Island Soul City Dreams

I love New York, but my heart has a Caribbean beat. It pulsates to the traditions of my people. Attuned to the rhythms of this City, I stay West Indian to the bone. I reflect. I analyze. I speak my mind. ~ I Keep it Irie ~

My NYC Subway Pet Peeves

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I am 5 feet 2 inches tall (almost) and a meal or two over my regular weight at 120 pounds. I consider myself a big person. My friends say I’m not. But they might be wrong too. If the daily commuters on the train are anything to go by, I’m actually invisible. How else does one explain a 6-foot-2 man standing behind me on a crowded train refusing to remove his backpack and letting it rest less than gently on my shoulders? Or what other reason could a 300-pound woman have for trying to squeeze herself, a life size handbag and an extra tote into the space left empty next to me in those tight two-seaters? And about the chick that stands in front of me chewing gum with such voracity that her alveoli are about to collapse and my eardrums are on the verge of bursting from her loud popping? Don’t even get me started on the youngster across from me who evidently has never heard of earphones and blasts his iPod, while singing and bobbing along to the dissonance. Some days, I swear it’s a conspiracy, like all the commuters are out to get me, like they’re putting on display every pet peeve of mine. Such are the happenings on the biggest entertainment platform and world’s largest rapid transit – the New York City Subway.

My introduction to the subway system was a rude awakening – in every sense. I spent most of my life in my homeland Barbados, an eastern Caribbean island that spans a mere 166 square miles (431 square kilometers) – about two and half times the size of Washington, D.C. Our public transportation is above ground: government-owned buses; smaller privately operated vehicles called mini-buses; and maxi taxis known as “ZRs” (pronounced Zed R’s). The longest any bus ride lasts is about an hour. I grew up with drivers making stops between bus stops to ensure that every possible passenger was picked up or dropped off as close as possible to their respective destinations. Passengers were equally compassionate. Bajans traditionally greeted each other with “good morning,” “good evening,” etc. when they got on the bus and if one were standing with a cumbersome bag, a seated passenger would offer to hold it.

Our culture was one where, if someone were short of bus fare, other passengers would quickly reach into their pockets to assist. The last bus to any part of the island was at midnight, and if one missed that, as locals say, “Yuh buss luck.” (You’re out of luck.) The next bus wasn’t till 5 a.m. That’s the transportation system with which I grew up, the one I left eight years ago to move to New York, leaving behind year-round sunshine and rejuvenating tropical breezes. Alas, I arrived in the City in the heart of winter. The icy trek to the subway led to stony faces on the train, many partially hidden beneath hats, scarves and overstuffed winter jackets. No one offered a hello or a warm smile to make this freezing island girl feel welcomed on my “first” train ride as a “New Yorker.”

For a while, I found New Yorkers colder than the winter. This impression slowly started to change with my daily route from Brooklyn to the City College of New York in Harlem, later Columbia University and commute to work in Chelsea and Mid-town. Countless times when I found myself walking in the wrong direction on exiting the subway or taking the uptown train when I should have taken the downtown and vice versa, fellow commuters readily pointed me the right way. On occasions when I arrived on the platform as the train was getting ready to leave, strangers broke the law and held the doors open for me. I came to learn that many of the hardened faces were just people focused on what they were doing and where they were going and completing it all in a New York minute.

Fellow commuters began to fascinate me, especially hip-hop dancers, musicians, singers, and comedians. I often keep a few singles to tip them for their performances. Then there are the evangelical preachers, who, incidentally I only recall seeing on morning rides, never in the evening, testifying, admonishing people to follow Jesus and usually before they get off the train, wish folks “a blessed day.” I relish those blessings.

As entertaining as I’ve found some commuters, I’ve come to find others doubly annoying with their idiosyncrasies, bad habits, and discourtesies. For the life of me, I don’t get why someone on a crowded train, with barely room to breathe would pull out an iPad and be insistent on playing a game, or take out The New York Times and try to do the crosswords. Riding the subway is an exercise in tolerance and manners, and requires a sense of humor. But much as I love a good joke, it’s no laughing matter when I’m sitting and someone is standing in front of me with ample space between us and they repeatedly step on my feet – especially in my open toe shoes. How does one not know the difference between my velvety sexy feet and the train’s filthy hard surface? Maybe, I’m invisible after all.

~ I Keep it Irie ~

What are some of your NYC subway pet peeves?

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21 thoughts on “My NYC Subway Pet Peeves

  1. de Carib on said:

    At 5’2″ you are most definitely invisible. Lol! And those that do see you obviously want to investigate this unfamiliar looking, dreadlock wearing, svelte-toed woman. Another good read and an insightful glance into your life as a neo New Yorker. Keep it irie!
    Guidance & blessings.

  2. Kathy-Ann on said:

    Another fantastic article and totally insightful! As an island girl myself I’m familiar with our bus system and ‘ZR’ culture,or I use to be when I was at school and before I owned my car. Its sad to know that some our people seem to be adopting some selfish practices, as the once helpful now turn a blind eye to a pregnant woman hoping for a seat. I’ve heard such things and I pray its not becoming the norm.
    I’m visiting NYC this month with my 3 kids and I plan to take them on the subway just for the experience, I know it will be an exciting treat for my 5 year old twin boys!! I hope we don’t end up on the wrong train!! Lol
    Keep irie love!! Thanks for sharing!

    • Kathy, thanks my dear! It would be sad if our society is becoming so uncaring. I always try to take the bus at least once or twice every time I come home. The experience still feels like when I was growing up. Perhaps, that’s more so because my mom lives in the country and folks up there are still very old school.

      I remember being home last Christmas holidays into mid January this year and being on a bus where I witnessed a woman’s hat flying off (through the window) and the wind tossing it a several yards back. The driver reversed the bus about two or three bus stops back till we caught up with the hat and its owner had woman safely retrieved. I recall writing about it on Facebook, noting that was only in Barbados/Caribbean could happen lol, not in these big cities!

      I can’t believe the boys are already five! They’ll love the “adventure” on the subway! Be sure to holla when you’re here.

      Thanks again and one love sis!:-) 😊🙏

  3. John Hinds on said:

    Hey Hey Island girl! Yes, you are a big..dreamer…big thinker..big..hearted person but let’s keep it real, you’re not a physically big person lol. You’re not invisible, just less visible than dem 300 pounders who had too many Big Macs and Large fries lol. Yes, the NYC subway is a world of its own. I enjoy the scenery from time to time as it is a welcome break from the suburbs. But at the same time I can understand your challenges with some of the people you encounter. I am glad that you were able to see the kinder side of NYC natives. NYC natives and people from the northeast get a bad rap for being rude and unfriendly which is not always true. I am glad you made the distinction of NYC subway riders as being focused on what they are doing vs simply being rude. Just remember to keep dem sexy feet covered up 🙂

    • Hahaha, thanks John! That last comment especially made me laugh.
      I didn’t know you got out from the ‘burbs and from behind your wheels for the occasional subway adventure!;-) Then again, as an old Brooklyn boy, I’m sure you’re an expert at dealing with commuters and their crazy habits.

      Yes, it took a while, but I eventually realized that New Yorkers aren’t generally rude. Not to mention, the City is so diverse that often the “New Yorker” I’m running into is an immigrant just like me and probably still trying to find his or her way around. And for the most, the native New Yorker I meet is actually “nice”.

      Thanks so much for reading and great insight! One love.:-)

  4. Nice article! Vividly written as always. I would suggest you contemplate expanding your aura, like my aunt who believes she is 6′ 2″. People would surely see you then!

    I have more experience with ZRs than with buses here in Barbados, but I still notice the Bajan kindness occasionally on bus rides, and I have never seen a situation where no-one got up to allow a pregnant or less-than-fully-mobile elderly person to sit.

    • Thanks Reynold! Lmbo at your aunt’s aura and your eloquent description for the elderly!:-D

      Yeah, I know you like your ZRs! Or is that because Transport Board doesn’t properly cater to your neighbourhood? Lol! Glad to hear my Bajans still got broughtupsy, fuh real! Thanks again! And I will try expanding my aura!:-)

  5. janice linton on said:

    Well written feature on the NYC subway experience! Thanks Ma Quita!
    My first visit to Brooklyn and riding the subway, I was like a kid with eyes and mouth wide open. Just watching the NY peeps quickly stepping on and off the trains in a NY second, heads down and not even colliding with each other was fascinating to watch! In Barbados, even now that I have my own car, the good and bad sides of catching the ZR and mini-buses exists. You have the concerned conductor who would make sure that the old lady or “Mums” as they like to greet the elderly ladies, gets safely home with the groceries or that the schoolchildren are escorted safely across the street or they wait for the person running late down the gap who didn’t make it to the bus-stop or main road in time (that use to be me when I started full-time employment, lol). However, there still exists the ugly side – the overloading with passengers hanging out the door and dangerous overtaking on the streets. And the top attraction especially with some of the teenage schoolchildren, the vans that can blast to the highest decibel the latest Tommy Lee, Movado, Vybz Kartel dancehall tunes. Strange enough, this scenario exist back in my secondary school days of the 80s, SMH!

    • Thank you Janice!:-)

      It’s heartwarming to hear the stories of the ZR drivers and the elderly, school children etc. I’m glad to hear that’s still happening. Unfortunately, the overloading and the likes have also been happening since the ’80s – as you pointed out. For sure, we’d want them to exercise more caution with people’s lives. That friendly culture that exists between passengers and drivers and overall among passengers is definitely unique to our island/region and should be cherished!

      And I could imagine how fascinating it was on your first subway ride! A worthwhile experience for anyone, especially coming from relaxed, “one today, one tomorrow” atmosphere of the Caribbean lol!

      Thanks a million for reading and giving such great feedback!:-)

  6. Kool on said:

    a few subway peeves:

    -People who sneeze, cough, then put that hand on the pole. Probably the main reason why I carry hand sanitizer.

    -Any dude that stands directly in front of me while I’m seated. The crotch view is not cool.

    -A train car full of rowdy rambunctious loud HS students

    • Thanks Mr. Kool!😊 I wanted to write about that “cough” issue! Oh, that drives me crazy, yuck!

      Lol @ crotch comment, I feel you. Re: High school students, I’m always in disbelief at the type of (extremely loud) conversations they have and the amount of expletives in their vocabulary!? 😳

      Thanks for reading and sharing! Much appreciated. One Love.:-)

  7. garethkhaleel on said:

    I feel like I can tolerate everything except the teenagers. They are just savages. I can’t imagine being like that when I was their age, or any age for that matter.

    On the plus side though, the subway is always good for a story. My personal favorite are the homeless man who chose to wash up in one of the corner seats; the two homeless men who trapped straphangers in the middle of an odoriferous car by strategically placing themselves on opposite ends of the car to prevent escape; and the panhandler who would stroke the poles from top to bottom if you didn’t give him money.

    Still, Japan has to have it worse. http://youtu.be/b0A9-oUoMug

    • Hahaha, I love it G! Lol!

      I know of such a story re: homeless man washing up on the train, but first time I’m hearing of those other two incidents. Classic!:-) You’re so right, the subway is always a good for a story, it’s the best place for free entertainment in NYC lol!

      Yeah, I don’t ever get why some of the teenagers behave that way. :-/ For sure, I couldn’t even thinking about acting like that when I was their age. My mother would have certainly dealt with me – in true West Indian style discipline lol!

      I’m about to go watch that Japan vid! Thanks and thanks for your terrific insight – as always! 🙂

      • I remember way back in my junior high or high school days, my mother happened to take the bus one day, and was so offended and outraged, she came home and threatened us all, “If I ever, EVER, hear of you behaving like that in public….” She almost wanted to beat us just in case.

      • Lmbo! I could imagine! You know West Indian moms don’t play! I could see my mother reacting the same way lol!

    • Aaaaaahahaha! I just watched that vid and I’m dwl! Oh man! It is serious there. And not a boy was even trying to get off lol! Too funny!
      Yeah, they do have it worse!
      Thanks for sharing.:-)

  8. Great blog post! Let’s face it though…there is NOTHING like the NY Transit system. We wouldn’t have anything to talk about. LOL. I love the way this was written Ma Quita. Great work. Love the blog.

    • Awwww, thank you sooo much Harry!:-)
      For real, our lives would be less exciting with the NYC Transit system lol! No two days in the subway are alike!
      Thanks for reading and commenting. One Love.:-)

  9. ugh, the constant squeezing in between the seats when they know their butts are too big. and the beat boxers and those i like to call acrobats who are annoyed that there are too many people on the train for their routine (they still do it anyway). and the BEGGARS

    • Lol @ big butts comment, sooo true lol! I feel you on all those. Some of those beggars are classic though, like the man who sings/raps that’s that Beijing a beggar is his profession and why we should give him alms lol!!

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