MTA Culture

A middle aged woman tapped my jacket on the most crowded subway ride we’d taken thus far.
“There’s something white on the bar there, and it’s getting on your jacket!”
I peeked around and discovered something dribbling down the vertical railing I was being pushed into. I thanked her for telling me, and quickly slid my hand into my sleeve to maintain my grip on the rail. My gaze had already returned to the station ticker above the windows before I felt my jacket being tapped again. The woman’s arms were stretched toward me and she had a warm, almost motherly smile on her face. She squeezed some hand sanitizer on my hands and said “It’s strawberry, so you’ll smell like a girl but that’s okay!” I thanked her profusely, and in no time our station had arrived.
On our way up the stairs, an elderly man was perched on the landing, looking quite lost. He met eyes with us and asked which direction our train had been traveling. We told him uptown, and he thanked us with a smile before confidently proceeding to wherever he may have been going.

It was right then that I realized what I would write about in this blog: the NYC
subway culture. After years of hearing about how rude and snobby New Yorkers are, I was understandably intimidated by my first subway ride early this summer, my first time in New York. However, I was surprised by how pleasant subway travelers were. Tall men playing saxophones walked between cars, getting smiles and applauses wherever they went, and people were quick to help with directions. Even at 4:30am, on a north-bound Number 1, a group of very intoxicated youth on their way back to Harlem joked around with Max and I, and began chasing each other around the train for fun. I would never expect strangers to be so friendly to two random people on a late-night train, especially since they were traveling to an area that has been stereotyped as being dangerous and unwelcoming at night.

Of course no subway line is perfect. There’s pushing, and sweating, and perhaps someone laying face-down on the benches for the last 8 stops, but these few examples can’t take away the overall sense of human decency I’ve experienced on the train. Such a stark contrast to the streets just a few feet above, where cars push through pedestrians crossing the street and the honking is constant. What is it about the smelly, tightly packed mid-town trains that makes everyone so… Human?

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