I stepped through the turnstile at Christopher St. to exit the PATH system and found myself standing behind a blond woman holding a baby, a stroller in front of her. Ahead of us were about 50 steps leading to the street above. She appeared to be trying to get the attention of the PATH attendant manning the station, standing in the narrow space between the tracks and the last turnstile.
It was a quarter to six -- rush hour, with a few of us exiting the station, but a lot more streaming down for the trip home to New Jersey. There's not much room to maneuver in the area between the end of the steps and the turnstiles, and I couldn't get past the mother and child until other riders made their way down.
So I waited and, in those few seconds, decided I'd do the right thing and offer to help her up the stairs. Moments later, it hit me, a realization that I knew her that quickly shifted to a recognition -- she was familiar to me, but I was nothing but another stranger in New York to her. That's what happens when you used to watch someone on TV each week for eight years.
As she tried to get the station attendant's attention -- I presume she was going to ask him for assistance -- I removed my earbuds and stepped around her, in front of the stroller, then turned back.
"Would you like some help?" was all I asked, though in my head I added, "Ms. Moloney." I suppose I omitted that part on the off chance my hunch was wrong. I was pretty confident, however, that it wasn't, because upon spotting celebrities in the wild, I tend to feel a jolt of recognition and a surge in my chest at the excitement of seeing someone famous in my world -- or at least this world we share.
"Oh, that'd be great if you would," she said, turning toward me. "It's not really heavy, if you could just carry the stroller up the stairs."
I picked it up -- it was truly light, and I could've managed it with one hand if I had to. Thankfully, she didn't have one of those deluxe SUVs of baby carriages. She chatted with me as I led the way up the stairs.
"He's still too young to take in a cab," she said. As I listened to her, I confirmed my initial hunch, because the voice was so distinct. It was as if Donna Moss was walking behind me.
The stairway to the Christopher St. PATH station includes three landings. As you exit, there is one with a 90-degree turn, a second that stretches for several feet, and a third that requires a U-turn as daylight comes into view. On the second landing, we caught up with the heavyset man ascending in front of us, so we had to slow down. I had the chance to turn around as we spoke, the conversation shifting now to just how freakin' far underground the PATH runs -- something I've thought of on occasion with this commute. "I guess it's because it has to go under the other subways," she reasoned, again expressing a thought I've had come across my own mind.
When we finally reached the last step, I set the stroller down on the sidewalk as she thanked me. "You've done your good deed for the day," she added, smiling. I smiled back as I gave my reply.
"I was going to help anyway," I began, as a way of saying that I didn't do it because I recognized her as an actress, "but I loved 'The West Wing.'"
She smiled again and said, "Thank you." I replied, "Have a nice day," with a final wave and turned toward Greenwich St. and the late-afternoon sun.
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