Girl sitting next to me on the train had bed breath. I knew this because she was waving a large manila folder across her face, like a fan, and each time the folder swayed in my direction, it sent over a whiff of her breath.
I have been riding this train for more than 20 years, and not always by choice. If there was a way I could go without it, I would, but the money I earn is in the city, and the best was into the city is on this train.
I try to remind myself, “This is only temporary,” but the word temporary is relative.
My friend Vin tells me, “When I started this job, I figured I would do this until I figured out what I wanted to do with my life.”
Then he laughs, “But that was 30 years ago.”
I ask him, “Have you figured it out yet?”
He tells me, “No, but I’m working on it.”
It is after talks like this that Vin and I finish the last of our coffee and head off to start our jobs. It is after these small minutes of reflection that Vin and I swing wrenches over our shoulders and turn to the chores we are given.
And it is during times like this when I can feel Vin’s regret.
The man changing light bulbs at my job site speaks poor English. He mostly speaks to me in Spanish, only, my Spanish is worse than his English.
The window washer at my job site talks to himself. He argues with himself too, but worse, I think I heard him lose one of those arguments once.
It was strange.
This is my work environment. This is what goes on in the 1.5 million square feet of commercial real estate, which is where I spend most of my time.
I am in this building no less than 40 hours each week, and I am often here on weekends and working the extra overnight shifts.
My friend Vin tells me, “Be careful, kid. Temporary things have their own way of becoming permanent.”
One of the building’s cleaning matrons has been cleaning office spaces at this same location since 1966. She is a short woman with light brown skin. She smells nice and she always says, “Please,” and “Thank you.” I call her Momma, and every morning, I make sure to give her a hug and kiss on the cheek.
I say, “Good morning, Momma.”
I ask, “How are you?” and she answers, “I am fine, thank you,” in her thick Spanish accent.
This is one of the finer points of my morning. I get t say hello to a motherly-like woman, and for a while, I can smell her on me.
I like that….
I am the building’s engineer. Most of my responsibility is heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. However, my job spills into plumbing duties, electrical issues, and I also act as a buffer between the tenants and the building’s management.
I have been at this site for more than six years, but I have been in this field for more than 15. I walk the line between blue collars and white. And through the years, I have learned a lot about the difference and similarities between the two.
I arrive at work in the morning, punch my time card, and then I shed my flesh in exchange for a decent wage. I take my time, and I take my breaks. And when the day is finish, I change from my uniform into my civilian clothes. I wash my face and do the best to rid my hands from the filth of my job. Then I begin the reverse process and head home.
I pile onto the Times Square Shuttle, and then I transfer onto the 1 train. I get off at Penn Station, and once more, I find a seat on the train. I have spent many years looking through the Plexiglas windows of the Long Island RailRoad.
I have spent years saying, “This is only temporary.”
But like my good friend Vin says, “Sometimes temporary things find their own ways of becoming permanent.”
I don’t mind what I do. It puts food on my table. It keeps a roof over my head and clothes on my back. I learned to let go of my versions of social snobbery. I learned that while there may be differences between the white and blue collars, the ends are the same.
At the end of the day….we all want to go home.
After pulling yesterday’s double shift, I took this morning’s early shift, and then I made my way home.
Woman on the train had terrible corns and bunions on her feet. I know this because she was nearby, sitting barefoot, with her feet on the seats.
Again, I submit if there was a way I could go without this trip, I would, but the place I live is away from the city, and the best way out of the city is on this train…
But hey, this is only temporary.