Riding the Hooky Express

Dear Caroline,

We’re riding on the “R” train, just you and I, going from Forest Hills to Times Square. It’s a weekday morning, maybe 7 a.m. or so, you headed to school at Town Hall, me to my job on Third Avenue in the 50s.

It’s quiet on the subway, the only noise coming from the train itself, rattling and shuddering along the tracks. All the other riders are reading, staring or snoozing.

It feels good to sit next to you like this. Somehow it gives me the idea I’m performing a fatherly duty. I’m there to make sure you get to school safe. Of course you’re already – what? 16 years old? – and most kids younger than you ride the subways without parents tagging along. But those kids often go with other kids, and nobody from Forest Hills goes to your school, so you would otherwise have to head in alone.

Besides, I go to my job at about the same time, in generally the same direction anyway, so we might as well pair up. If you minded me taking you to school, I never sensed it, but maybe I missed something.

Sometimes you leaned onto my shoulder and closed your eyes as we rode along to catch a little extra sleep. Sometimes you told me about a song you liked or a restaurant you wanted to try or what our family might do that weekend. But usually you kept quiet, and if I tried to talk, you might say you’d rather just read or look out the window. No matter.

Those rides with you during your years at Town Hall always felt to me like something of a field trip, an expedition, an adventure. There we were, only the two of us, riding the rumbling train into the heart of Manhattan.

Maybe a homeless man, talking to himself, would ask us for money. Maybe some kid would come on the train with his headset playing music too loud. I felt like your bodyguard, alert to every possible threat, ready to face down any attempt to violate your sense of security.
Once in a while, as it happened, we would entertain the possibility of playing hooky, you from school and me from my job.

“Could we?” you would ask.

“We really should,” I would say.

We would imagine how we might go out for breakfast and, if it were Wednesday, catch a matinee of “Phantom.”

“Let’s do it,” you would say. “I’m serious.”

I would agree. “We really should,” I would say again. “It would be so much fun.”

We would go on about all the places we could go, maybe the American Museum of Natural History or Sephora or some Indian restaurant or the main branch of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue.

You would skip your classes and go the day without teachers and other students, and I would be free of meetings in windowless conference rooms and calls with clients and hours in front of a computer shooting off e-mails to every reporter and his brother.

Oh, we would stroll through the lobby of the Plaza and maybe even stop for a spot of tea with some crumpets. We would ice skate at Rockefeller Center, counting who fell down the most. We would drop in at Saks or Bergdorf or Bloomingdale’s.

In imagining our doing all this, we would get so excited, you and I, listing all the options, our voices louder, our pulses quickening. It came to feel so real, almost as if we were already doing it.

P.S. — Part 2 will appear tomorrow.

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