Tag Archives: MetroCard

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.

Stuck underground without any money for a ride

A while back I got caught in a thunderstorm, I ran down into the nearest subway station and figured I’d just call it a day, head home. But it was bad luck, poor placement and worse timing, I was something like twenty-three cents short for a single ride, and the only two Metrocard machines in the station had the same big handwritten signs taped to the front, “cash only.”


I didn’t have any cash and, since I was relatively dry, I couldn’t imagine taking my chances outside, running the five or six blocks for the next station. The downpour had driven in a steady stream of likeminded people, and so I figured, I don’t have a choice, I’m going to have to ask somebody for a swipe.

I mean, I’m not one to beg for change, but it’s not like I didn’t have the money, I had it, it was just somewhere else, not in my pocket. And besides, I’ve seen people ask for swipes before, I’ve even given them out. Wasn’t it about time that I cashed in on some very minor subterranean cosmic karma?

“Excuse me,” I stood by the turnstile and started addressing the line, not anybody in particular, but just kind of directly ahead, “I’m stuck, the machine’s not working, can anybody give me a swipe?”

And whatever, I wasn’t expecting everyone in the city to just stop what they were doing to give me their attention, but I was kind of hoping that maybe one person might, maybe one or two, and like right away, like come on, I’m stuck here, you can’t help somebody else get on the train?

But nobody, I asked one time, and nobody even so much as looked. So I got all self-conscious, like do I ask again? Do I say the same exact thing? Or should I let the line advance a little more so I’m not repeating the same questions to the same people? I fell into a pattern, it was like every twenty-five seconds or so, I’d ask another five to ten people, and my requests got shorter, “Excuse me? Do you have an extra swipe?”

The best that I got was some lady who at least acknowledged my problem, she looked at me, not really sympathetically, and she said, “It’s unlimited,” referring to her Metrocard, “They’re all unlimited.” And yeah, I hadn’t thought about that, those unlimited cards make it impossible to swipe more than once in something like a fifteen-minute period. But come on, somebody had to have a regular card, I always kept a regular card, someone had to have a swipe.

But just as I was getting ready to ask the fifth or sixth group of people, I heard a man’s voice right behind me, “You!” he said. I turned around, it was a cop, he was pointing at me. “I’m sorry, do you have me confused with someone else?” and he continued, “Oh no, no, no, it’s you all right, you think I wouldn’t forget? That you’d get away with it?”

And I seriously had no idea what he was talking about, but he started getting closer, “Two summers ago, you hopped the turnstile, you thought you got away,” and I totally remembered. This was impossible. Two summers ago, yes, I was out for a long run, when out of nowhere the sky turned pitch black and started pouring. Look, I’m fine with running in a little rain, even a downpour, it’s like, what am I going to do? I’m already soaked from sweat, there’s no sense in stopping now.

But this storm, there was loud thunder, I saw a building two blocks in front of me take a direct hit from a bolt of lightning. That crack, that deafening thoom that I felt vibrate throughout my entire body, yeah, I guess I got a little spooked. I sprinted toward the nearest subway station.

When I got inside, I had no money, I didn’t have anything on me except for my keys, but I was all hopped up on adrenaline, there was a massive throng of bodies all trying to escape mother nature, and so, I wasn’t even thinking, I just acted, I kept running and I jumped right over the turnstile. It was much easier than I expected, but no sooner had I made it to the other side, I heard, “You!” it was a cop. They’re pretty strict about fare enforcement, I think the fine is something like over a hundred bucks, and so I saw this guy and I made a run for it.

Again, I wasn’t thinking. The platform has a finite amount of room, and this guy was on my tail. But, it was unbelievable, my luck, there was a train idling in the station with its doors open. I ran down a few cars, and right before the bell went off to signal their imminent closing, I slipped inside, I made it. Then I got cocky, the train started pulling away, and I gave a little shit-eating grin, a slight wave to the cop still on the other side of those doors.

And now here I was face to face with that same officer, I couldn’t believe he remembered me. Was he that consumed by my getting away? He remembered my face after all this time? I tried to fake my way out, “Hey officer, I think you’ve got the wrong guy,” but he wasn’t buying it. I abruptly changed course, “Listen, I’m not doing anything wrong here, what’s the problem?”

“Oh yeah? What are you a lawyer?” he was even closer, “No panhandling on the subway.” Was he going to take me in? Was this going to be something on my record, like I’d have to explain it every time I filled out a job application or applied for a loan? No, I thought, , it worked before, I can only hope that it works again.

And so I jumped the turnstile. But this time I didn’t make it across. The tip of my foot got caught on the pole and I face-planted right to the cement floor. My nose was bleeding, I chipped one of my front teeth. And nobody even really stopped, they just kept walking around me, that ceaseless line of bodies escaping the rain and heading for the train.

But it was bad, there was a significant amount of blood, even the cop started to feel sorry for me. “Just … just get the hell out of here. Just cut the shit, all right?” and that was it, he let me go. So yeah, another free subway ride, but now I had to find a dentist, I had to clean up. I’d have much rather just been wet, not this, bruised, caked in blood, humiliated.

I met my guardian angel while waiting for the subway

I was running late for work the other day, so late that I must have forgotten to check my pockets as I flew out the door, I didn’t have my MetroCard, it’s usually in my left back pocket, not in my wallet, easy access, you need the easiest access for a MetroCard. It’s like, any sort of moisture on your hands, whatever the plastic material that the card is made out of, it becomes impossible to get a grip on if it’s stuck in a wallet, you’ll be standing there at the turnstile, why isn’t this thing coming out, it’s barely raining, or I’m barely sweating at all, and people behind you are like, “Come on buddy, let’s move it pal, I don’t have all day here man, let’s go …” and you want to be like, “Shut up! All right! Just shut up!” but the best you can muster is a feeble, “I’m sorry, it’s just that, I can’t, my grip, it’s right here, I … it’s … I’m,” and they’re like, “Hurry! Up! Move!” and then the MTA employee gets on the mic behind the box, you think she might defuse the situation, but she’s not on your side, “Sir! Please step aside and let the people through!” and it’s only been what, ten, fifteen seconds so far, you’re not allowed ten or fifteen seconds to try and grab the card that’s right there?


Right, so back pocket it is, which, until now was the most effective strategy, walk through, loose MetroCard in the pocket, swipe, if only that guy ahead of me would just hurry up already, what is he, a tourist, come on pal. But this time it’s my undoing, I’m going to swipe but there’s no card, there’s nothing, I look behind me, there’s a line, I start to panic, I can feel the group conscious start to come down on me, it’s going to be negative, maybe it’s going to be violent, who’s going to turn on me first.

“Hey friend,” who the hell said that? “Need a swipe?” It’s this guy next to me, I don’t know what to say, what’s his angle? What does he want? “No, it’s just that … well, I can’t seem to … I just,” and then he just swiped it. The turnstile screen said go, so I went. “Hey man, that was really … you didn’t have to, I … thanks, just … just, thanks a lot, all right?”

“Yeah, no problem.” And then I turned, I went up the stairs to wait for the train, I always walk to the end of the platform, nobody ever walks all the way down, and so even if it’s a full train, even if it’s rush hour, there’s always a little more room if you head toward the first or the last car. But I couldn’t help but thinking about that guy, was I just his good deed for the day? Does he do stuff like that pretty regularly? Man, I’ve got to buy a new MetroCard, which sucks, because I don’t want to have to get attached to a new one, I used the old one for so long that all of the lettering faded away, it was just a white card with a magnetic strip, which I thought was cool, it was like I owned it, like it was …

“Hey man, you dropped your magazine.” It was that same guy. He was holding a magazine. I instinctively reached back to touch my other back pocket, yep, it was gone, no magazine, and that’s weird too because I’m never losing things out of my back pockets, and now today, twice, first the MetroCard, now, well, maybe I lost the magazine while looking for my MetroCard, that moment of panic, I could feel everybody’s eyes on me, just waiting for me to trip up, sometimes even if you have your card, you swipe it that first time and it doesn’t read, it’s just like, “Swipe again, at this turnstile,” and so you’re stuck, come on …

“Thanks man, I owe you again,” I told him and grabbed my magazine. “Yeah, don’t mention it.” Wow, I’ve got to be more careful I guess, just a little more aware of my possessions, my sense of what’s in what pocket, right? When I got on the train there weren’t any seats, so much for my strategy, well, whatever, maybe it’s just unusually crowded today, or maybe there was a delay right before I got on, so everybody had a chance to walk to the end of the platform, but it doesn’t matter, I guess I really don’t mind standing for …

“Hey man, you want to sit down?” I couldn’t believe it, it was the same guy, what is he, my guardian angel? How did he get on the train before me? I didn’t even see any open seats, there are like twenty people standing in the car, and this guy was definitely behind me when I took the magazine out of his hands. I wanted to ask him all of this, I wanted to freak out, head to the next car and try and give this guy the slip, but the car doors closed right behind me and, yeah, I actually did want to sit down, I’d been rushing this whole morning, everything off on the wrong foot, no coffee, I was exhausted, “Yeah, man, thanks.” And he got up and I sat down and read my magazine. That was really nice, that guy, what a nice thing to do, three nice gestures in a row, this total stranger, what a guy.