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Friday. The August Reading Institute is over, and I slowly make my way to the subway station to begin the trek home. It's a perfect New York City day - blue skies, soft breeze, sunshine. Students mill about the Columbia campus, savoring those last days of summer, sharing stories, plans, and laughter. I am reluctant to begin my descent into the subway station, and linger on campus to enjoy an iced coffee under the shade of a tree.
Soon enough, I am on the crowded platform just in time to catch a crowded train. Riding the subway in New York City is an experience all to itself, there are unspoken rules to be followed, and subway-habits that longtime riders cultivate for peace of mind and survival. You are often jammed in like sardines, and one has to maintain ones composure when you are standing under someones armpit and clutching onto the railing as the train lurches and sways. Some rules: no eye contact, no small talk, if you have a book or newspaper - do not lift your eyes from the page until it's your stop, if you are listening to music - do not tap your feet or sway. There's a certain stony stillness that everyone assumes - the subway stance.
Of course, kids don't seem to know these rules... or even care to know these rules. And I step into a subway car full of kids - just about every seat is taken by a yellow-shirted second and third grader, each with a backpack and a lunchbox. Giggling, tickling, footsie-playing, happy go lucky, in the summer mode and loving it kids. Awesome! Every once in a while, a camp counselor calls out: "Indoor voices, please!" to absolutely no effect at all. Indoor voices??? It's summer time!!! Their exuberance is infectious, and I feel myself smiling inside and out.
Soon, it's their stop, and I watch with awe as four counselors gather together this hard-to-contain little army of happy spirits. The doors whoosh shut, and there is an eerie silence - all the joy just drained out of this subway car, and it's back to normal. Everyone assumes the subway stance. And I start imagining being in a cafeteria full of noisy, mostly happy sixth graders. I think I am ready for school to start!