Lifestyle

I Love New York: The Subway

People love to hate the subway. I get it. The stations can be dirty, the trains are often delayed, it’s a shared mode where fellow riders don’t always smell amazing… I get the hate, but I love the subway. 

New York City’s greatest resource is its people, many of whom are strivers working to be among the best at whatever they do. Without them, the city that never sleeps wouldn’t be the city that so many other cities aspire to be. The circulatory system that gets most of these people around is, of course, the subway. 

Nowhere else than the subway can you observe the perfect cross-section of who New York is. On one end of a train car, you might observe a man in a suit who looks like a lawyer, reading The Wall Street Journal on his phone. On the other end, a couple of drag queens on their way to a club or city kids with a boom box doing a little dance show with the poles. In between, you’ll have an elderly woman with her collapsible shopping cart full of groceries, an older gentleman in tweed reading The New Yorker, a couple of high school kids with a basket ball, a  young woman quietly reading a book, a group of singers with an acoustic guitarist, the occasional homeless person… People from a spectrum of different backgrounds, stories and colors, speaking in different languages and accents. Depending on your luck, a subway ride can offer the best (and cheapest) show in town.

Another thing I love about the train is that I get to let go of any control when I otherwise tend to O.C.D. over every other aspect of the day. I’m not in charge when I ride the subway. I don’t have to drive; I don’t have to worry about traffic or pay attention to other cars or traffic signs. And let’s be clear: not having to drive or worry about traffic, for this New Yorker anyway, is a luxury. I can let go, relax (for the most part) and read something, listen to music or a podcast, answer texts or emails (or not). Barring train delays, it’s generally a pretty worry-free experience. 

About those train delays… Ask any New Yorker their biggest gripe about the subway, and most of them will put delays or service interruptions at the top of the list. In its nearly 120 years in operation, the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) still can’t seem to figure out how to make trains run consistently on time. In Hong Kong, with a population nearly as big as New York City, the trains run pretty close to on-time all the time. In his riveting piece about New York’s subway in The New York Times Magazine in 2018, Jonathan Mahler noted:

The public-private corporation that runs Hong Kong’s subway expects 99.9 percent of its trains to run on time, and they do. (If you are traveling to the airport, you can also check your luggage at a central downtown train station and not see it again until you’ve landed at your destination. Imagine!)

It’s a shame we can’t get that to happen here.

And let’s not forget the environmental benefits of taking the subway. The train is electric. No fossil fuels. And every subway rider is one less person in a car, which is not just good for emissions reduction but also good for the reduction of car traffic in the city. Win-win! 

So, yes, she has her problems. But I have always had a soft spot for this busted train system that is so quintessentially New York. When you move here, one presumes that you wanna be a part of it. When you ride the subway, you’re a part of it, as opposed to being in a car, where you’re more insulated and isolated from it. And I love being a part of it. 

Featured image credit: Ryan Herron / Getty Images


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6 Comments

  1. Geoffrey Bolland Reply

    Subwayland by Randy Kennedy. Anecdotes from the Subway, lovingly observed. A must read for admirers!

  2. Ozzie blake Reply

    Maybe the key to Hong Kong trains running on time is the public-private corporation running them.

    • Geoffrey Bolland Reply

      A key factor: Design and construction of Hong Kong’s MTR was initiated 80 years after the NY Subway benefitting from the latest rail and electronic control technology.

  3. Karen Fredericks Reply

    I love New York, and if you love NY, you love it warts and all. I love the whoosh of warm air as I descend the stairs in the winter, with that little whiff of urine. Humanity. The subway is the great equalizer. I cannot wait to get back there.

  4. Betsy Kraft Reply

    When I’m speeding along in a subway car, I love visualizing all the jammed traffic above me.

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