A family of five gets on the 6-train at 42nd Street during rush hour. Two parents, three children--junior high school age and in their teens. The family has their two grandparents with them. From their hectic chatter I gather that they are French or they might be Canadian. Maybe Swiss?
They try to board the train confronted with a densely packed population of commuters inside. Slow, diffident waddling. They seem overwhelmed by New York and the subway at rush hour. I observe them and after they have all squeezed into the car I realize that they are setting themselves up in a circle. They position themselves radially around their grandparents with their backs facing out. Once they have assumed their positions, the kids and parents begin to subtly push outward with their backs against the other riders. A space comes to be within their circle where their grandparents can stand comfortably and don’t have to suffer the nuisance and danger that is the immediate contact with the other passengers on the car and their disregard.
The family, as it holds the perimeter and pushes the other riders gently but surely away, appears like soldiers of a royal guard sure of the august, divine status of their loved monarch, the important little center of their world. They protect it against the rabble, the people in the dangerous world around them. Once, when I was little my parents took me along to see a public appearance of the President. The family's behavior reminds me of the obnoxious demeanor of Secret Service agents. At the same time I understand the family's anxiety. They’re trapped in between what they love, want to protect, and feel indebted to and the hurtful, messy outside world which has nothing in store but pushing, shoving, frustration, and blatant disregard.
The riders around the family seem upset. They stumble a little while they cede to the pressure. They humor the tourists, suck their teeth, shove back a little, but nobody really fights them or raises their voice. The circle is allowed to persist and break subway etiquette. Nobody wants to bother bursting their anxious bubble. The other riders around them stay quiet because they know better. Those tourists might get away with that behavior once, now, on their trip to New York. Really, however, there is no use in fighting the subway crush during rush hour, not even as service to someone who is really important to you. It’s better to simply lose your dignity and even see your loved ones shoved aside by some fat, sweaty strap hanger than try to fight to protect them. You cannot win. There is a never-ending stream of commuters who have had worse days than you, are crankier than you, and are more than willing to take up the fight. You are just one person or one little family who has to take the subway during rush hour. You lost when you passed the turnstile.