I’m late ― for a very important waitKoreans tend to be a people on the go. They like their coffee instant, new eyeglasses in an hour and wanted that done yesterday. In a land where “I’m so busy” is practically the national mantra, perhaps the most harried of them all are the ones I call “subway runners.”
I’m sure that you’ve seen them, as well as their cousins “bus runners” and “crosswalk runners.” They’re always in a rush and tend to treat the opening of subway doors or the crosswalk signal turning green like a starting gun at the Olympics.
Being on the laid back side myself, I’ve never understood what would cause someone to be in such a hurry that they’re eager to bowl over small children and the elderly to get wherever they’re going as soon as possible. No matter how late I find myself, the best I can manage is a halfhearted walk/skip/jog. So when I see these people go tearing past me like the cops are hot on their tail, I usually just shake my head.
Nonetheless, with my interest piqued by these perpetually late citizens, I decided to follow a subway runner to see where the fire was. One morning I spotted an ajumma who seemed to be in a particular rush. A full stop before she got off the train she gathered up her massive handbag (which, I found out, female subway runners use as a battering ram to clear their path). As her stop approached, she began elbowing people out of her way as she moved toward the door. With an extra step here or there she could have avoided contact altogether, but then I realized that subway runners are in too big a hurry for extra steps.
Part of the reason I originally picked this woman to follow was because I figured that keeping up with her would be no problem. I was wrong. Tailing her was like chasing James Bond. Here was a woman at least twice my age ― and girth ― weaving through the throng, bursting in and out of spaces I didn’t think a cat could squeeze through. It felt like I was watching Barry Sanders in his prime.
(Note to any National Football League scouts who might be reading: I’ve found the road to an unstoppable running game. Put a middle-aged Korean woman in the backfield, hand her the ball and then convince her that there’s a sale in the end zone ― but it ends in two minutes. Then just sit back and watch the yards pile up and the wins come rolling in. Trust me, it’s foolproof.)
When I finally caught up to her, about five minutes later, I found out why she was in such a rush. She had to wait in line to catch a bus.
by Steven Lee