New York City prides itself on the fascinating people of all walks of life settling in to try their luck. “If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere,” right? As someone who was born and raised above the city streets, I have never grown up without the constant rush of cars outside of my window (yes, I sleep just fine) or too far from anyone (there are 300 units in my building, that’s a lot of neighbors really close by). But no matter which part of the city you hail from, be it the Upper East Side, or Coney Island, the subway is a place that unites NYC’s cramped inhabitants together.
Within that cramped debacle, we all catch the most interesting characters, and the consistency of their presence, no matter how unwelcome, may just be the defining beauty of the MTA. Use my below series to see how the NYC subway takes on a life of its own, and the characters that define it.
You’ll be sitting on the train, minding your own business, reading a book or drafting an email, when all of a sudden, the train cars open. On walks a man with a guitar or a barber shop quartet and you know, there’s no escaping it. These people earn their living by entertaining the subway riders are a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it can be just what you need to lift you up on a bad day, as well as a source of extreme discomfort (to put it lightly).
Side note- I was once on the subway, the only one in the car(that’s not me pictured above), when a mariachi walked on. I forget where I was going but since I was the only one on the car, they parked themselves right in front of me and serenaded me. Now, if you know me at all you know that being serenaded is one of my biggest fears. So while there were no witnesses, I can only imagine the shade of bright red I must have turned. At the end of their song, I gave them a donation and sprinted off the car. Some days, I think about that moment, and sweat profusely.
One of the worst offenders of bad subway etiquette. This is a guy who sits on the already cramped subway benches and spreads his legs as far as they will go, regardless of who is desperately in need of those small inches on either side. He is a guy who does this while sleeping, unintentionally, or when he is too inept to factor in those surrounding him. He does this for his own comfort and thank god for this website, an exposé on manspreaders everywhere. We have all seen them and we all politely, yet firmly, ask them to please close their legs or stand up. Seriously.
The PDA couple
People tend to mistake an F train subway car for a hotel room at the Ritz on their anniversary. To these people, I say “Get. A. Room.” It’s nice to see that people still love each other but in the words of Bon Jovi, you give love a bad name. If the subway is your own personal sex lair, I will make it my personal toilet bowl to throw up. Really, a subway car? There’s really no place more romantic than a rodent-infested, unmaintained, crowded underground vessel? Find a park bench or better yet an overpriced studio apartment. It interferes with both everyone around you and their appetites. We all seen them, and we don’t love them as much as they love each other.
The Fighting Couple
This may be worse and more intimate than the PDA couple in terms of comfort, but is 100% more entertaining. A couple fighting is better than reality TV…hell, it is reality TV, in real life. Whether it be a classic cuckoldry or about the in-laws or spending habits, not only will the couple having it out be aware of each other’s grievances, so will about 50 of their closest bystander, train-riding buddies. My favorite thing to do in this situation? Find someone across the car who’s paying attention to the action and exchange facial reactions. Makes the whole ordeal a true bonding (and laughable) experience.
While the cliche of Hawaiian shirts, cameras around necks and fanny packs is probably pretty false, or exclusive to Disney World, the notion of knowing a tourist when you see one has never been more true. While New York’s heterogeneity might make it seem that an outsider is tough to spot, it takes years of practice and understanding to master the subway. Tourists walk without purpose, exuding an aura of confusion. They carry their own subway map even though there are subway maps in every station and on every train car. They are usually headed toward Union, Times, Herald Squares or Columbus Circle. Really all scary places for us natives. They are holding guide books, and are not trying to conceal it in the slightest. You have to respect these tourists though, because attempting to traverse the city by subway instead of more easily in a cab displays a level of courage that distinguishes them from the rest of their visiting pack. In terms of impact on a riders experience, tourists are just fascinating. Watching them try to figure out where they are trying to go, without asking for help is really some Good Will Hunting level problem solving. A true inspiration.
The ‘Pit Stained Helicopter’
This last category is a person, usually a man, who stands above you while you have claimed a coveted seat in a crowded subway car. He holds the bar above you but hangs his head low. While you are reading or playing a game on your phone or doing homework, this chopper won’t quit hovering. He is reading along with you, he is watching you lose in 2048, and watches as you attempt to solve a math problem with the tenacity of the previously discussed tourists.
Not only can you feel his every breath, but you can smell his every sweat because if you finally decide to look up, you will see some pretty gnarly pit stains. This person comes few and far between and is a pro-riders biggest annoyance. So much so that when you finally exit the train at your stop, the suffocation has finally ended and you can exhale, finally relaxed.