Too many people, not enough space on the subway

I was taking the subway the other day, it was a Saturday, the trains weren’t running as frequently as they do during the week, and so even though there were less people using the system, all of the cars were just as crowded. It’s like every single time I take the subway, I always find myself standing awkwardly over someone, just way too close. Tell me whatever you want about subway etiquette, but there’s no right way to go about doing anything.

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It’s like, I’m an able-bodied guy, and yes, I’d like to sit down if there are seats available. But chances are, there aren’t any seats available. And if I somehow do manage to sit down, it’ll only be like two or three stops before the whole car is full, I’ll feel guilty just sitting there while that old lady is standing not even three feet away. And what’s the cut off for old if you’re talking about an old lady? Seventy? Sixty? How old is that lady over there? I have no idea. I can’t ask.

And I feel like some people can read my guilt, they inch in a little closer, maybe make a pained expression, like if only I weren’t so old, if only I didn’t have to carry this giant cello, or maybe if I weren’t eight months pregnant, I’d be able to stand here without having this guy feel super guilty about sitting down. Eventually I’ll cave, “Here you go,” I never know quite how to say it, or how to accept the inevitable “Thank you.”

I just want to get from point A to point B without having to navigate through twenty-five random social interactions that I never really know exactly how to handle in real time. It’s not that I’m against giving up my seat for someone else, it’s just that I don’t want to have to go through the whole act of giving up my seat, and so unless the car is like totally empty, I’ll just stand, whatever.

One time I saw some guy go to give up his seat for an old lady, and right as he stood, some young punk wearing a pair of two-hundred dollar looking headphones swooped down and snatched it before the intended recipient of the seat had a chance to take the spot. The guy who gave it up made an angry face like, “Hey!” but the asshole just kind of stared off into the distance, smirking. What was the guy going to do, get physical? The old lady didn’t put up much of a fight either because, well, what are you going to do? It’s not like she lost anything. She just kind of drifted back into the anonymous background of the city, all while everyone standing around kind of wished that there was something to be done about this guy with his headphones blasting music so loud that it was impossible not to ignore the thump-thump of the bass escaping well past his own personal space.

What about the performers, the music acts and dance troupes that make you watch some three minute routine before sticking a hat in your face, looking you directly in the eye and saying, “Thank you, God bless,” when I refuse to acknowledge their existence? I feel like a huge dick, every single time. Maybe I enjoyed the song, probably not, but still, it’s not like I asked to be part of an audience. Why should I feel compelled to be a part of someone else’s theatrics?

On my train ride this weekend, I had to transfer from the N to the 7 at Queensboro Plaza. As we crept into the station, I could tell that a lot of people were going to get off, and another lot of people were right outside to take our places. The standard is that you let the people off before you get on, although it’s never that simple, because fifty percent of subway riders just don’t ascribe to this rule.

So sure enough, the doors opened, and I found myself face to face with another guy who didn’t look like he was in the mood to let anybody get off the train first. I used to get really pissed off about stuff like this, in the past I’d have shouted out something like, “Let the people off first!” or something aggressive like that. But yelling at a crowd of strangers, it’s like telling one pedestrian to get out of the bike lane on the bridge. You’re not changing anybody’s minds. Nobody’s listening to you. And so why should I get myself all bent out of shape? It’s just something totally beyond my control as a subway rider.

This guy wanted on, but I also wanted off, so I dodged a little to the right to hopefully make the simultaneous transition as smooth as possible. But it wasn’t a perfect motion, and my shoulder made contact with his for a second. Not a bid deal, right? Wrong. This guy leaned back, and then pushed me with his shoulder, hard, before disappearing inside the train that I had just left.

My rational thinking was gone, and everything inside boiled over with a primal rage. How dare that guy shove me? My jaw clenched and I fantasized about following him inside, where I’d punch him in the shoulder and start screaming in his face about letting the people off of the train before shoving your way inside. But the doors closed half a second later, and my senses slowly returned as I realized that I was just standing there, steaming at nobody, at somebody I’d in all likelihood never see again in my life.

But it’s just a shitty system, the New York subway. Everybody gets all defensive when you talk shit about the subway, they go on about how it’s the biggest transit system in the world, one of the only twenty-four hour means of mass transportation anywhere on Earth. And yeah, I guess if the city had a lot less people, maybe it could be something I’d consider using more often. But every time I need to take the train, I’m always standing, jammed inside, barely any space to breath. Every time there’s a stop, it’s the same struggle as people fight to get off and on. This system was developed like a hundred years ago, and it’s obvious that there are more people than spaces on the train. Why don’t they make it like four or five times bigger? Don’t you think the city would run a lot smoother if there were like a lot more trains? Why does it have to be such a fight just to get anywhere around here?

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