Tag Archives: crowded

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.


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?

Riding the subway is the absolute worst

If you live in New York, this is probably like the most cliché topic of conversation: the subway is very crowded. During certain points during the day, it’s totally inadequate at transporting the number of people trying to get from point A to point B. Everything about riding mass transit here is a challenge. From the moment you even decide to go somewhere, it’s nothing but obstacles every step of the way.


Walking to the subway stop, you’ll be like a block, a block-and-a-half away, and you’ll hear the rumble of the train as it approaches the station. You think, shit, I can make this. As long as I run, as long as there’s an unobstructed path all the way to the platform, I’ll be OK, I’ve got this. But you’ve never got this, because there are always a million people in the way.

Because there are always like a million people taking the train, and all of them are thinking that same thing, I got this. But, you know, different people have different ideas of how long it’s going to take to get to the platform, different people have various opinions on what constitutes a brisk enough pace to make it there on time. That guy over there is walking really fast, but I’m walking even faster, and so is he going to make way for me to pass? Of course he’s not. Nobody’s making way for him to pass.

You make it to the turnstile right as the doors on the train open, there are like three people ahead of you trying to swipe, a bunch of people making their way out of the station via the same turnstiles. You have a few standoffs, the people exiting clearly have the advantage. All they have to do is push, whereas you have to swipe your card.

It says, “Please swipe again,” so you swipe, “Please swipe again at this turnstile.” It’s not hitting, even though you know it’s all about timing, you can’t go too fast, or too slow, you haven’t gotten stuck like this in a while. The guy behind you lets you know how frustrated he’s getting with an audible groan, a whispered, “Ugh … come on …” and you want to turn around and give that guy a look, a stink-eye, something, but you’re trying, one more swipe and, “Insufficient fare.”

The doors to the train close, not that you would have made it anyway, not with the insufficient fare. And there’s another line for the Metrocard machine. You’re waiting, you’re tapping your feet anxiously, checking behind you every ten seconds or so, making sure that you’re not going to miss another train. The lady in front, come on, the instructions are so clear, you want to just take her credit card out of her hand and do it for her, there you go lady, tap, tap, zip code, tap, thanks.

And then when you finally find a spot on the platform, you’re waiting, everyone’s waiting, “The next downtown N train will arrive in. Eight. Minutes.” People keep spilling into the station, crowding the platform. By the time the downtown N finally does pull up to the station, you’re already thinking, no way, no way is this overpacked train going to be able to hold everyone.

The people get off, everyone on the platform is jockeying for position, ready to grab one of the precious square feet or so of space. You make it inside, you slide to the middle of the car. It’s so tight that your body is pressed up against the bodies of three other people. Despite the lack of personal space whatsoever, the guy next to you is determined not to let the less than comfortable conditions deter him from reading his book. Even if it means him angling his elbow outward into your space, holding his paperback like an inch away from your face. Is he even comfortable craning his neck like that? What, does he have a book report due six stops from now? Doesn’t he notice that every time the train bumps or jostles that the spine of the book is tapping you on the side of the head? Tap, tap, tap.

And then when you’re half a stop away from your destination, this lady sitting in front of you, she abruptly stands up, or tries to stand up anyway, there’s no room for another standing body, so she starts yelling out, “Excuse me. Excuse me!” trying to get up, pushing to the crowd, pushing a little harder, “Excuse me! I need to get off! This is my stop!”

And you want to be like, you know what lady? This is my stop too. You just had a nice comfortable sitting down train ride, right? You got to catch up on some cell phone games, I saw you eating a sandwich, and don’t think every single person around you wasn’t grossed out when you started clipping your nails. And now you want us all to somehow contort our bodies so that you can be first one off the train?

“Excuse me!” she somehow made her way to the door, she always does, the train pulls up to the next station, even more crowded than the one before. The doors slide open and the people at this stop aren’t as patient, they start piling in, the sitting down lady is shoving back, “Ex! Cuse! Me!” some other guy behind starts yelling, “Let the people off! Come on! Let the people off!” It’s a shoving match, everybody pushing each way, the conductor gets on the loudspeaker trying to instill some order, “Let the passengers off the train first! I’m serious! Don’t make me come out there!”

There’s got to be a better way, man, they’ve got to figure something else out. Is this is a problem in other cities? I mean, I’ve seen horrifying videos of rush hour commuter traffic in China, and so yeah, it’s definitely worse over there. But what about Toronto? Or Boston? Is it that much of a nightmare getting anywhere in DC? Are people maybe a little better behaved? Can some of you come over here and help us out, maybe throw a few suggestions our way? Because this sucks over here, man, riding the subway here is the absolute worst.

Latacunga to La Maná

This was right at the end of our two-year stint as Peace Corps volunteers in Ecuador. My wife and I were heading back to site on a bus snaking its way through the Andes.


The voyage was indeed long and painful, more so than usual. Maybe it was because we had been traveling for about a week now, probably spending half that time sitting down on various buses, but the hours were starting to feel like days. Three bus rides out of the Oriente and we made it to Latacunga, one more five-hour trip before we’d be able to hop on the back of a pickup and take it an hour more back to site.

The buses from Latacunga were probably some of the worst in the country. Where I’d classify the majority of Ecuadorean buses as too small, the three or four bus lines that cross the Andes from Latacunga to La Maná were even smaller. And these buses were always packed. They left the Latacunga terminal full, and then after crawling through city traffic for two or three blocks, there would be another stop to let on a couple dozen or so more people. Most of these latecomers would be indígenas who lived throughout the various mountain communities along the route. The aisle would be packed with people standing against the seats, the women’s long, traditional shawls hanging in the faces of all the people sitting down.

The indigenous people lived apart even from other Ecuadoreans. Their fellow countrymen were practically foreigners, so us gringos might as well have been from another planet. On those crowded buses, even though tickets were sold with assigned seating, you needed to board very early and claim your seat as soon as possible. You might hop on the bus only to find an indigenous family of four sitting in your seats.

Thankfully this never happened to us, but I’ve seen confrontations like this play out in a very formulaic way. The person would ask them to get up, showing them the ticket with the seat number. This person would be ignored. The next act would be to request help from the bus driver or his ayudante, who would also try to get them to move. This would also be ignored. Maybe the passengers might say something in Kichwa that nobody else understood. And that was usually as far as these situations went.

On this particular trip, we had our seats and the bus was packed. Half an hour or so out of Latacunga, the bus stopped outside of a bakery. My wife and I had always noticed this exact stop, everyone got off the bus and bought bags of bread. Whenever we took this trip, we were always so exhausted from just settling into our seats, so we never felt compelled to go and check out what the fuss was all about. But we only had a month left to go before our service was over. I was starting to feel nostalgic for all of the things that would soon be nothing but memories. I got off to get some bread.

After two years in country, I knew how the lines worked. Everybody walked right up to the front and shouted out their orders. “Fifty cents worth,” I held out my money. The lady working the counter ignored me and proceeded to help everyone else. I started getting impatient, especially as more people started entering the store long after I did and were served before me. I kept repeating me order, but my presence wasn’t even acknowledged. Finally after everyone in the store was helped, as the bus started honking and revving its engine, the lady handed me my bread without a word and took my money.

I’m not looking for special treatment, but I just hated it when random people acted as if I barely existed. No matter how comfortable I felt in Ecuador, no matter how well I spoke Spanish, no matter how many friends I had back in Pucayacu, as soon as I left the comfort of site I was just another dumb gringo, just another tourist at the mercy of the crowd.

Pissed off, I hopped on the bus just as it was pulling away. And as soon as I got on the bus, I ran straight into a bar running alongside the aisle, slamming my head right above my left eye. I’ve hit my head countless times in Ecuador, but this easily had to be the worst. I was actually stunned. For a second, all I saw was white, my every sense consumed by a liquid fire that ran from my head and spread throughout every nerve ending in my body. I couldn’t breath. I could barely stand up.

The initial agony passed and I regained my senses to see four or five teenagers pointing and laughing at me, not even trying to hide how funny they thought the whole situation was. I was overcome with a rage that I hadn’t felt in a while. I can take the pain, I can take the humiliation, but I was absolutely fed up with being laughed at. Everything I did was under scrutiny. Every time I misspoke, every time I tripped over my own feet, every time I asked the wrong person the wrong question, I was laughed at. Every time I spoke in English, every time I walked by a group of people, every time I took a breath, I felt like people were taunting me. The constant spectacle that was my presence was enough to paralyze me, to make me spend days at a time indoors without showing my face in town. When I even suspected people laughing at me, I withdrew into myself, tried to ignore it, to block it out, to wait for the embarrassment to pass, hoping my face wasn’t red.

But this time was different. Maybe all of those repressed feelings had been bottled in for too long. Maybe the pain from the collision prevented me from swallowing my pride and finding my seat. But I lashed out. I got right in their faces and started cursing at them in a mixture of English and Spanish.

“Motherfucking chuchas,” I screamed through clenched teeth, “you want to laugh at me? I’ll give you something to laugh about!” The teenagers immediately stopped and recoiled in shock. That’s right, I thought to myself, not so tough now. I went on for another thirty seconds or so of rage, holding my head and lecturing them about how you shouldn’t laugh when somebody hurts themselves.

I felt a hand on my shoulder. My wife pulled me back.

“Rob, your head,” she said with a worried look on her face.

I pulled my hand away from where I had hit myself. It was red. There was blood running down the side of my face. My rage turned into shock and I sank meekly back into my seat, feeling suddenly very vulnerable and very hurt. The ayudante gave me a roll of toilet paper and I rolled up a bunch to put pressure on the lump that was beginning to grow. I was starting to shake. Finally coming to my senses somewhat, I looked around the bus to find every single person staring at me, open mouthed, not saying a word. I wanted to die. I wanted to disappear. Even worse, I felt like I wanted to cry. It was probably one of the most humiliating moments of my time in Ecuador. I felt like an asshole gringo who hit his head and took it out on a bunch of kids. As much as I loved my time in Ecuador, this had to be the absolute low point. I was sick of being the foreigner, the real or imagined butt of other people’s jokes, the source of everyone’s entertainment. I spent the next four hours nursing my wound, closing my eyes, and imagining that I was on a plane back to New York.

The “I Hate New York” Blog Post

Wow. New York City. I hate it. Just kidding, I love it. But seriously, it’s terrible. Haha, that’s my way of telling the Internet how much I love it. Do you get it? Did you read that Onion article? No, you don’t get it. Unless you do get it, in which case, congratulations, you live in New York. If you don’t get it well, you’ll still read this, you’ll think, man people from New York really don’t like living in New York. Ha. You don’t get it.

i hate ny

One of the best things about living in New York is getting to complain about New York. You get to say things like, “Only in New York!” but only to non-New Yorkers. If you ever said, “Only in New York!” to a New Yorker, they would immediately call you out as a tourist, as a non-New Yorker.

Like if I’m visiting my friend in some other city, I don’t know, somewhere else, Baltimore, or, yuck, Cleveland, and it’s three in the morning and we’re in the suburbs somewhere and it’s dark outside and there’s no noise anywhere, I might say something like, “Hey, lets go run to the corner store and get some more beer,” and they’d be like, “What are you talking about, it’s three in the morning, nothing’s open, and everything’s too far away to walk,” and then you’d say, “Oh yeah, right, it’s just that, where I live, you can get anything, any time, and it’s all right down the block. Only in New York!” and your friend would be like, “Listen, I want you out of my house before breakfast tomorrow.”

But if you’re all the way downtown waiting for the one train going up, and the train rounds that corner, and it should be empty because it’s the first stop, but it’s not empty, there’s a homeless guy sitting there, and he’s got his pants all the way down, and he’s masturbating, if you look to the person waiting next to you and you say, “Only in New York!” that person – haha – is going to know right away that you’re not from New York, that you’re not a real New Yorker.

No, real New Yorkers embrace that man. They sit next to him like it’s no big deal. They drop trou and join in on the fun. Because don’t you tell me what the real New York is. You’re not entitled to tell me or anybody else anything about New York. Once you start talking about New York, it’s gone, it’s out of your grasp, and just like that, you’re not a real New Yorker anymore. Maybe someday years from now when you’re visiting those same friends out of town you can look back fondly upon the incident, watching their disgusted reactions as you matter-of-factly explain what went down that one time on the one train. Maybe. Probably not. We’ll see.

But let me break my own cardinal rule for a second here and say that the current real New York thing to do is to write blog posts about how much you hate New York. Do you really hate it? Not really. But you can’t write about how much you love it, because what are you, from Long Island? Everybody knows that doesn’t count. Sorry pal, get back on that 5:37 Long Island Railroad train to Hicksville, I’ll see you next week at the Nassau Coliseum. “I hate New York” is the new cool way of saying, “I love New York.” But whereas the old love slogan was too universal, too easily shared by everybody in the world willing to pay ten bucks for ten “I heart NY” t-shirts, “I hate New York” brings just the right amount of New York exclusivity.

Oh my God my apartment is so small! Holy-moley, could this train be any more crowded? Jesus Louisus, these people in front of me are walking so slow! Seriously, do those cars really need to be honking their horns that loudly? Let me tell you something, you just have to go check out this new gastro-barber shop I found in YahBrah. What neighborhood is YahBrah? Don’t ask, just nod in agreement, tell your friend that you’ve already been there, that the Blendingtown Heights location is much truer to what they’re going for, what they were trying to speak when they jumped on the gastro-barber shop bandwagon.

Because really, New York’s such a terrible place to live, right? Haha. But seriously, I leave New York and I’m like, “Oh my God, New York is making me crazy!” but then you realize, wait a second, it’s a part of me now, I’m a part of it, and so I love it, and I love hating New York, and I love telling everybody that I hate New York, and when somebody says to me, “Well, if you really hate it that much, why don’t you just get out?” and then you can go, “Ha!” because you did it, you nailed it, them, whoever it is you’re talking to, talking about. They don’t get it. They’re not a real New Yorker. Ha.