Sunday, August 22, 2010

Strollers and Subway Stairs

There are few people I feel more sympathy for in this city than mothers pushing baby strollers over badly cracked sidewalks and through systems of public transportation. 

Those in crutches also get a vote of pity, I suppose, but not as much of one because at least their situation, if extremely difficult and painful (I've heard horror stories of blistered armpits), is not impossible. If a person propped on crutches puts his or her mind to it, he or she can, eventually, hobble down those subway stairs or over that horribly uneven curb one carefully calculated movement at a time. For mothers wielding strollers, this is another story.

When I see a mother with a baby-carriage standing either at the top or the bottom of several flights of subway stairs, her face is always the same: a mixture of pure exhaustion and aggravation, with a touch of forlornness around the eyes for good measure. And then the searching gaze commences. She anxiously scans the faces of people passing by, looking for someone who will offer to help her carry it up the stairs. 

This is something I come across often. Lifting a stroller up subway stairs is a two-person job. One person takes one end of the stroller, the second person (for whatever reason, usually male) takes the other end, and they walk carefully up or down the stairs, baby still in its bed either sleeping peacefully, completely unaware of the precarious state of its life at the moment, or screaming bloody murder, seemingly absolutely positive that it will be dropped at any moment and plunged to its death at the bottom of the station's stairs like so many cigarette butts.

After the man tagged for the job has completed his task, he sets down the stroller and accepts whatever quick thanks he gets with a curt not or a quick "you're welcome." 

There is no big show of gratitude, no exclamation of "Thank you so much, you just saved my life, I don't know how I would have gotten out of that subway if it hadn't been for you and your life-saving muscles!" Hell, sometimes there's not even a thank you--and the man isn't expecting any ostentatious show of praise.

The action is treated in much the way as when a when a someone opens a door for a person whose hands are full, holds an elevator for a someone else, or scoots down on the subway bench to make room for somebody else to sit.  It's an ordinary act of politeness, always nice to see but nothing to write home about.

But every time I see it, my hope in the inherent goodness of humankind is renewed.  Or maybe not the inherent goodness, but at least societal-conditioned goodness, which I'll take, even if it's not as pure a virtue.

Whether he helps out of the goodness of his own heart or the voice in the back of his head that tells him he will look like an asshole if he passes by this woman with the forlorn eyes and doesn't offer to aid her with his man-skills, doesn't matter so much as the fact that he helps. And that woman's day is just a bit better because of it. 

On the selfish side, when I see things like that the city seems a little less cold, so it does something for my day, too.


  1. I liked your blog. I check it every other day looking for a new post. Please write again.

  2. ahh! This fills me with guilt--thanks so much for reading it, Tyler. I'll try to be better with updates, I know I've been awful lately. Hope everything's going great with you post-Magnet days :)

  3. i witnessed this in Paris too! i know just what you are talking about...