Must be love on the train

Owen McGonigle, Events Manager/Social Media

Valentine’s Day, 2021.  I found myself in a common situation— reflecting on the lovers that could’ve been and the lovers I still desire.  

So I sat there, on another lonely Valentine’s Day, and scavenged through my mind to find the best romantic story I could exploit in order to make a deadline. 

But the truth was that my love life of 2021 had been incredibly lackluster. As a romance columnist, I was gaining very little new experiences to add to my collection of stories.  

Instead, I was merely left to reflect on my even more distant past. I attempted to reflect on the whole “what could have been?” as it often presented rabbit holes of romantic fantasies that one would love to explore on a Valentine’s Day spent alone.

Outside my window, I could hear the rush of an underground train coming in to stop at the nearby Fulton Street.

At that point, it was a sound I was fairly used to, as someone who lived close to a subway stop, and who frequented the uptown A train.  

Oh, I thought, The uptown A train. 

And suddenly it was summer 2018 again. 

Ariana Grande had just declared that she, in fact, had no tears left to cry, Lady Gaga was preparing to release A Star is Born, and I was working at my old job. 

While my old job was good in the sense that I did not have many physical demands and requests made upon me, it was far from great. It was a social media job that was not taken seriously by any of the full-time staff, despite my desire for it to be (without any description or context, I am no longer employed there)

For the duration of the August day, I had been in charge of guiding about 20 international students around the High Line.

While I had never been myself (I know, quite the fake Manhattanite) I figured it was quite simple: walk them down the High Line, take a few pictures now and then to document the experience, and then drop them off at 14th Street where they had several subway lines at their disposal.

Honestly, besides the fact that I had to be responsible for these students by myself, with the help of a kind friend who came along for the ride, the plan seemed fool-proof.  Nothing that I could manage to mess up. 

But of course, if there was going to be anything that would distract me, and throw me off my game, it would be a guy. 

My first mistake was deciding to take the A train uptown midday.

My second mistake was leaving my headphones in my other bag, and not taking the time to go back home and get them. In shorter terms, that day was not my day.

So there I sat, merely twiddling my thumbs as the air-conditioned subway cart rattled back and forth, as we made the swift exit from Fulton Street station.

34th Street, I reminded myself. Just get off at 34th Street.

All I had to do was lead the students (who were still learning English) and document the High Line for our social media accounts, so I took the opportunity of a clear, summer day to capture some bright photos and make New York City seem appealing to international students. 

“Yo real talk, how do you get your beard so sharp?” a voice asked near me, obviously someone trying to make conversation with someone they were sitting next to. 

I hated when strangers tried to do that on a packed train.  Everyone is already bothered, so please do not make matters worse with your irrelevant ass “getting to know each other” bit.

Added with the unruly stench of a lack of deodorant, an inconsiderately public conversation was not what anyone in the cart desired.

“Do you do it yourself?”

Except there was no response to either question, and the voice of the questioner felt oddly too close to my liking. As the question remained unanswered, and an awkward tension began to stiff end in the air, I came to terms with a New Yorker’s public transportation nightmare.

Waitwas I being the one questioned? 

Instinctively, my head shot up, and I came face to face with a man in a worn baseball cap, with a slightly scruffy beard and medium-tan skin tone. 

He was the Brooklyn boy in the summer season, with his fresh tan and vintage clothes that were probably more expensive than whatever was actually in this season. 

“Oh,” I replied, first confused that I was being spoken to, and half forgetting the question that I had even been asked to begin with. 

Oh yeah, beard.  “I line it myself, and brush it out.” 

The guy nodded his head and continued to study my facial hair.  The longer he did, the less I became bothered by his public questioning. 

You could keep staring, hipster boy. 

“Wow,” he said, obviously in some form of minor amazement, “It looks really good.  I wish I could grow facial hair like that.  Instead, mine comes in all patchy like this.” 

He gestured for me to look at his own facial hair, as he tilted his chin upward for me to observe. 

Killer jawline. 

“Oh don’t even,” I replied, “You look perfectly fine.” 

The mystery man chuckled, and I watched as his right hand grazed over the stubbled he had developing over his face. 

It definitely felt like when you get your hair freshly buzzed, and you swish it back and forth. I don’t really know how to describe how that feels, but anyone who gets their hair buzzed will understand.

“So what do you do?” he asked. 


He wasn’t just here for the compliment. Oh my god. Was this man… starting a conversation? 

My shock was real, as my dating life in the great Big Apple was close to rotten. It got to the point where I was whole-heartedly convinced that all the single people had packed up and moved to Queens. Or even worse, Staten Island.  

“I work with international students,” I explained, “at Pace University.My department teaches them English either for their own pleasure or if they are trying to get their undergraduate or graduate degree at an American college.”

That was a bit of a mouthful. 

“Oh cool,” he said, as he adjusted himself in the small slot of seat that he had next to me, “You teach them?”

I couldn’t help but laugh. Not at him, but merely at the thought of myself trying to teach these students English as a second language.  (“Hella,” I would say, “A word to use when something is very much, and extra.”) 

“Oh no, no.  I run the social media for the department, and take them on occasional trips around the city,” I explained.  

“That sounds mad cool,” he replied, “Where are you taking them today?” 

The woman next to him shifted a bit, possibly bothered by the conversation beside her. She slung her oversized canvas tote closer to her stomach and tensed up her shoulders just a bit.

“The High Line,” I replied, and (lord I don’t know why I did but) I leaned closer to him gently, “Don’t tell my boss, but I’ve never even been to the High Line.”

Him and I both broke into a chuckle, both self-conscious not to cause too much of an uproar on the train. Neither one of us wanted to be one of those people. 

That type of energy, while still annoying to everyone around, was only allowed to come from a new freshman in the New York City college scene. It is understood that this is probably their first inkling of freedom ever, so we kind of just let them have it.

“Well it’s pretty self-explanatory. They’ll probably just wanna take a bunch of pictures there. Nothing too intense,” he said, his voice smooth in the way that voices sound when you begin to find yourself attracted to them.

“But what about you?” I asked, “What do you do?” 

“Aah, nothing as cool as you,” he said, his dark eyes glancing into mine with a slight sense of curiosity. My eyes were equally as curious. For a split second, I let them venture across his face. His tan skin, the slightly dry texture present even in this warm summer season. Slight forehead wrinkles. I’d say mid-20’s. 

“Oh come on,” I said, nudging into him just slightly.  

“Aah, you know Fire Island?” he asked.

“No idea,” I lied. 

“It’s on Long Island,” he explained, “Well there’s a bar I work at there. I bartend and sometimes I perform.”

My heart and mind both raced, and I couldn’t tell if they were racing together, or against each other. But all I could think was, Oh my god… he performs.

“Ooh, what do you perform?” I asked, hoping that my tone didn’t come off too interested, or too intrigued into the matter.

Often times, I felt as though I could be a bit “too much, too sense” when it came to getting to know people, so when it came to men, I attempted to reel it back.

“I play the piano,” he replied, “Sometimes it’s not really the bar mood, but every now and then I write a song that can pass.” 

His face scrunched slightly, probably indicating that he usually doesn’t let on to the fact that he writes quite often. Oh men and their attempts at being coy. It is quite adorable sometimes. 

“So you write songs?” I asked and soon realized that I was leading a whole ass interrogation during this man’s afternoon commute. 

While even minor conversations during a weekday commute were rare, them continuing further than simple small talk was even rarer.  Talking about someone’s true passions was almost unheard of.

“Sometimes. It’s been kinda dry lately,” he sighed and slumped back deeper into his seat.  The train took a jolted stop at what looked like 14th Street.  A few locals pushed out of the train, but just as many got on after them. 

“I understand.I write, but I write more like books and all that,” I said.

It wasn’t a lie, but truly, I hadn’t written in months. It was still my passion, but college really sucked it out of me.  Thanks, higher education. 

“You ever gotten something published?” He asked. (Just as I said.) I shook my head. 

“Maybe one day,” I said, as I hopefully looked up to the sky, as all young writer protagonists do in their own internal narratives. I was born a Cancer with a Pisces moon, so I was a sucker for cliches and fantasies. 

“I’d love to be able to read something of yours sometime,” he said. My heart, in all of its gay joy, fluttered. Oh yes, the standard love interest’s reply to the writer protagonist. 

When had my life turned into a Young Adult novel?

“And I’d love to hear one of your songs,” I replied. I felt as though the favor had to be returned. Of course, it was not a lie, but some thought did go into the statement. 

As honest as we want to be in relationships, there is always some form of calculation and footing that goes into every step we take. 

Just look at how we handle honesty. You are honest with your possible partner in doses. On the first date, you tell them all the pretty shiny things, with maybe hints of a possible back story. 

A few dates later, maybe you open up about a possible friend breakup that affected you in high school. Then, when you’ve been a year in, you open up about your past traumas. 

This could be due to increasing levels of comfort, but let’s be honest people, even if we were completely comfortable with someone from day one, we would still hold back certain things.  It’s merely human.  

“Then bring yourself to Fire Island. It’s quite the time in summer,” he said.  Something told me that I’d be visiting Fire Island sometime this summer. 

Oh! I’ve never been to Long Island before!  

“I just might have to,” I replied. But suddenly the train halted, and he got up from his seat.

“My stop,” he said. “If you’re ever in Fire Island, say that Taylor sent you.” 

….so the whole town would know this Taylor guy?

I watched as he walked out of the train, and stepped onto the platform which read 34th Street. I sighed and slumped into my seat. Well, meeting Taylor was nice, I guess.  He seemed like a cool guy. One of those guys you’d read about and wish you could fall in love with. One of those that you’d want to spend all night talking to. 

Damn. I should’ve asked for his number or something.

Soon enough, the train doors opened once more. 

42nd Street. 

Hoards of people got off at the popular Midtown stop, leaving the train car a little bit emptier than it had been before.  I looked around and saw that my students were all still there. 

Thank god. 


42nd Street.