Many visitors ask me about the subway on our tours, and whether or not it’s safe for travel. I understand that it can be intimidating at first, and why people may be apprehensive to get on. If you are new to the city, it can be scary to figure out which of the 22 subway lines to take, trying to figure out the difference between express and local, and what “BMT” means versus “IRT”. I know, it can be a lot.
With all this in mind, I’m not surprised at the number of guests who have never set foot in the subway, nor do they want to. But, when people ask me if it is safe to take the subway, I always say “Of course! The Subway is great!” With that being said, I wish more than anything that I could have a little asterisk next to that phrase like in some slimy legal document. One that you know, when you see it, there is something hidden in the fine print that if you don’t find now you will pay for it later. For me, the fine print would read “While the New York City subway is an incredible rapid transit system, it is also a disgusting, fetid pit of humanity with every possible disease being stuffed into a small metal tube that flies through the underground at 40 miles per hour. Enter at your own risk, and be conscious of where you put your hands, or mouth. New York Local Tours is not responsible if you get on the empty car. Never get on the empty car. There is a reason why it is empty. Be warned that, while in the subway, you may experience some of the most horrible, degrading acts of humanity that later you cannot un-see.” But despite all that, yes, I feel that the subway is great and everyone should ride it.
Sometimes the weird things on the subway can be a lot of fun. I got on one day and there was a guy yelling at the closed door, saying that the door never listened to him because it had butt cheeks instead of brains. He really let the door have it, and kept screaming “butt cheeks”. Naturally, I started to laugh, and every time he said butt cheeks, I started to laugh harder. He heard me laughing, got more angry, and started to yell butt cheeks even louder, which made me laugh even more. It was a vicious cycle that I had to break by getting off the train early so crazy-pants didn’t beat my butt cheeks.
Then there are the subway rides that just won’t end. Like a fist fight breaks out. Or some bigot screaming about all the people that God hates. I’ve seen enough random dude’s genitals to last a lifetime, thank you very much.
Recently, the MTA has started this really wonderful campaign to make the subway a better place. They call it the Courtesy Counts campaign, and uses these cute red and green figures to outline proper subway behavior. I feel like it has helped, and the subway is slowly getting better. But, remember, the subway is great!*
The other day I had one of those negative subway rides, where it felt like every dickhead in Manhattan emailed each other saying ” Hey guys! Jonathan is getting on the B train around 5. What do you say- wanna ruin his day?” And they all got on my train.
The first was a lady wearing a poncho. Not one of those plastic rain ponchos, but like an actual wool poncho. She looked like Marty McFly in Back to the Future 3. She plunked down next to me and took up an impossible amount of space.
Next was a drunk dude who stumbled on with a crazy amount of fast food. He had bags from Wendy’s, McDonalds, Burger King and at least two others. He lumbered in, yelled at a family, and passed out on the bench. He only woke up once at 34th street to hock a loogie at yet another family who ran away, and he immediately passed out again. Thank god.
A lady came on next, and stepped right in the loogie. I felt bad, as I totally could have said something and prevented it, but she was a pole hog, and totally deserved it. I hate pole hogs. Some guy finally got on the train, and grabbed both the pole and a fistful of her hair. She got all indignant about it, but it was the most satisfying part of the ride.
Then a 16 year old girl came on playing a game on her cell phone. I don’t know what game it was, but it was stupid loud. It sounded like Candy Crush inside of an Eastern European techno rave. She stood right next to me and held the phone next to my ear. I thought about nicely saying “excuse me, miss, but do you mind turning your fucking phone on silent?” But I didn’t want to get into an altercation with a child.
I was cramped and annoyed, and he best part was, they all got off at my stop.
And I was pissed! But then I remembered that it only took about 45 minutes to get from the New-York Historical Society to Newkirk Plaza in Brooklyn, and I was able to sit the whole time. Before the days of the rapid transit system, it could have taken people days to make that journey. So I took a breath, thanked the transit gods, and safely got home to Alex and the cats.
There are those times where the subway seems like a terrible place. But in reality, it is amazing how seldom something bad happens. People are nicer, and more likely to give up their seats. If you are lost, New Yorkers are only to happy to give you directions and explain how it works. Just be aware of your surroundings, and be safe. Maybe you’ll get your own encounter with Butt Cheeks Guy, and have your own subway story that will stay with you for the rest of your life.