In his short time here at the Banter, Todd Drew made an indelible impact on all of us. Amid Alex’s range, Cliff’s statistical acumen, Bruce’s historical perspective, Emma’s sense of humor and the combination of media coverage from Diane and me, Todd, through his storytelling, demonstrated his love for baseball and this community by portraying the human side of Yankee fans.
From the tee shirts and hats and other assorted team paraphernalia worn by the transients, I noticed a number of Yankee fans on the 1, 2 and 3 trains when I was in New York City Monday. I haven’t been in the city much since changing jobs, so I was actually looking forward to the long subway ride to Columbia and then up to Manhattan College for a couple of workshops I was doing with clients at both institutions. As the train bounded out from underground between the Columbia campus at 116th Street and 125th Street and back down again quickly, and then into the light once more as the route exited Washington Heights and entered Inwood, I found myself thinking about Todd and his daily posts, many of which featured an interview with a Yankee fan on a subway and thought, “Todd was pretty brave to write from this perspective every day.”
The people he met every day on his way to work, or en route to the Stadium shaped his writing. Todd subscribed to a basic tenet of feature writing: everyone has a story to tell. He understood that we were all connected, sometimes in a similar way to how the subway lines connect people in the Big City. These strangers’ stories were his stories, and he was kind enough to share them.
Me? I’m not inclined to strike up a conversation with a stranger on a train and glean stories from there. I’m more of a situational observer. I view the panoramic and drill down based on the information I process.
On my way back downtown, I sat silently reading the Tom Verducci / Joe Torre tome, “The Yankee Years,” occasionally looking up to people-watch, mostly keeping to myself. As is usually the case when I travel by train, I get very tense and hope that either of the following situations does not occur: 1) a person sitting 5-10 feet from me is playing their iPod so that I can hear it through their headphones (after all, it’s not called an “everybodyPod), or 2) someone or a group of people in my car behaves obnoxiously, compelling me to get up and move to another car.
Today was different, though. Maybe it was because I’m not in the city every day anymore. I hadn’t taken the time to really notice the people, the surroundings, or wonder what was going on in their little insular planets before. Maybe it was because I was venturing to places that I hadn’t been on the 1 line and I wanted to learn something that I could eventually use in a conversation.
Before switching trains at 96th Street, a little girl was telling her father that she had fun and that she didn’t want to sit down because she was sweaty but “her bum wasn’t wet.” That killed me. One stop later, a family wasn’t prepared to get off the train, got to the doors about a second too late and the subway doors nearly scissored a mother’s baby carriage. A cursing match between the mother and the conductor ensued. While that was going on, another family entered the car and sat across from me: a mother, her son–who was probably about 7–and her daughter, probably age 4 or 5. Looking at the girl, it was like I was viewing my own daughter in five years. Similar shaped face, long, light brown hair, pink dress and sandals. And this girl was named Maddie, like mine. I immediately imagined riding a subway with my daughter, maybe on our way to the Museum of Natural History or some place like that, with her looking at the signs and asking questions as this other Maddie was doing with her mom.
The mother and her two children got off at 34th Street like I did, and from there we went our separate ways: them to the street, where a bus would take them one stop to the steps of their apartment building and me to the Long Island Rail Road concourse of Penn Station. A couple of glances were exchanged, but no words. I didn’t get to tell the mother about the similarities between her Maddie and mine. I don’t regret not saying anything, but it would have been nice to make conversation and see where it went. If he was in a similar position, Todd would have probably taken that leap and turned it into a 400-word piece.
The best feature writers immerse themselves in the environment and absorb the energy. Todd was able to do that and put you right there on the train with him. This one time, I wanted him on the train with me. I think he’d appreciate the ride.