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.”
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!