One of my earliest, and most frightening, experiences in New York City was when I first met Dr. Howard Stein at Columbia University in the City of New York to decide if I wanted to attend graduate school with him or not.  Howard was Chair of the Oscar Hammerstein II Center for Theatre Studies at Columbia University in the City of New York.

I met Howard on a hot August day and he was in a mighty hurry.  He was late for a meeting at the Shubert Organization in Times Square and we were at Columbia University at 116th Street and Broadway.  If I wanted answers from Howard, I would have to ride the subway to the Shubert Theatre with him.  I told him I was with him and we were off!

Howard had about 40 years on me, but he was always faster and had much more energy than any of his students.  I was gasping for air trying to keep up with him along the brick-lined Columbia College Walk.  He talked.  I listened.

When we descended into the 116th Street subway stop, I lost sight of Howard in the tsouris of people and pets and a set of stairs that ended in a platform only to turn you to move down another set of steeper stairs to the actual subway stop.  This was my first experience in New York City and I’d never ridden the subway before in my life.

As I struggled to find Howard, I could hear his voice yelling at me from afar.

“David!  Hurry!  The train is coming!”  I finally saw Howard standing by the subway turnstile.

I felt the rush of the train sweeping by me and, as I ran to reach Howard, he pressed a subway token in my hand — yes, we had tokens back then instead of swipe MetroCards — and again screamed at me over the roar of the subway to, “Hurry up!  The train is here!”

I didn’t know how to put a token in the turnstile, so Howard pinched back the token out of my hand and shoved it into the coin drop for me and then dragged me through the turnstile and pushed me onto the crowded #2 Express Train.

As I stood there, holding onto a shiny pole on the subway and trying to catch my breath, Howard continued to yell at me, telling me that I had to hurry if a train was coming because you never knew if there would be another one or not.  All I remember about the rest of the trip to Times Square was nodding at him and wiping the sweat from my brow.

In the end, I accepted Howard’s offer of a Shubert Organization Presidential Scholarship from Columbia University, and the first lesson was the best lesson and the last lesson:  RUN FOR THE TRAIN!  You never know if, or when, there will ever be another one.

My wife does not share that New York City running train philosophy and, yes, I do — at times — find myself yelling her down the subway stairs to race for an arriving train, just as Howard dragged me through the turnstile so many years ago and, because of that urgent emotion, we tend to travel separately to keep our beloved marriage healthy.

However, let there be no doubt about the real meaning of Howard’s train lesson:  Grab what you need when it’s right there, because you never know if another opportunity will be there later when you feel ready and you’ve had a chance to catch your breath.

The first train you see may just be the last chance you’ll ever have.

Posted by David Boles

David Boles was born in Nebraska and his MFA is from Columbia University in the City of New York. He is an Author, Lyricist, Playwright, Publisher, Editor, Actor, Designer, Director, Poet, Producer, and Boodle Boy for print, radio, television, film, the web and the live stage. With more than 50 books in print, David continues to write 2MM words a year. He has authored over 25K articles and published more. Read the Prairie Voice Archive at Boles.com | Buy his books at David Boles Books Writing & Publishing | Earn the world with David Boles University | Get a script doctored at Script Professor | Touch American Sign Language mastery at Hardcore ASL.

14 Comments

  1. Beautiful and timeless story — and lesson!

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    1. That lesson has served me extremely well. When I sense a train, I start running. Why wait for the next one that might be delayed or broken or whatever?

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  2. […] a graduate student at Columbia University, I recall one particularly challenging playwriting assignment from mentor, and teacher, Dr. Howard […]

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  3. There will always be another train. If there isn’t another train, we’ll all be finished and it won’t matter. I just don’t want to break my ankle running down the stairs for a train that I’m never going to make.

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    1. Yes, we have to be safe about it — but if we feel the rumble and a subway wind begins to blow, we know we have a real shot at making that particular train! SMILE!

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  4. […] This is the eighth new book brought you to by Boles Books Writing & Publishing over the last 2.5 weeks, and this current volume is most special because it condenses the writing Howard Stein did for the Boles Blogs Network and Boles Books, and it also contains articles that were directly inspired by the teaching of Dr. Stein. […]

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  5. […] This is the eighth new book brought you to by Boles Books Writing & Publishing over the last 2.5 weeks, and this current volume is most special because it condenses the writing Howard Stein did for the Boles Blogs Network and Boles Books, and it also contains articles that were directly inspired by the teaching of Dr. Stein. […]

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  6. This is much truth in what Howard was saying. I always run for a train or a bus. I don’t like much waiting.

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    1. Me too! If there’s transportation in the area, I’m off to the races to catch on! SMILE!

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  7. […] currently teach in an old Midtown building in the center of New York City that used to house a secretarial typing school.  Legend has it that because there were lots of […]

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  8. […] riveted back to a moment during my graduate school years when Bernie Jacobs, then the head of the Shubert Organization, told me a story about the famous Broadway musical director Michael Bennett.  Michael was best […]

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  9. […] Teacher, mentor, friend, and philosopher Howard Stein died two years ago today at the age of 90 — and I still miss him every day — and yet his death strangely seems so far in the past as to be unrecognizable.  Because of all the surgical procedures he had at the end of his life, Howard would often refer to himself as the “Frankenstein Monster” held together with stitches and sealing wax. […]

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  10. […] teacher, friend, mentor and theatre historian, Dr. Howard Stein, shared a story with his Columbia University in the City of New York MFA […]

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  11. […] Playwrights at the University of Iowa for a living, he gave up his Playwright life because he didn’t want to compete with his students. I thought that instinct was honorable and right and the lesson sticks with me today. New plays […]

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