Subway Buddies

I think I’ve decided that Nora Ephron is going to be my new 2014 subway buddy. Really, she’s perfect for the task. She’s smart, and funny, and tells great stories–anyone who’s had three husbands, met JFK in person, and written When Harry Met Sally is bound to have some truly Grade-A stories, and when that person is also a great short-essay writer, well, how can you go wrong? I can’t think of anyone better to enjoy my commute with.

I think Nora will really enjoy the Metro. She’s a New Yorker, so she’ll be impressed with how much cleaner and easier to understand the Metro is than the New York subways. She’ll probably giggle at the ‘70’s carpet on most of the cars, but out-of-towners always do that. Nora and I can swap stories of our underwhelming meetings with famous womanizing presidents (she was disappointed to learn that she may have been the only intern Kennedy never hit on, while Bill Clinton wasn’t even the tiniest bit flirtatious when we met. Although in all fairness, I was eight years old at the time). We can even play Metro games, like guessing at people’s occupations, or trying to spot a man under 40 who can wear a suit without looking like the guy on top of a wedding cake. We’ll have a wonderful time together.

Please don’t bring up the fact that Nora Ephron tragically passed away in 2012. Or the fact that I never met her when she was alive. These are irrelevant. Being physically present is a totally unnecessary quality in a subway buddy. In fact, it’s rather discouraged. There’s never any worry about one of us running late, or getting on a different car by mistake. If I had a bad day and don’t want to talk about it, she won’t pester me to tell her what’s wrong, but can cheer me up with a funny sweet story about her uncle or the people in her old apartment building. If I feel like chatting with the person sitting next to me, or texting my friends instead of spending time with my subway buddy, she won’t feel hurt or jealous. It’s a beautifully simple relationship.

I have another subway buddy, of course, who’s quite different. It’s Erin Morgenstern. She’s not as boisterous as Nora, and is not really into Metro games or swapping stories about our weekends, but she can make the whole world fall away so beautifully. Her background is in visual arts, and it shows. She’s only written one novel so far,  The Night Circus, but it’s incredibly lovely, and luckily it has almost no plot. A great novel with no plot is truly an underrated thing. When a book’s whole strength rests in its plot, you read it once, enjoy the story, and then you’re done. There’s very little point in going back. But with a book where the plot is secondary or even incidental to things like great characters or an extraordinary setting, you can go back plenty of times and still thoroughly enjoy yourself. That’s how it is when I’m riding the Metro with Erin–I’m spending a few minutes completely forgetting I’m on a train, looking into a beautiful place with characters I love, and what they’re doing doesn’t really matter.

A good subway buddy is harder to find than you think. I’ve tried dragging J.R.R. Tolkein along with me, but he’s so bothered by the noise, and how the trip ends just as he and his cast of hobbits and elves and the like are getting comfortable, that it just seemed cruel to subject him any further. Jane Austen gets motion sickness and trips over her petticoat. Neil Gaiman keeps forgetting that this is the Metro, not the London Underground, thank you very much. And Douglas Coupland’s complaints about consumer culture seem more depressing than funny if you’re listening to them while underground in a metal tube.

But no matter. Nora and Erin and I will suit each other just fine. I think the two of them will get along, even if they are so different. And it will be nice, at the end of a long day, to descend the Metro escalators (there’s a Bob Dylan song I always think of when I’m on those escalators), swipe my farecard, pull out my Kindle, and see my subway buddies waiting for me.