Being part of the crowd isn’t all that great

May 19, 2019

Crowds are starting to gather. You can see the true snowbirds along the side of the road, in the fields, stopping to feast before heading back to their original homes. And like the birds, the human snowbirds are packing their bags loaded with plastic palm trees, hula girls and T-shirts that say Tourist From Hell, and heading home also. They too are stopping to feast in fields on the side of the road, but most of them, to their credit, prefer the buffets and food shacks along the main roads. Yes, we have a lot in common, but it also means we no longer have the place to ourselves. And we are used to dealing with all sorts of crowds.

I noticed this recently at church. Not that you don’t want big attendance at church, but it used to be manageable to find a parking spot and a pew. But there can be a fine line between what resembles a drag race in the parking lot and an echo in the confines of a place of silence.

When I was visiting a big city recently, I went to a service in a cathedral around the corner from my hotel. It was a beautiful tribute to architecture, with floor-to-ceiling stained-glass windows. The wood on the pews was polished to a brilliant sheen, and the baptismal conveyance was surrounded by gray marble. Flowers adorned brass urns on the altar. It was a beautiful scene.

The only problem was there were just five of us at the service. It’s not so much of a problem at first, but when you look around and realize the other four attendees are passed out cold, snoring on the pews, next to their shopping carts full of aluminum cans and assorted belongings, well, your mind begins to wonder. Does the Statue of Liberty really say, “Give me your tired, your hungry, your downtrodden, your anything disgusting ... etc?”

The odor was so strong I had to wrap my scarf around my mouth and breathe in enough carbon dioxide to make me almost but not completely comatose. So we know that this is too little of an attendance. But hey, we are all God’s children. Right?

Now I had the opposite experience when I went to board the subway train in a major city. As the train roared to the platform, I could see that it was packed with passengers that were the equivalent in numbers to the entire population of a city like Boston. 

You have to understand that those passengers have probably been trying to get off since 20 stops ago or at least since they got on the train. But passengers waiting to get on will not allow that to happen. Eventually the crowd on the train swells like a gigantic goiter or boil; at least the numbers are as high as the population of the state of Montana.

Once the train stops, I am among the crowd surging forward, like the Charge of the Light Brigade. Onward, onward we push, not letting one person slip out; it would be a defeat no one could bear. I am propelled by the carbon dioxide emanating from the grunts, groans and catlike screams. Some people have squeezed into tiny pockets of space in fetal positions on top of other passenger’s heads. Still we press on. Now this is a crowd.

Eventually, someone mercifully does an incredible, scientific, reasonable outage like expel some gas, and the crowd parts like Moses before the Red Sea. The odor is so strong, it hangs in the air until the city solid waste company arrives in HazMat suits to clear the area. This allows passengers to depart the train; sure, they collapse on the subway platform where they are trampled by a crowd of new passengers arriving for the next train, but it is the only solution.

So beware of the crowds this summer; it’s coming, both too little and too large. In fact, be afraid.

  • Nancy Katz has a degree in creative writing and is the author of the book, "Notes from the Beach." She has written the column Around Town for the Cape Gazette for twenty years. Her style is satirical and deals with all aspects of living in a resort area on Delmarva.

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