Friday, January 30, 2015

What it's like to ride the subway (a blog post written on the subway)

A while back, when I conducted a reader survey, many of you mentioned that you would like to see more posts about my experiences as a New Yorker. It's funny, while I love this city and I have been known to gush about it from time to time, I think that in my third year of living here, it's finally all started to feel much more normal to me, more commonplace. The commute, the array of characters, the towering buildings -- it all seems a little less like Disneyworld and a little more like...home.

And I suppose, because of this veil of normalcy that has sort of taken over my New York life, it's tempting to take this place for granted. In some ways, I guess I've forgotten that those whose daily lives are not filled with things like bodega cats, building supers, and Metrocards actually want to know what it's like to live here. I certainly did. That's why I moved here.

So all of that to say, thanks for letting me know that you want to hear more about New York because, honestly girl, I love talking about it. It helps me recapture the magic of what it is to live in this place.

So today, let's talk about something which has really lost some magic for me over time: the subway.

As I write this, I am on the B train. This is what I look like right now: 

I just felt a twinge of embarrassment taking that photo because I know my tendency to judge people who take selfies on the train. I'm now looking around to determine if anyone saw me to do that. The guy sitting across from me is throwing some shade, but whatever. He is eating a giant, smelly burrito, which is a cardinal sin of the Metro Transit Authority, so he has no room to judge. 

Right now, my train is sitting with the doors open at Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. The automated intercom voice just said "Stand clear of the closing doors," which was followed by a sort of ding-dong sound. This disembodied voice has become so much a part of my commute that I honestly never notice him anymore, but whenever I have visitors, they tend to make fun of it a lot. He sometimes says other things about giving your seat to the elderly or not using a crowded train as an opportunity to grope people. He's probably a really good guy, but I stopped hearing what he had to say after my first month here. 

I enjoy the B train in particular for a few reasons. Unlike most newer trains, the B has seats that are perpendicular to the others, so you can actually have a conversation with a friend without craning your neck. I also love being able to sit directly by a window, to lean my temple against it while I go over the Manhattan bridge. 

Going over the bridge is always, without fail, the best part of my subway ride. The feeling of coming out of that tunnel is similar to coming up for air after holding your breath under water. No matter what the weather is like (today it's a bit overcast), the view from the Manhattan bridge is, in a word, redeeming. It feels like a fresh start as the train ascends over the East River and you get to peer into Brooklyn office spaces and imagine what it must be like to work so close to the subway tracks. 

The view coming out of Brooklyn

And then you cross over into Manhattan and it suddenly feels like you are riding The Magic School Bus. You know that episode where everyone -- Ms. Frizzle, her students, and the bus all shrink down to microscopic proportions to explore the human body? It's like that. That's because New York is like this living, breathing creature in so many ways. You always hear descriptions like that in the movies, and though it seems like this trite metaphor, it really rings true when you live here. New York has a pulse. It's alive.

The view going into Manhattan

Right now, I'm almost at my stop. An older woman is sitting next to me. She's sitting a bit closer than I would ordinarily like, but today it's cold, and her closeness is weirdly comforting. This is one of those eerily quiet trains. Everyone is either sleeping or looking at their phones or allowing their eyes to wander towards the various ads overhead. My favorite ad right now is the one for Nanobraces. It doesn't include any pictures, but it does have a truly terrifying title: Did you know that crooked teeth can HOLD YOU BACK?!

I just got off at 34th street. Shuffling around the terminal, I can't help but notice how quiet everyone is today. Standing in line on the escalator, pushing through the gate, walking up the stairs -- no one is making a sound, except for the one guy who just asked me if I could swipe my Metrocard to let him through. I pretended like I didn't hear him. Are you judging me?


Anyway, I wrote all of that in a Note on my phone, and now I'm in a coffee shop putting this whole rambling mess together. Hopefully it gave you an insight into what it's like to be a jaded New Yorker riding the subway. And actually, I wasn't that jaded, was I? I suppose really digesting your surroundings and noticing the little things helps you to appreciate them. Who knew?

Are you a subway rider?
If not, how do you primarily travel around the place you live?


  1. Ooo, I like the idea of hearing about your New York life since I've never been! I'm a San Diego California girl through & through so my mode of transportation has always been a car. I did grow up taking a school bus from mid elementary age through freshman year of high school & the rest of high school I either got a ride from my parents, friends, or I walked until my boyfriend chauffeured me around our Senior year.

    I imagine living in New York is like living in SoCal - people flock to your city year round, they love all the things, etc. & we're just here living & forgetting how it can be magical. Excited to see what else you show us :)

  2. I kinda get this commute thing.
    I ride a train one hour in and out of work daily and go all the way through Berlin. Sometimes I read, sometimes just listen to music and sometimes just looking at people. I'd say it is not so different from NYC.
    It's great reading about your experience so looking forward to read more.
    Cheers, Tobia

  3. Technically, it's illegal to swipe someone through so it's probably a good thing you didn't. He could have been an undercover cop. :-)

  4. We don't have much public transportation where I live, but it's always interesting to get alternate viewpoints from different states with different experiences. :)

  5. I definitely got used to the subway system when I was visiting NYC, but I wonder when it changes from "I'm a pro at this subway thing!!" to "...uuuuugh not this again." :-)

  6. Hey! Feet off the seats! (Just kidding.) How do you feel about "manspreading"?

  7. I'm excited for more stories about your life in the city! Whenever I go down there (I'm from Albany) I make sure to ride the subway at least once. It is so good for people watching!

  8. I am from Australia, in a country town called Ballarat. We don't have many buses, and one train that goes to Melbourne, or further out into the country, and onto South Australia. I love hearing your NY insights. It is so totally removed from my life! I live outside of Ballarat, on a property with horses, and resident kangaroos. Totally adorable. I drive everywhere, as it is more than 20 kilometres into the town.

  9. As someone that only visits the city once or twice a year, this is a somewhat skewed view but just roll with me: I enjoy the subway because that's where I feel like the real NYers are. Most tourists get scared away by the maze of lines and the fear of getting off at the wrong place, which I have done before, so the REAL NY people are there. I felt that once I mastered the schedules and stops and navigation - then I was somewhat of an honorary NYer? Maybe not. But I love it. I feel like once you "get it" then you're in some kind of group.

    Keep your NY life posts coming. I love that city and still hope to live there some day.


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