I’m going to step out on a limb here and begin by saying that I actually love taking the subway. It’s quick, convenient, and allows me to get around the city without the hassle (or cost) of a car. Nothing feels more New York than rushing out of your apartment in the morning (if you’re like me, usually five minute late, but that’s okay because the N train is usually 10 minutes late) with your coffee/juice/bagel to go, cell phone in one hand and subway pass in the other, wearing sneakers with your dress and carrying heels in your bag as you join the crowd of equally-pressed-for-time professionals scurrying on their way to the office. If you’re like me, and lucky enough to be the first and last stop on the line, you’re pretty much guaranteed a seat. Great. I can now settle in for my 40 minute commute. I live in Astoria and work in SoHo, which is in lower Manhattan between the West Village, Chinatown, and Little Italy, and 40 minutes on a direct line isn’t bad for your average commuter living in the outer boroughs. It still boggles my mind that distance-wise, my job is literally 5 miles from my house, which means that in almost any other city (besides LA), it would take all of 10 minutes to get there. But New York is no average city, and I don’t mind the time-I actually enjoy it. I usually take a book and catch up on some reading and music while I drink my coffee. Since the beginning of the line is above ground, I get some spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline before the train leaves Queens, plunges under the East River, and continues its Brooklyn-bound journey underground towards Coney Island. It’s a great way to start the day.
But the best thing the train offers its lucky passengers is not the relatively easy and cost-efficient commute; no, it’s the people watching. I could probably start a blog dedicated solely to my fellow subway riders. This little gem of a picture that I took this morning pretty much encapsulates New York public transportation. Maybe even New York itself:
Basically, we’ve got your typical New York Joe who has carefully placed his work bag in its space-saving spot underneath the bench (like the signs tell us to do). He’s wearing all all black, has his headphones in, sunglasses on, and is pretty engrossed in a book about sex. Casual, just holding up his sex book for everyone to see. The lady to the right of him seems pretty engrossed in his little book too. In fact, she’s basically stopped feeding her poor little pup and now holds his food justttt far enough away so he can’t reach it while she gives this guy’s book major side eye. *Note that this entire scene takes place under an MTA sign that reads “Unwanted Sexual Conduct Shouldn’t Be a Part of Anyone’s Commute.” Irony at its finest.
Most days the subway can be really entertaining.
But then there are days. There. Are. Days.
Days where you finally understand why New Yorkers drink so much; why socializing revolves around happy hours and boozy brunches; days where you finally understand the life-changing service which is Delivery.com’s “Booze delivered directly to your door next day” promise. It’s because New Yorkers have to ride the subway to get literally anywhere.
Days like yesterday, for example, when my 40 minute commute home from work turned into an hour and 40 minute commute. Why?
There are only ever three reasons why the subway is delayed:
- Sick Passenger on board the Train
- “Train Traffic” Ahead
- Train is Momentarily Held by the Dispatcher
These three reasons can be summed up into one large category, namely:
- The MTA can’t get its shit together
If 8 million New Yorkers are 20 minutes late because of subway delays, the MTA has effectively wasted 5 years of human life. Think on that for a minute…
For those of us trying to get into Manhattan from Queens, Lexington Avenue/59th Street (the first stop in Manhattan on the NQR lines) is the bane of our existence. Because about 9 times out of 10, if there’s a delay with the subway, it always-ALWAYS-occurs at Lexington and 59th. Train Traffic Ahead? At Lexington and 59th. Train held by the Dispatcher? At Lexington and 59th. Sick Passenger on the train? At Lexington and 59th. Criminal investigation? Lex & 59. These are all actual, real, recurring events which have happened to me and will continue to happen to millions of New Yorkers daily, many of whom will be at Lexington and 59th. Yesterday’s Lexington and 59th was “Signal Problems,” which meant that at each stop of my 17-stop train ride home, the train would inexplicably wait at the platform anywhere from 5-15 minutes. After about 4 stops, I started to go crazy. I should’ve been home by now and yet I wasn’t even halfway there.
Unfortunately, only the N and Q trains go to Astoria, so my options for getting into and out of Manhattan are pretty limited. I generally like the NQR, but lately there have been so many delays I’ve been taking the N-Q-WHY ARE WE DELAYED NOW? I had to think of some other options so I could rush home and do absolutely nothing!
So what did I do?
Abandoned ship, of course! Since the problem was at Lex & 59, I decided to be furba, as the Italians say, and bypass the Manhattan NQ lines all together. I would be smart! I would switch to the 7 line! I would take it to Queensboro plaza and hop on the Astoria-Ditmars NQ train, where it would be physically past the signal problems at the woeful Lexington and 59th! Congratulating myself on my brilliant idea, I gleefully jumped off the N train when it slid into Times Square, where I assumed it would stand still for another 10 minutes before crawling to 49th Street. As soon as I jumped off, I watched that N train roll right on past me, bound for Astoria and home and dinnertime. Great. I looked at my watch. I left the office at 5:30 and here it was already 6:35, and in a fit of impatience I had just abandoned the train that was carrying me home. The only thing to do was stay firm in my resolution, head over to the 7 line as planned, and vindictively hope that the N train I’d just jumped off of would stop at 49th Street for a longggg time, justifying my move. I never take the 7 train and was delighted to discover that it is conveniently located all the way on the other side of the Times Square station near Hell’s Hell, aka Port Authority, a 10 minute walk. I hobbled over on my bad (twisted) knee, and jumped on the train just as the doors were closing, waiting for it to head out to Queens. Of course it was the 7 local, meaning it made all the stops and took twice as long to get there than if I had waited on the N line. Never mind that.
The 7 is packed and hot and full of tired and sweaty and snow-dripping people. I try to remind myself of the benefits of public transportation. You like the subway. It’s convenient. You can get anywhere. You don’t even have to pay for your pass. YOU LIKE THE SUBWAY, REMEMBER?
The 7 line pulls into Queensboro plaza, where I will transfer to the Q line…which is pulling away as soon as I exit the doors of the 7 line. Finally, 10 minutes later, at 7:00, the N line – perhaps the very same one that I had abandoned – rolls into the station. It is packed. Literally wall to wall with miserable, angry people.
Look at these faces. Not one of them is smiling. They look like they just had to euthanize their dog. Or like they’ve been on this freaking train forever, a sort of perpetual hell that never ends.
I struggled to push my way on and find a pole to hold on to and as I did, I made eye contact with another frustrated passenger. We looked at each other, smiled, shook our heads at the situation, and then just started laughing. And in that moment, everything was okay.
Moments like these are one of the things I love most about life. Silent, wordless communication with a complete stranger. Everything is said in the exchange of a glance or facial expression. The sense that we’re all in this together. The knowledge that the big machine of New York City is pretty amazing, if chaotic, and at times inconvenient as a result of its unpredictability. Even the subway system itself seems to transcend any purely mechanical sense; it almost becomes a living, breathing thing. Sure it has its flaws, but the fact that 9 (5) times out of 10 I get to where I need to go on time is really impressive.
I’ll try to keep that in mind as I go to work tomorrow, and leave myself a few extra minutes in case of delays (who am I kidding).
But hey, if the subway’s running late in the morning, it’s cool. You and every other New Yorker can text your boss and let them know “my train is delayed, I’m gonna be a few minutes late.” Chances are, you’ll receive a text back saying “Me too.”
You can’t get away with THAT in just any city.