NYC, NYC Subway

NYC Subways: The Ultimate People Watching

Constant. Always in a hurry to get somewhere- which is often to push past you to get to the platform and just stand there when you knew the train wasn’t coming – never in the mood to talk or even look up.

They say one of human’s number one fears is public speaking, but sitting in a subway in the morning makes me think tight public spaces are right up there. Of course, this awkwardness and seeming inability to even meep (although cursing with your face down seems easy enough) makes for fascinating people watching.
In my two weeks of living in New York, I have discovered there are two VERY DISTINCT groups of subway riders – morning riders and after 1pm riders (because I am amazed how many people seem to Start their day around noon!). The morning riders look like this:
crammed subway
Notice that this picture is by the subway door. Because like your massive college lectures, the thought of actually moving to the middle and being near another person you don’t know – nuh uh, forget it! Most are silent, for many that silence is broken very faintly by the constant texting they seem to be doing (or perhaps it’s email, but even so, how in the world do they have service!?). If you are crammed right next to these types, they look at you like, ‘um, excuse me, why are you touching me?’. Getting a smile out of people is almost impossible.
One of my favorite things to do in the morning is see who I can get to smile back at me. Ridiculous I know, but it’s quite amusing when you look around, taking in people’s mannerisms. Judging whether they actually got to shower this morning, or if it was a, ‘shoot I shouldn’t have had those five drinks after work’ kind of mornings. I would say 2.5 out of 10 actually smile back (the half being that half smile while quickly looking away’. Most people, however, avert their eyes so quickly as though they were a two-year-old told not to peek but they just couldn’t help it. By the time I get to work, the crowds have significantly thinned and only the texters and students remain with me – so still no conversations to be had.
The afternoon/evening crowd is quite different. Maybe that’s because their fifth coffee of the day has finally kicked in, or maybe they just realize they are actually going to survive this day. I am definitely 9 for 10 on return smiles, and even ‘hello’s and ‘how are you’s are shared often. But the best are when conversations start. Here is what I have learned so far from personal conversations or evesdropping:
“There is nothing for me to be unhappy or unsmiling about because I am here and that makes today great” (elderly man who sat right next to me – 40years in NYC from the ‘DR” (Dominican Republic) three kids and two grandkids later – life is grand)
Not everyone can read a map that’s right behind them (as I’m trying to explain where to get off for Times Square while pointing it out on the map behind the woman’s head. The next stop she got a little scared – we were still 6 stops away – thinking they had missed their stop, obviously paying attention to me)
There seems to ALWAYS be some trivial thing to complain about (thins usually has to do with work and gets old to me really fast so I tune out rather quickly).
Adults just have no idea how things actually work and some video game teaches you so much more than you’ll ever learn in school (honestly had to try so hard to not crack up at these high schoolers on their way home from school).
I’ve heard people ask for money because of hard times in their lives and had a man come serenade our car with beautiful spanish singing and guitar. And while this wasn’t on the subway, a Mennonite choir sung beautiful Psalms that echoed throughout every corridor (it was so beautiful I missed the nest two trains to stop and listen.
As I continue to ride the NYC subway I hope to strike up more conversations with as many people as possible and to improve my 25% morning smile return. Until then, I’ll continue in partaking in personal bubble breaking in the mornings and making new temporary friends in the evenings (or at least getting good, juicy gossip 😉 ).


One thought on “NYC Subways: The Ultimate People Watching

  1. I can so picture what you are describing. I can see your open face and smile, and New Yorkers absolutely not knowing how to respond!!! I just want you to also be wary and pick your “subjects” as carefully as you can. That will make me feel better about your “research!”

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