Primer: How the Ride the Subway

Visitors to New York are getting braver.  Gone are the days when they remained in their hotel rooms afraid to venture out.   The subways were considered to be a pretty dirty place and one to avoid.  After all, who would want to walk in a hole in the ground and get that much closer to Hell.  But NYC has made improvements, no doubt taking a cue from their European brothers, the Metro and Underground.  It remains the best way to get around so I thought I’d provide you with some tips to make your trip more enjoyable.

How Do I Pay to Ride the Trains? Gone are the tokens which we used in our youth and they are replaced by a Metrocard.  They can be purchased in advanced or at the station.  Just follow the instructions at the machines and swipe (or is it dip?) your credit card.  With your Metrocard in hand, sliding it through the reader can be tricking especially when you are under the pressure of the always in a hurry New Yorker lurking behind you.  Remember, the card is rectangular so it has 4 edges and 2 sides.  Therefore, there are 8 ways you can run it through.  Keep swiping until it works and you are on your way.  If you’re not into trial and error, I guess you can follow the directions posted.

Where Do I Stand to Board the Train?  The cars are less crowded at either end of the train.  If you are concerned about security, then move towards the middle.  The key is to be where the doors open.  You can do this in 2 ways.  Let a train go by and see where the door opening is.  Or you can look for a veteran train rider and follow their lead.  They should be easy to spot.  They’ll have that frazzled, beaten down look that only comes with years of riding the trains.

Where Should I Stand in the Car?  First of all, we’ll talk about standing since this is what you’ll be doing most of the time.  You’ll first need to consider how many stops you’ll be traveling on the train.  Although they’d like you to move all the way in, you may not want to if you getting out in a stop or two.  However, if you always wanted to know how a salmon feels, you certainly can buck the crowd as you we weave your way in and out of the humanity in your quest to exit and return to your spawning ground.  Be sure to hold on to something while the train is moving.  You are probably better off using one of the poles.  That’s because you need to be incredibly tall to use the ones over of the seating area (like be over 5 foot 9).  Besides, you can always work on your pole dance moves while you sway back and forth during the ride.

Where Do I Sit?  Believe it or not, this is not a rhetorical question.  People do actually find seats.  To me, the best place is at the end space up against the railing.  This way, only one person sits next to you.  It reminds me of the time I had a meeting at an insurance company where we were analyzing health claims of our employees.  The meeting was run by an actuary (that’s an accountant without the dynamic personality) who was very boring and spoke constantly in a monotone.  I could swear the meeting lasted a few days but was later told it was only 3 hours.  We finally took a break which I desperately needed as I was mainlining coffee the whole time.  I went straight to the men’s room and took the last available urinal, the middle one of three in a row.  As I was experiencing to pleasure of bladder venting, the actuary standing next to me said “You’re in the worst one”.  I continued to stream and stuck to The Men’s Room Standard Procedure of staring straight ahead no matter what.  I decided to respond with a witty retort and said “Huh?”.  The actuary, who was a complete stranger to me that morning, advised me that “By standing there,you are doubling your chances of having your shoes pissed on”.  So, in bathroom procedures and sitting on the subway, it is all about odds buddy!  Less is more.

You also need to take into consideration where the doors open.  If you are riding a Local, the doors primarily open on the right side.  This may be important in the winter on elevated lines where the constant blast of Arctic air may be a factor.  Keep this in mind if you get a choice in where to sit.  Remember no reservations are accepted. so take what is available to you.

What Should I Do While I’m Riding? First of all, let me start with the suggestion that you can get off at 42nd Street Grand Central and walk to the UN where you’ll see a diverse cross section of humanity.  But these are not real people; they are diplomats, the elite of their respective countries.  Better to go back to Grand Central and take the #7 train to Main Street Flushing.  As the train leaves Queensborough Plaza, you see just above every ethic group you can imagine.  From Central and South America to Eastern Europe, India, Pakistan and all of Asia.  In fact,when you get to Main Street and venture out, you may think you are in Hong Kong or Seoul or Tokyo as you see the varied signage adorned.  Also, take note of what people are reading.  Some will have the Daily News but most will be reading from their newspaper in their native language.  New York is certainly a melting pot and it is a postive, not a negative Mr. John Rocker.

If you do look around, remember one of the most important rules of the jungle.  Never make eye contact.  If you are uncomfortable viewing the sights,  you can always pretend that you are sleeping.  This may come in handy if that pregnant women who is standing is staring at you and wants your seat.   Or if that guy who is standing in front of you seems to be checking out the change in his pockets a bit too much.  Pretending may be your only defense.  You’ll notice that similar rules also apply to the jungle.

So these are the basics.  You’ll add your own in time.  Enjoy NY, the greatest city in the world.  Must be.  Allan Kalter would never lie.



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