Although there are over 8 million people living in New York City, the company where Manhattan resident Bill Bartwell works employs only 60 people - making Bill's odds of running into any of his co-workers during his morning commute relatively low. Factor in his erratic schedule and the fact that about 20% of his colleagues commuted from such distant parts as New Jersey and Connecticut, Bill's chances of encountering any of his co-workers on a subway train were negligible at best - exactly how the small-talk-averse Bill liked it.
And yet, one Monday morning (Monday, of all days! Bill would later think) in April of 2012, it happened.
Bill entered the uptown R train and, as was his habit, began making his way to the front of the subway car so as to be closest to the most convenient exit at his stop in Midtown. He was so focused on his goal (a vacant seat immediately adjacent to the front right exit door), that he failed to notice his co-worker Fran Silver standing in the center aisle, black work bag (company logo and all) casually slung over her shoulder.
Once Bill reached his seat, however, he spotted Fran out of the corner of his eye (Bill has exceptional peripheral vision) - and his mind went blank. This was it: the moment he had sought his entire professional commuting life to avoid.
He had options, of course. He could pretend not to see Fran and hope that their paths didn't cross during the short walk from the subway station to their office. Risky.
He could pretend to have casually "just noticed" Fran, give her a half-wave of acknowledgement and hope she didn't try to actually talk to him. Riskier still.
He could suck it up and say hi to Fran, ask her about her life, maybe get to know her a little bit. Not an option.
The subway train was fast approaching 23rd St. As the doors slid open, Bill knew, without knowing, what he had to do. In one swift motion, he stepped off the subway car onto the station platform and from their deftly hopped into the subway car directly ahead of the one holding Fran, just as the subway doors were sliding closed. He was safe - for the next four stops, at least.
Bill knew the challenge wasn't entirely behind him, as only a few feet separated him and Fran. Several minutes later, as the train pulled into Bill's final destination at 49th Street station, he exited the train, hurried out of the station taking the steep station stairs two at a time (no small feat for a sedentary office hack), ignored a red light and jaywalked in order not to waste precious moments waiting to cross the street at a crowded intersection, and managed to arrive at the office a full 45 seconds before Fran.
Bill found that his successful avoidance of Fran imbued him with a new confidence, a feeling of virtual invisibility. His near-encounter on the subway made him realize that eye contact was not necessarily unavoidable in even the tiniest of enclosed spaces, like office hallways or restrooms. He now strolls past Fran and others in the narrow office hallways, gaze cast jauntily downward at the teal office carpeting, feeling good about his life.
Unbeknownst to Bill, Fran had noticed Bill on the train, too. She didn't take offense at the pains he was clearly taking to avoid her; in fact, she was quite happy to play the role of stooge in Bill's charade, as she had no desire to chat with him, either. In short, it all worked out - as office life often does.