Home View from Underground Missed by a minute, missed by a mile

Missed by a minute, missed by a mile

by Benjamin Kabak

We’ve all shared in that familiar experience of knowing that we’re going to miss the train.

We get to the top of the staircase, and we can hear the train pulling in. We swipe through the turnstile, pushing back against a wave of passengers pouring of the gate. We hear the announcement. “Stand clear of the closing doors.” We dash downstairs, hoping that maybe someone will block the doors. Maybe the conductor will have to hold the train.

With marked futility, we jump down the stairs only to see the train pulling away to the station, mere seconds separating us from the comfort of a train. While the next one isn’t that far behind — except late at night, it never is — there’s nothing more frustrating than just missing that train. For the next few minutes, we’ll stand at the platform’s edge peering into the dark tunnel. We’ll check our watches, tap our feet and think that maybe we shouldn’t have lingered in the shower. Everyone knows this feeling; no one likes it.

Over the weekend, Verlyn Klinkenborg, a member of The Times Editorial Board, penned a thoughtful piece on what he termed the “If Only” train. He writes:

Somehow, I always imagine that missing the train is the result of a single delay, not the loss of a second here and a second there since the alarm first went off. Perhaps I’d have caught that train if I’d gone to bed a few minutes earlier the night before. And while I stand on the platform, waiting for the next train, I have time to ponder the significance of the train that just pulled out. I can’t help feeling that if I’d caught that train, I’d already be in the future — and not the future I’ll eventually enter by hanging out in the present until the next train comes. How much better or worse that future would be I can’t really say.

This, of course, leads to another thought. Over the past 30 years, I’ve missed lots of “if only” trains in the New York subway system. What if I’d caught one of them, say, 25 years ago? Where would I be now? And what about the trains I made by a hair all these years? Surely those were almost “if only” trains. Because I caught them I must already be in a different future than I would have been had I missed them and gotten stuck in the present back in the past. Time travel is so confusing, even on the Broadway local.

While he is more resigned than I’ll ever be to missing that train, Klinkerborg so captures the essence of missing for that train by a second that it will be hard for me not to smile ruefully the next time I see the orange B gliding through the tunnel away from me.

Photo of a train doing just that by flickr user UKASEME.

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Alfred Beech October 29, 2008 - 10:33 am

I always imagine those “if only” moments are balanced with the ones where, running down the stairs two at a time you slide between the closing doors with inches to spare. The problem is that the satisfaction of just making the train is over in an instant, and the wait on the platform for the late night J is an eternity.

Thomas October 29, 2008 - 10:00 pm

Similar to sympathy, especially when trying to catch a bus.
For instance, if I need to catch the bus, but am a good ways away, my only thought while speed walking to the bus stop is “No No No”, as I see it run right past me.

Yet, the moment I’m on it, my only thoughts regarding OTHERS who may force the bus to stop is “Go Go Go”!

rhywun October 30, 2008 - 12:14 am

I figure it evens out in the end 🙂


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