Waylaid - Postcard From New York City
© Copyright 2020 by Martha Patterson
A recent transplant from San Francisco, I was 24 and wanted to do something fun and very New York, but not the usual tourist business. Not for me a trudge through Times Square or a visit to the top of the Empire State Building or a ferry trip to the Statue of Liberty – instead, I hoped to fit a riding lesson into my afternoon. My ticket was the Upper West Side stable that offered jaunts through Central Park. I took a subway there, excited about being on horseback.
I’d been past the Claremont Riding Academy before. With a smell of rotting wood, new-mown hay, and manure, it occupied a building in the West 80s. It has since disappeared, but at the time, for a small fee, you could have a horse of your own for an hour in the heart of New York. I was primed for a romantic riding adventure.
But the subway was crowded, and on the way a drunken man kicked me in the shins as I was strap-hanging. Shocked and enraged, I slapped his raised fist and said, “Cut it out!” Likewise enraged, he leaped up and socked me in the jaw, knocking me flat on my back, and my eyeglasses skittered down the aisle of the train. Crawling after my glasses, I turned on my knees to face him; he looked as if he’d punch me again, but backed off when he saw my fear.
I already knew of New York’s reputation for aggression, and none of the other passengers seemed particularly startled. I walked through several cars, wondering if I should report the incident, but sat down in another car. I’d forgotten about the riding lesson.
I was later informed that, next, a tourist from Ohio – who actually was alarmed - pulled the emergency switch, for our train screeched to a halt at the 59th Street station. There’s a police precinct at Columbus Circle and, after a few minutes stalled in the station, two policemen got on board and asked if I were the woman who’d been assaulted. They brought me to the precinct where they’d put my attacker in a cell. I identified him and pressed charges. He told the officers he’d assaulted me because I’d been standing too close to him on the train.
A policewoman phoned the next day: my assaulter got a month in jail. I was satisfied and actually felt a little sorry for him, suspecting he was homeless. But the experience left a sour taste. I already loved New York, with its taxis and skyscrapers and showbiz sparkle, and Central Park was a gem in the middle of it all...but my adventure didn’t happen in the way I expected on that glittering, sunny day. And I never again ventured horseback riding in New York City.
Martha Patterson writes plays, fiction, poetry, and essays. Her work has been published in anthologies (Smith & Kraus, Applause Books, Pioneer Drama Service) and journals (the Sheepshead Review, Silver Birch Press, The Pointed Circle Journal, Syndrome Magazine, and others), and her plays have been produced in 20 states and eight countries. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts, the USA. She is addicted to National Public Radio and loves being surrounded by books and her laptop.