I love riding the subway in New York. I don’t love subway station smells, or waiting for the subway (too much indecent exposure)–but once you get on that air conditioned train it’s great.
I’m otherwise totally uncomfortable in crowds, but the subway is an exception. All crowded in a train you really see New York–all those differences just jammed in together too close not to see or hear.
Best part is that people stare–unabashedly–at each other. Women at men, rich at poor, white people at brown people, twenty-somethings at teens, hipsters at suits, and everyone at tourists. People avoid too–noses in books and word searches–but find me a New Yorker who’s never taken part in the great city past time of the Subway Stare.
I got stared at right away when I got on the F downtown at 63rd, this time by a woman about my age and dressed similarly to me. That’s another great stare–the girl on girl what are you wearing stare–very common in New York, and frankly, not offensive to me. The women are beautiful here and they dress better than anywhere else in the U.S., so what better way to pass the time but by checking out the scenery?
Riding the NYC subway is not an experience you can replicate anywhere else. It’s created as much by the diversity of riders as the design of a system that is, in essence, thoroughly democratic. It’s affordable, efficient, and has stations almost anywhere anyone in the five boroughs lives (okay four, Staten Island gets no love, but it’s an island for pete’s sake).
Thinking I might benefit similarly from public transportation when I moved to the Bay Area was a naive aspiration. The trains are wide and the great majority of the seats are in one-direction facing rows. The NYC system by contrast has narrow train cars, and many with seats that face each other, with narrow standing room in the middle and bar above for holding on. This creates another great type of stare: The Staring Down At That Person Whose Seat You’re Waiting For Stare and the Staring At Your Lap Trying To Avoid Being Looked Down Upon Stare.
I got a seat after we passed Grand Central and then transferred at W. 4th to a downtown A train and got off at Canal. In contrast to the F, this A was quite empty, but there was a great loud family of Italian tourists to watch experience the greatness of the MTA.
While there are many reasons I live in Rockridge, and prefer to live in Rockridge, Bay Area public transit isn’t one of them. I miss the MTA. Looking forward to more rides today and the next few days…
Vintage NYC Subway Maps courtesy of the Subway Nut, a fun and thorough blog about the subway
The map as it appears today via MTA