Making New Connections On A Trapped Subway Train

Nov 15, 2013
Originally published on November 15, 2013 11:37 am

Laura Lane met Paquita Williams, a New York City subway conductor, when their train was stopped underground for two hours. Generally, Paquita says, most passengers are nice, but "there's times if the train breaks down, people think that's my fault."

With the power out, Paquita walked the length of the train, comforting nervous passengers. That made a real impression on Laura. "You really made everybody on that train connect," Laura says. "We all started talking with each other like human beings. And we left the train and somebody was like, 'Let's do this again tomorrow morning.' "

Putting people at ease is important to Paquita, a single foster mom who's worked for the New York transit system for 15 years. On a dental visit years ago, she recalls, she was afraid and asked the dentist to hold her hand for comfort. He refused, and the memory has always stuck with her. "That's why I do what I do with my passengers," she says. "I want you to know that if you need me to hold your hand, I'm there."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jasmyn Belcher

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Time now for StoryCorps, the project recording the stories of everyday people. Today, a New York City subway conductor and one of her passengers.

PAQUITA WILLIAMS: Hi. My name is Paquita Williams.

LAURA LANE: My name is Laura Lane. I met Paquita on the subway when we got stopped underground for two hours.

MONTAGNE: And that happened back in September, on Friday the 13th. The way Paquita handled her train being trapped underground made such an impression on Laura that she wanted to learn more about her.

LANE: Are most people nice?

WILLIAMS: For the most part, yes. For the most part. There's times if the train breaks down, people think that's my fault. Or if there is an increase in fare, that's because I said hey, let's increase the fare. But I think back on my mom. I have three sisters and four brothers, and she had to be patient with all of us. So that's why I'm able to be patient like the day the train stopped on us.

LANE: Yeah, it was like, 8 a.m.? I was on my way to work.

WILLIAMS: It was no power so I walked though the whole train. I walked from front to back because I knew somebody would be nervous. And passengers were saying to me, it's Friday the 13th! I said, well, we're alive. Somebody didn't wake up on Friday the 13th and would have loved to have been on this train, so it's a good day for us.

LANE: (Laughter) You really made everybody on that train connect. We all started talking with each other like human beings. And we left the train and somebody was like, let's do this again tomorrow morning; same place, same time!

WILLIAMS: (Laughter)

LANE: What could have started out as a bad day turned into a good day because of you.

WILLIAMS: About 20 years ago, I went to the dentist, and I was so afraid. And I said to the dentist, please hold my hand. Just let me know you're there. And he said to me, I'm not your date!

Now, that stuck with me. So that's why I do what I do with my passengers. I want you to know that if you need me to hold your hand, I'm there.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: That's New York City subway conductor Paquita Williams with one of her passengers, Laura Lane, at StoryCorps. Their story will be archived along with thousands of other StoryCorps interviews at the Library of Congress. Get the podcast at NPR.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.