The Longest Train Ride

December 11, 2017, began as a typical day in New York City and the rest of the world, but to me it was my birthday. I had never been the type to go all out for birthdays, so I got ready for school and walked five minutes to the C train like I always did.

At the station, I swiped my green, student metrocard and stood at the platform, blasting music through my ear buds and feeling a little more joyous as the lyrics and music enveloped me. The train pulled into the station relatively empty as usual, and I took my seat ready to head down all the way to 42nd Street.

This ride, however, my train stopped at 59th Street and stayed there. After around ten patient minutes of waiting, I heard the conductor address us passengers through his intercom. “This train will not be making any further stops. All passengers, please exit the train and wait for the one directly behind us. Sorry for any inconvenience.”

When you’re a New Yorker like me, you come to understand that most of what comes out of conductors’ mouths is false. I was fully aware there was no train directly behind us, so my next step was to try to find a different way to get to 42nd. Luckily, 42nd Street is one of those stops where literally every train heads, and from 59th Street I could easily transfer over to the 1 train.

So that’s what I did. But, when the crowded 1 train pulled into the station, I realized that something was not quite right. New Yorkers know that when a train is over-crowded, something’s wrong. I squeezed into the train car anyway, and after the doors closed, the train did something upsetting to any New Yorker: It skipped stations at 50th and 42nd, then went straight to 34th. Walking out, I could tell everyone felt as as flustered as I did. What was going on? I thought. Why today of all days should the trains be messed up?  

As I waited on the opposite side for the uptown train to 42nd Street, I checked my phone and knew I was going to be late. My friends were experiencing similar problems, some not even able to get on a train because of how crowded they were. I felt my face clench and every sound around me fade into the background of my own irritation. The train pulled into the station, and instead of getting on, I turned around and made my way above ground to walk the eight blocks to school.

As I approached 42nd, however, I became uneasy at the sight of so many police. I was smack in the middle of Times Square, so their presence wasn’t uncommon. However, something about this moment felt excessive. Everywhere the men in uniform stood stiff and unmoving, definitely more than your average street cop. Shields the length of entire human beings, masks revealing only their eyes, and assault rifles ready to engage at any moment. Unsettled, I walked past dozens of them surrounded by barricades and police tape that blocked my path to school. 

“Excuse me,” I said to one of uniformed men. “How can I get down to 11th avenue?”

“You’re gonna have to walk around, kid.”

I gritted my teeth and asked what I had been too scared to ask. “Um…What’s going on?”

The officer responded, “We’re trying to contain an incident that happened earlier today in the subway.” 

And with that my awful suspicions were confirmed.

Something worse than your average train delay had occurred. Certain that was the most information I would get out of him, I thanked him and worked my way around the barricades to school.

***

I arrived around 30 minutes into my 2nd period class to see that no one was there. My teacher let me leave, as there was almost no one in class, and so I headed downstairs to the cafeteria in hopes of finding someone I knew. There I encountered my friend Amy at a table in the far back by herself. Her attention was glued to her phone until she heard my footsteps. She ushered me to hurry over. 

We sat together watching a video on her phone. Everything happened so quick. One moment everyone was walking in the tunnel with their usual swiftness, and the next moment a smoke-filled explosion sent everyone running. As the smoke cleared, a man could be seen lying on the ground, and a flurry of armed cops stormed in. They inspected the man and cuffed him, after which the video stopped. Amy and I looked at each other with round, worried eyes, full of anguish like lost puppies looking for their owners.

Slowly throughout the day, more people entered the building. Almost four periods in, our principal came on to the loudspeaker and made an announcement. “Excuse me faculty and students, parents have been notified about the status of today’s earlier incident, and no one will be penalized for missing school today. If your safety is a concern, you may call a parent to escort you out of the building. Otherwise classes are cancelled and all students should take the time to catch up on anything that they might need to.” 

It wasn’t too long until most of our friends arrived, and the dreary worries of the attempted suicide bombing were overshadowed by the cheers and laughter from my birthday. It was as if it hadn’t really happened and everyone was ready to celebrate. Or maybe we were celebrating that no one was killed. Either way, as soon as I left those school doors that day, things cheered up as I reveled in another full rotation around the sun.

***

Later, we learned that there was an attempted pipe bomb attack at the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 42nd Street, a hotspot where many people travel between trains. When checking the times, I realized I was on the train right after the attack, which is why my train went out of service. The man claimed to have terrorist motivations, specifically ISIS motivated. There were no deaths, but four people including the attacker were injured. It made the world feel a lot smaller in terms of how safe I felt. And although nothing actually happened to me physically, the idea that the whole incident was so close to me makes me think about what could’ve happened. In the end, I am glad nothing too terrible happened. And that is the perspective I choose to look through when I think of the outcome of this entire situation.

–By Alpha Bah, Class of 2020


Game, Set, Match!

Tennis has always been a big part of my life. Throughout high school, I’ve been a proud member of the girls tennis team, and my passion for the sport has only grown since becoming a senior and making the varsity team. While I’m not the best player on the team, I have my own personal set of skills that work to my advantage, and I have played many good (and bad) matches because of my unique style. However, one of the most memorable games I have ever played was at the Burlington County Open this past autumn, and it shaped the way I play and view tennis. 

On a cool morning in September 2019, the girls tennis team huddled eating warm chocolate chip cookies baked fresh by one of our teammates. The bus was late (again), the freshmen were inside filling our water jug, and Emmanuella and the coach hit a tennis ball against the wall. When it finally arrived, we all bundled into the back and gabbed, each adorned in our uniforms and tennis sweatshirts. The scent of Coach Nevitt’s coffee was aromatic and wafted to the back of the bus, making the atmosphere welcoming and comfortable. Driving to the designated meeting place, Veteran’s Park, took about an hour.

When we arrived, we put our bags down at our traditional tree, near which roughly twenty courts surrounded the official hub for announcements. That’s when we discovered we hadn’t brought any of the necessary materials: new tennis balls, scorecards, and the community water bottles. So we went to a court picked at random and stretched and hit for a while, then gathered to hear the lineups. I was scheduled against Pemberton’s third singles player, Gabby. She was nice but had a competitive side to her, which I had seen at our scrimmage almost a month earlier. We had ten minutes to rally, and Gabby opened up a new canister of balls. The lid popped off with a click, and she handed me one of the fluorescent-colored spheres.

The rally started off fairly normally, with regular playing followed by practicing our serves, but then her coaches came over. They stood at the far end of the fence, so they could watch both her and their first doubles’ matches. Their loud, laughing voices rang across the courts. At first their presence didn’t faze me, but my perspective changed when the match actually started.

I lost the first point after getting to deuce, but I knew I could bring it back because my serves are decent, but my returns allow me to win points. The game went back and forth for a while, with the score 4-3 in my favor, when a Pemberton coach walked to our side of the fence to watch.

“It’s all about the serve, Gabby. That’s what I like to see,” he said, shouting loud enough to make birds scatter. She was serving after tying the game, 4-4. I began losing my patience with his every cheer and clap mocking the skills I had worked so hard to develop. However, I was determined to not let him get to me, and by focusing my energy on the game, I succeeded in gaining back the upper hand. As we switched sides, the second coach and some of her teammates who had already lost their matches came to watch our match.

“Take those risks, Gabby!” Her coach was irritated with the current score, 7-6 in my favor, since my opponent had lost two points in a row. By now, my coach had come to watch as well, but he remained still and silent, like the calm before the storm. I could tell his blood was boiling over their remarks, but he maintained control.

When the score became 8-9 in Gabby’s favor, my teammates gathered in a wave and sat, talking among themselves, oblivious to my need for concentration. 

“Shh! I’m glad you’re watching my match, but you need to be quiet,” I said.

This next point would determine the entire match, and I did not want to risk it all. Unfortunately for Pemberton, I won the point. We were told the match would end with a tie-breaker, first to seven with a two-point difference. As I drank my water I tried to steady myself , but my hands shook. Two hours had passed since the tournament had begun, and my body was starting to shut down. Forcing myself to continue, I took my place, ball in hand.

A hush fell over the crowd as I tossed the ball high and started the first point with a serve. A nice rally commenced, until the ball was hit into the net. The winning side cheered for their girl, and the two switched sides. The tie breaker was tense, with loud cheers from Pemberton, and more subtle cheers from Palmyra. It was the last point, and back to my serve. I hit the ball, but Gabby returned it fast, a powerful hit to the opposite side of the court. Somehow, I was faster. Without much thought, I decided to take a risk. Cross-court returns with a backhand are almost never a good idea because too many things can go wrong. However, in that moment, the stars aligned. Gabby wasn’t expecting the angled shot and attempted to get it over, but her body placement wasn’t right. I met her at the net where I shook her hand, a thrilling match finally over. My body weary, I picked up my equipment and left the courts.

While my team cheered, the Pemberton coaches came down on her hard, practically yelling at the poor girl for not taking more risks, but I knew she had. We both did everything in our power to win that match, but only one victor could arise.

“That was so intense! You played great! We’re so proud of you,” my teammates said. I was glowing with joy at what I had accomplished, yet exhausted from the effort.

“I’m third singles, Palmyra versus Pemberton. I won 9-9, with a 7-5 tie breaker,” I reported to a match official, who then told me I could have a short break before the second round. In that second round, I was pinned against someone who was in a higher seed-ranking than Palmyra, and I lost pretty quickly, but I didn’t care. I was overjoyed to have even made it as far as I had, and I remember smiling throughout the rest of the day because of it.

I think back to that match often, and I consider that win to be one of my biggest accomplishments. It’s not necessarily that Pemberton was a fierce competitor, or that making it past the first round was that big of an achievement, but I’m proud of myself for all that I did because I know what it was like to be on the court that fateful day. Overall, the tournament didn’t affect my tennis career or determine anything special, but the memory of it will always linger in my mind because it helped me gain confidence in myself and my skills, which I have channeled in a positive way to other aspects of my life.

And for that, I am grateful. 

— By Alyssa Rimanthe Schweiger, Class of 2020

The Great Chicken Catastrophe

Back in April 2019, my birthday fell on a Thursday. I was a counselor at Majoda Stables spring break horse camp, and at lunch a group of us chatted about how cute baby chickens are and maybe getting some.

“We should get some,” I suggested nonchalantly.

“Are you serious?” My friend Anna raised an eyebrow.

I shrugged. “Yea, why not? It’ll be fun to raise some.”

My co-worker Vera, otherwise known as the barn manager, supported the idea. Moments later, I found myself calling my boss, Diane, asking  if I could go buy some baby chickens for my eighteenth birthday. All the kids went silent so they could try to hear her answer through the phone. When I ended the call, every person was nearly about to fall off the edge of their seats. I kept them in suspense for a good while until a smile spread across my cheeks.

“It’s a go,” I said, and the crowd went crazy. Without a moment to spare, my friends Anna, Paige, Claire, and I climbed into my car and we headed to the local Agway which had week- old baby chicks. 

We picked out six adorable babies and brought them to their new home in  no time. Majoda Stables’ chicken population more than doubled from four to ten in one hour. I named our new six chicken babies Nugget, Postey, Frankie, Snow White, Mobamba, and Little Peep. 

Today, four of my beloved babies live on only in my heart and memories. 

Just as fast as the chicken population grew, it fell. It all started when we gained three more chickens in June. Diane’s  daughter Beth had a flock of a dozen chickens herself, but when a fox broke into their coop she was left with three. 

“The foxes are really all over the place this year.” Beth sighed as she released her chickens into their temporary home among ours.

Diane shook her head. “We’ve never really had any problems with foxes around here.”

After hearing that, a feeling of doom fell over me. Diane had jinxed us, and there wasn’t enough wood in the world to knock on to undo the bad luck.

When night came, Beth’s chickens didn’t know where to sleep or hide from any passing predators of the dark, unlike our ten chickens. At Majoda Stables, our chickens were 100% free range. We had never had a fox problem because our chickens learned early on where to stay safe at night, even though we never had a coop for them. But with a fox around, safe places for chickens became scarce.  

Unfortunately, two of Beth’s chickens fell victim to a fox almost immediately, but then a few more nights passed and there were no missing chickens come morning. We thought the chickens were safe. We even decided to name Beth’s last remaining chicken Gissmo, and Gissmo started to fit in very nicely with the group.

The murders continued with Frankie and Snow White. They were identical white chickens, so we never knew which one was which. One morning soon after, only one of the white chickens remained. We debated which chicken it was, but couldn’t decide and eventually we agreed to just call her Frank Snow. 

After that, the murderous fox seemed to have moved on, until one morning I couldn’t find Mobamba. Then we lost my favorite little rooster, Nugget, followed by Cinderella’s vanishing.

“Has anyone seen Cinderella,” Vera asked.

I thought for a second. “No, she’s probably on some adventure up the hill. She does that sometimes.” I tried to sound as reassuring as possible. 

We were all in denial.

Cinderella never did return from her adventure and little Peep was next in line. We knew right away since we didn’t hear his obnoxious crowing anymore. About a week later, we lost Amy, Raven, and Gissmo, leaving us with only Penny, Frank Snow, and Postey. 

At the beginning of August, Diane approached me. “You like to build stuff, right?”

“Yea, I enjoy it.”

“ How would you like to build a chicken coop?” She pursed her lips.

I nodded my head enthusiastically, accepting her task. I started my construction right away. There were no blueprints or plans drawn up. I just had a vision of the coop in my head and made it a reality. In order to save as much money as possible, I used reclaimed wood for more than half of the project: Wood from pallets left for the trash, wood lying around the barn with no purpose, pieces from an old nesting shed that wasn’t in use, and wood that the local tractor supply let me take from the trashed wood pile behind the store. All this was used to put this little chicken house together. I did have to purchase a few pieces of plywood for the roof, along with simple objects like screws and metal brackets from Lowes. My friend’s dad had some leftover shingles that I gladly took to use for the roof. 

I designed the coop with two front windows with chicken wire small enough keep out any and all snakes. I cut the front wall of the coop in half horizontally so the top half opens up, allowing me to climb in to clean and collect any eggs. To finish, I painted it a traditional barn red and white.  

October 18, 2019, the coop was declared officially complete and ready for chickens. That same night, we brought two Houdan chickens, one Ohiki hen and her two babies, and ten unhatched eggs to their new home. This was my first time ever building something of that scale, but with the help of my friends Luna and Claire, no chicken at Majoda Stables will ever have to worry about the predators of the night.

The lives of our previous chickens will forever be remembered and will keep pushing me further to keep my dear chickens safe so no catastrophe like the one in the summer of 2019 will ever occur again. 

— By Jason Young, Class of 2020

Glitter Glue Explosion

Let me take you back in time to fifth grade on a beautiful summer day. It rained the previous day, so seeing the sun shine in the cleaned out classroom made our hearts sing for joy. We were making cards for our future teachers, expressing how excited we were to advance to middle school in the fall.

Laughter and conversations filled the classroom. I was quiet, occasionally smiling at some of my classmates. I finished writing my card and moved to the back table where everyone added details to their cards. Glitter covered the table, and smiling stickers stared back at everyone. There was only one glitter pen left, so I grabbed it, unaware of how it would change my school year forever.  

I slowly turned the nozzle of the glitter glue to face the paper. One minute I’m about to put glitter glue on my paper, the next it exploded all over me. Shocked, the classroom fell silent. Until laughter erupted. 

“Jaliesa, what happened?” My friends Molly laughed.

“I really don’t know,” I said loudly as my teachers checked over me and tried not to laugh. The glue began to harden, and Mrs. S helped me get up from my chair so I wouldn’t get glue all over. We carefully made our way to the door and the nurse’s office, the laughter of everyone following closely behind.

“How exactly did this happen, Jaliesa? Was the nozzle broken or anything?” Mrs. S’s bright blue eyes looked at me with slight amusement but mostly concern. If I were her, I would have burst out laughing dropped to the floor.

“I…I really don’t know what happened. It just happened. ” Imagine seeing a ten-year-old girl wearing a shirt with weird characters, dark blue jeans, black shoes, and covered in almost a whole bottle of glitter glue. You get the picture? 

And then we ran into the principal. “Jaliesa,” he asked. “What happened to you? Are you bleeding?” Apparently, red glitter looks like blood.

I shook my head and Mrs. S chuckled.

“She just had a little incident with glitter glue. She’s fine.”

Thank gooodness I was covered with red glitter glue because my face could not have turned any redder.

At the nurse’s office, we were unsure whether to wait for her to finish with another student or head to where she stored the extra clothes.Surprise then amusement filled their eyes.  

“Oh god, Jaliesa! You look like someone turned you into a Christmas tree,” said Kylie, a friend from Unity Club.

I thought, At least this moment can’t get any worse. The nurse directed me to the extra clothes, and I grabbed whatever I could find, hurrying to the bathroom to change. I look at myself in the mirror and realize I look like a monster from Monsters Inc. There’s no denying it.  Except I wasn’t the monster to scare people, like what the monsters did in the beginning of the film. Oh no, I was there to make people laugh. 

I changed into a shirt two sizes too big and jeans that seem made adults, not fifth grade girls. I wet several paper towels and try to get most of the glue off my face. Even after many tries, you could still see glitter sparkling on my cheeks. I then tried getting it out of my hair, but glitter glue and hair is not good pairing. I decided to just deal with the glitter glue until my mom picked me up later. And so, the rest of my day went like that. Me looking like a mini disco ball at first and then like I just sprinkled glitter all over myself.  

At the after school program, I felt like I was waited forever for my mom to pick me up. I tried to act like everything was normal, but on the inside I was so annoyed by wearing  jeans that were too big on me that I decided to wear the glitter covered jeans instead. After almost four hours, my mom picked me up and I have never seen her look so confused in my whole life. After getting home and immediately taking a shower, I called a family friend to see if she could advise me on removing glitter glue from my hair. Is there even a good way to get glitter glue out of your hair?

“Just keep washing it,” Helen said, laughing. “And if that doesn’t work, just call yourself glitter head.” She sure did know how to make me feel better. Can you see the eye roll?

Regardless, I learned a lot that day. Like be more careful when handling anything with glitter. Also, embarrassing things happen to all of us, but it’s good to laugh them off. Not everything will be serious forever, and you’ll have a good story to tell when it’s over.

By Jaliesa Quinones, Class of 2020