Posted: Thursday, August 9, 2012 2:09:35 PM
Want to know a secret? Unless you look absolutely clueless, people assume you know a lot more than you actually do. It’s all about giving off the vibes that you’re cool, calm, and collected, and people will get the notion that you’re pretty much an expert at whatever you’re doing. Allow me to give you an example. The other day, I went to New York City to visit an old friend of mine from boarding school. She’s from Benin and just came back to the United States for the first time since high school graduation, so we decided that I’d go visit her and her Dad in the Big Apple for a day. We both needed some winter clothes and hadn’t talked in a while, and she used to live in the city so she knows her way around. It was bound to be absolutely perfect.
My biggest worry for this little day trip was the part where I had to get on and off a train by myself. You see, I’ve been only one time before this with some friends of mine. My class went to NYC for our senior trip to see a Broadway show, and for the whole day before the play, we were allowed to meander the city as we pleased. Well, my friends and I decided that the fastest way to get from FAO Schwartz (the toy store) to the Guggenheim Art museum would be to take the subway. However, since none of knew quite what we were doing, we got on a train and wound up in Queens. Let me say that again: QUEENS. It scared me severely. I mean, my friends and I are smart kids so we figured it out and got where we needed to be. But for that moment when we stepped out of the train station and couldn’t find another human or car if our lives depended on it, I was borderline petrified. I got these big Bambi eyes and didn’t talk very much. I lived to tell the story, but that incident has forever tainted trains for me.
So for me to get to New York, I would have to take a train into Penn Station. And for me to get back, I would have to take one train from New York to Philly, then change trains to get from Philly to Lancaster. Super major freaking scary. But this time around, I made a decision in my head that I wouldn’t give myself away as a naïve child with no semblance of direction. I took a book, my kindle, my phone, and my ipod (among other necessities) so that I would have something to do on the three-hour trip, and dressed in a cute top, comfortable yellow walking shorts, and boat shoes. Perfectly chic and utilitarian. A few minutes before the train was going to board, a group of three college girls came to the platform on their way to New York. They were dressed in slightly ill-fitting sundresses and flat-bottomed flip flops with zero support. Giddy, gullible, and generally clueless, they brought nothing with them but maps of New York, cameras, and their phones. In a nutshell, they were everything New Yorkers hate about tourists.
Once on the train, they all sat with me in the quad section. I immediately whipped out a book and my ipod – not to be rude, mind you. I just didn’t want to feel obligated to carry on a conversation with them. And every so often, I would catch a snippet of their conversation. “There’s this one candy store where there’s literally candy in the floor,” said the one, “and I’d love to go to it. Do either of you know where it is or what it’s called?” Or another one said, “I can’t wait to take pictures in Times Square.” The whole ride, they discussed classmates, girls who they deemed “too flirty” or “too needy.” One of the girls had to take a call from her insurance company to discuss the accident she was in a few days ago. At every stop the train made, they looked at each other with big wide eyes and asked each other, “This isn’t our stop, right?” Their whole appearance was almost laughable, and I just quietly observed their interactions and maybe judged just a little bit. Every so often, I would jump in and tell them that, no, we weren’t at Penn Station yet or tell them where we actually were. We got off the train at Penn Station, and I figured I’d seen the last of them. I proceeded to spend a wonderful day with my friend in the big city, shopping and eating and chatting.
That night my friend took me back to Penn Station and sent me off with a hug and a promise of another visit. And who was there at the platform but those three giggly college girls…except now, they all were wearing “I Heart NY” t-shirts over top of their slightly ill-fitting sundresses. They recognized me immediately and waved. I politely waved back and asked them if they had a fun day, which they eagerly told me they had. After we boarded, I proceeded to do precisely what I’d done on the ride down: listen to my ipod and read a book. This time, though, I sat behind the girls, so I wasn’t so privy to their conversations about their exciting day in NYC. When the time came for us to change trains, they all waited for me to go ahead of them, followed me up to the main floor of the station, and then asked me where we needed to be to catch the train to Lancaster. First off, like heck I knew. But I figured that there were people a lot dumber than me who knew how to navigate a train change. So with the girls following me like little ducklings, I looked at the “departing” board, found our train and platform, and told them where they needed to be and when. They thanked me profusely, skittered away to get coffee, and showed up right where I told them to when I told them to.
The moral of the story, my friends, isn’t that I now had this new-found confidence about riding trains. Such is not the case. Trains still scare me a little bit. It’s that I was sure enough that I would figure everything out that other people instinctively trusted me. That’s not to say I won’t ever get lost on a train again. The key is to tell yourself that you can do it, and other people will be drawn to you and your apparent experience. Life is kind of fun that way, even if you have to get lost in Queens once to figure it out.