Don’t Believe All That You Read

New York City Subway (illustration by Betsy Beier)

Below is a fictional travel story written using the prompt: They say _______ but my experience tells me…

They told me to be careful, watch your guard, be alert, aware of your surroundings, and your exit strategy. It’s not a safe city. People are rude, brusk and unfriendly.

Stepping off the plane I was prepared. My backpack was zipped and secured to my front. My money and valuables safely split up and tucked away in obscure places on my body. I briskly walk to the subway with my bags, head down so as to not make direct eye contact with anyone for fear of inviting submission or being confrontational. I follow the instructions at the ticket kiosk to get my pass for my stay. The device wanted nothing to do with my credit card. Slightly annoyed, I inserted it again and followed the screen instructions.

A high pitched beep emanated from the machine, as the display read, “Card error.”

I was beginning to get flustered and could feel a queue forming behind me yet still hadn’t gotten my ticket. Surrounding conversations began to get louder in my ear- snippets of bitter words, frustration, discontent… a shrill laugh. Was that a good or bad laugh?

Third time’s the charm, I thought. I put my credit card in again but to no avail. Slight panic arose. What if my credit card doesn’t work? My life revolves around this damn piece of plastic. I have $3 max on me. That definitely does not get far in a city like this let alone even close to my destination.

I feel a hand on my shoulder, jump out of my head and spin around jerkily prepping myself to perform my best self defense moves… the ones I saw for 5 seconds while flying through my Insta feed several months back. I am assaulted with a whiff of body odor, and notice a dingy Ministry t-shirt with jeans that haven’t seen a washing matching in some time. I scan left to right and realize somehow what was a crowded spot has become desolate except for a stray soul slumped on the ground several yards away loudly berating himself.

Was that the argument I heard? Where has everyone gone? Is this seriously happening to me right now?

“These machines are so finicky, rather ironic given it seems everyone wants your credit card these days,” he claims.

I’m whisked to the present and for the first time look in his kind eyes.

“When I first moved here I had the same issue,” motioning with his hands on his shirt, “just wipe off the strip a few times and I swear it will work.”

I do as I’m told and sure enough the card is accepted. I turn around again grateful and thank him profusely.

“No problem. Enjoy the city. It’s dope.”

I give a smile and head to the platform.

On the subway ride into the city I fall in line with the community in my car and give into my phone. One by one I dismiss all the pages open about how dangerous this place is, and return the phone to my pocket. I slowly raise my head stealing furtive glances with those around me who care to abide, and then stare out the window. Our train rails scrape against the elevated tracks as we snake through the borough. The skyscrapers shimmer in the distance. I take it all in one moment at a time. The urban energy, exciting yet calming, fills my soul with possibility.

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Betsy Beier

Betsy Beier

Licensed illustrator, author of creative travel guides and teacher, ready to inspire you to explore the world with creativity!