Yes, I have to.

I consider myself an extrovert. Contrary to popular belief,

extroverts are not just friendly and outgoing, they are people who are energized by being around other people.

Some famous extroverts. I guess it’s good company.

But that’s not always me one hundred percent of the time. And I wonder, would that then disqualify me as an extrovert? Is there such a thing as a semi-extrovert? There are simply moments when I, like everybody else, just don’t feel like being around other people.

But I’ve found that in the moments when I know I should be engaging, if I power through and activate, whether it’s going for that cup of coffee to talk shop, attending those meetups to learn something new, hitting that party to interact on a social level, or simply having that chat, what always seems to play out is that those moments result in positive outcomes.

This past Saturday I went to a Cinco de Mayo party. It was May 7th. (Pause for laughter. Although that’s really not that funny.)

I really didn’t feel like going. The party was in Jersey City and aside from the usual schlep to get there, the fact we were taking the subway on the weekend at the mercy of all those service changes, only added to the impending pain of said schlep.

Can you imagine what it would be like if you were a tourist in New York City and had to get around on the subway over the weekend? The fact is the repairs, and therefore, the service changes, are necessary evils, but those announcements and the signs. Oy, those signs.

scanners

Exploding head = tourist on NYC Subway on the weekend.

None of them, and I repeat, none of them make any sense. Not one tourist, let alone any veteran, daily rider has any clue where they’re going to end up when they hop on any train over the weekend. But I digress.

I ended up going to the party and having a really nice time. And in the course of the evening, I met a very interesting fellow. He’s a lobbyist who had tales aplenty and I imagined the connections to boot. We hit it off. I think it had something to do with the fact we both hailed from Queens. He was from Jackson Heights and me, well I’m from Rego Park, but you knew that already. We made plans to meet up over a cup of coffee the following Friday, which was later today.

Every Friday morning, after I drop off my daughter in Chelsea, I hop right back on the train and shoot back up to 145th and St. Nicholas. I volunteer at Heritage Health and Housing that “provides health care, housing and a wide range of social and support services within a community of healing.” Specifically, I work at the Pantry giving out food to folks with HIV/AIDS who are on welfare.

I really enjoy volunteering at the Pantry. Not only do I really like the folks I work with – incredible people who work in a dingy, basement office for no glory and certainly little money – but I really enjoy interacting with our clients. (And I love that they’re called clients. In this case it’s a term used to ensure they maintain some level of dignity.)

And also, on a selfish level, it’s very zen for me. I’m completely present in what I’m doing and not concerned with any of the challenges currently going on in my life. And the reality is, while it’s all relative, my issues pale in comparison to theirs.

The Pantry items change on a weekly basis. Today, we were giving out, among other things (from all food groups), frozen dark meat chicken. Each client receives five pounds… if they want it. Which is something I wasn’t quite understanding. Why wouldn’t any of our clients take the chicken? After all, most of the other goods are canned or boxed. Here they’re getting free, fresh poultry.

So I asked Garrett and his husband, Blaine, a couple who were refusing the chicken, why they would do this. Garrett told me they passed on the chicken because they had little room in their freezer. They still had chicken left over for a couple of weeks, and didn’t want to take what they weren’t going to use for fear others might miss out. I appreciated this answer. I assumed everyone was in it for themselves – there’s usually a jockeying for position to get pantry first – and that our clients would stock up if they had the opportunity. I was clearly wrong.

Then I found out the reason they had left over chicken in their freezer was because they couldn’t cook it. They, and their neighbors, have been without gas for the last two months. And it wasn’t because they couldn’t pay. They live in government subsidized housing and the landlord just didn’t care.

Garrett followed, “and there’s no one to help us.” And without hesitation, I stepped up. “I will help you,” I said. I had no idea how I was going to do it, but I was going to help them. And I am going to help them.

Fast forward to this afternoon and coffee with my new friend. We chatted in the comfortable confines of Irving Roasters on Irving Place, far, far away from the Heritage House in Harlem. We chatted about things, and then got around to my experience earlier that day. It turns out my friend has had a lot of experience dealing with issues like this and, with a twinkle in his eye and a powerful, determined grin, said that he “LOVES doing things like this” and would “love to help me!” We slapped each other a high-five and started feeding of each other’s enthusiasm for our newest task at hand!

I am incredibly fired up to do this. I’m looking forward to working with him on it, gaining this experience and most of all, fighting for those who don’t know how or can’t fight for themselves.

I realized later on that had I not gone to the party and met my new friend, and had I not gone to volunteer that day (which is entirely optional) and learned about the challenge facing these good folks, I never would have had this opportunity.

World… it’s on!

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EMPTY TRAIN!

One of the benefits of having the 137th Street stop on the 1 line as our de facto home subway station is that, because it’s such a highly trafficked stop due to its proximity to City College (CCNY), the MTA originates a number of trains from it during rush hour (as opposed to its usual starting point, Van Cortlandt Park-242nd Street). So when unpleasant, overcrowded commutes are the norm, having an empty train pull into the station is always a welcomed respite, greeted with a wide grin, a “yes!” and a pump of the fist.

There’s no alert that empty trains are pulling into the station. But at our stop, Andre, who worked for AM New York handing out newspapers every morning, took it upon himself to belt out an “EMPTY TRAIIIINNNNNN!” as soon as the first empty car appeared in his field of view. A service he provided gratis.

While Andre’s jobs – his real one with AM New York handing out papers and his concocted one with the MTA as an empty train announcer – were monotonous, his passion for his customers was unwavering. Every day Andre greeted us with a fist bump and a smile. He engaged us and everyone that passed him.

I always got a kick out of his interactions with me and my family. Every morning he’d greet us with his customary salutation. But he’d address me and my daughter by our first names, and when he got to my wife, she was “Mommy.” Not that big a deal unless you’re me and it’s tease-worthy content. Clearly Andre liked me and my daughter better.

And while I’ve continued to make the case that Andre’s bellringing was gratuitous, the fact is we liked it.  So much so that I started to mimic his call. Quietly, to my family. Imitation is, after all, the sincerest form of flattery.

Andre was great at his job. And I’m not being cheeky.

While his job description probably looked something like: get up at the crack of dawn, stand in a subway station, and hand out newspapers, he took it to another level. He was a friendly, nice person who recognized he could make an impact in people’s lives, regardless of how small an impact it might be. He was a mood fixer. And I’m sure of this because he fixed my and my family’s mood every day with a simple “good morning.”

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EMPTY TRAIN!

I haven’t been in the greatest of places recently, and it gets exacerbated having to navigate the subway every morning, but seeing him and having him greet us with a warm smile, asking how we were, and wishing us a great day, I just couldn’t help but feel better.

Before we go any further, Andre’s not dead. At least I don’t think he is, and I certainly hope he’s not. We think he got a new gig. We hope he got a new gig.

It was around Easter Break that he started not showing up for work. We thought at first it had something to do with the holiday, and that he took a vacation but after a second week of no-shows, we had a feeling he’d moved on. I asked the station attendant whether he knew anything further. He said many folks had asked about Andre and that all he knew was that Andre mentioned something about a new job.

I wasn’t trying to make this post dramatic for drama’s sake. It’s just that there’s a noticeable void in our lives. We saw Andre every day. And enjoyed it. We loved the positivity he sent our way.

When we get down into the subway, I think we all expect him to be there, still. When an empty train pulls up, we can still hear his voice. We all miss Andre. But we all wish him the best.

The best I can do to celebrate our paths crossing is to radiate smiles, happiness and cheer. (Now it sounds like he’s dead.) And I’ll do my best to do so.  Never underestimate the power of a sincere “Good Morning” delivered with gusto, just like Andre!

World… it’s on!