People say New York is like a giant melting pot of people and cultures. And I think that is never more evident than when you use the city’s subway system.
You never really know what you will encounter in the stations or trains that make up the city’s underground on any given day, but it’s guaranteed you’ll always have a talking point later.
Here is just a selection of what you are sure to run into while riding the subway:
That guy who thinks he’s a DJ in a club
I remember the first time I encountered this. I thought that the guys headphones had disconnected and he just didn’t realise his music was blaring out for the whole train car to hear. But I was wrong. These people turn the volume all the way up on their phones, portable speakers and sometimes even massive boomboxes (retro!) as if they are playing to a crowd in a club, not sitting in a train full of people commuting to work or school. I mean, it’s not the worst, but it can be pretty annoying if it’s early morning when you’re half asleep and dreading work, or if the music is particularly shit.
You will always spot people in the stations performing, whether it’s dancing, singing, poetry, etc, etc to try and make a bit of money. You’ll often come across some really talented people and some down right crazy people too. There is one woman who I often hear singing at the Jay Street-Metrotech Station in Brooklyn. You literally hear her before you see her, because she has a pretty powerful, soulful voice. I remember the first time I heard her when getting off a train and I was like: “What the hell is Mary J. Blige doing an impromptu concert in here for?” 😂 On the weird side of things, I remember I once saw a group of people dressed in red robes and wearing those creepy masks plague doctors used to wear back in the day, and they were playing these weird looking metal instruments. I was in a rush, so I didn’t stop to fully realise whether I was freaked out or entertained, but I’m sure I’ll encounter them again.
People having full blown arguments
This amazed me at first, but you literally see people get into screaming matches about the tiniest things. I remember I was on a packed train a couple of months back and witnessed two people arguing for a good 15 minutes about who pushed the other. The train was literally stuffed to the point where you could barely move, so everybody was pushing off each other anyway, but this didn’t register with them. I’m definitely not the screaming match in public type, but I have to say I was enthralled watching them. I couldn’t take my eyes off it, and it certainly made my commute go quicker.
Kids selling candy for their “basketball team”
To all the subway kids selling candy: drop the act. We know your not raising money for your team. I do admire their entrepreneurial spirit though. But bear in mind that if you do buy into their hustle, you may be buying something out of date, or in summer time, chocolate bars that are more like moose or a milkshake in the extreme temperatures.
The abusive one
You’ll sometimes curse your rotten luck when you end up in a train car with some lunatic who just wants to abuse everybody in sight. I was on the receiving end of this a few weeks ago. This nut job was ranting and raving and verbally threatening people. Everybody was ignoring him, me included, but for some reason he decided that because he was black and I was white, I must be a racist, despite the fact I hadn’t said a word to him. Now, I’m the type of person that you can scream and shout and rant and rave at me and I will just ignore you and carry on with my day. But if you lay a hand on me, I’ll defend myself. This asshole came towards me and tried to pull my glasses off my face. I stood up and pushed him away, and he wasn’t long backing down. I should make clear that this was something rare. I have seen people being nasty, but never anyone actually putting their hands on another person, so you should have nothing to fear. But it’s inevitable you will come across these types of lunatics. Just ignore them.
Perhaps one of the most common things you will see and hear on a subway train. There are of course some people who are homeless, and it’s heartbreaking to think of them having to resort to begging to get by. But you also have to be wary, because there are some people just out to make a quick buck off the back of someones kindness. I was on a train recently where a man was asking for money because he was “starving”. A lady in the car said she didn’t have money, but she had food and would happily share it. He turned her down. Now, I don’t know about you, but if I was “starving” and somebody offered me food, I would take it gratefully! So clearly this guy was just a scammer.
The SUPER loud high school kids
You know what I mean. Your sitting there in a nice quiet train, enjoying the brief break your commute affords you, and the next thing a group of 20 high school students pile in and shatter the calm for the next ten stops, before they give everyone a reprieve when they get off again. This is amplified ten-fold with groups of Spanish students on a foreign exchange trip. No offence to the Spaniards, but I don’t know why they are so loud in groups. It’s the same back home in Ireland. We get lots of foreign students coming to the country at various times in the year, but I swear to god, it is the Spanish groups that are loudest.
Enough said on this one, we’ve all been unwilling witnesses to this.
The “Jesus will save you” people
I haven’t experienced this too often (thankfully). But you may sometimes come across these people who are just dying to save our souls and put us on a path to Jesus. Word of advise to these people: you’re not going to interest anybody by spouting verses of the bible at them for the entirety of their early morning commute.
The singing group that always sings the same song
You know the ones. Those groups of men and women you see frequently on your line that sing the SAME song every time. Seriously people, if you are going to ambush a full train of people by singing at them, the least you can do is expand your repertoire a bit.
People who don’t move to let people off the train
Whenever I find myself right by the door of a train that is packed out, I always step off when it stops at the station to let the people disembarking off, before getting back in again. Just like many others do, it’s common courtesy after all. But their are some people who insist on standing in the way, forcing everyone to try and squeeze by them and slowing down the process, which is so annoying!
Easily spotted by their cameras around their necks, paper maps (literally thought those were a thing of the past), their “I Love New York” t-shirts and confused looks trying to figure out if they are on the right train. While some born and bred New Yorkers will tend to have a disdain for tourists, I empathise. While I’m technically not a tourist, I definitely get caught up in the awe of exploring this great city. You wouldn’t catch me dead in a “I Love New York” t-shirt however.
The odd famous person
Not hugely common, because let’s face it, if they are a celeb, chances are they aren’t riding the subway too often. But every now and then you might spot somebody who models, or is on that TV show people are currently raving about, etc.