My NYC Subway Pet Peeves
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 welcome 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?