp of the next table's conversation, to hear someone at that other table say:
"Wait a minute....shh. I'm trying to hear the rest of what they're saying."
an infinitely receding mirror.
A final note. My favorite overheard comment of all time.
New Year's Eve 1999 at Tonic to see John Zorn & Masada. A woman looks at her boyfriend and says,
"is this the band that's supposed to be good?"