Best Practices For Riding The Subway With Jerks

The New York City subway system is a truly joyous contraption. Millions of New Yorkers ride it every day. Unfortunately, many of them are self-righteous pricks that elevate our blood pressure and make normal people want to experience a Bruce Banner rage eruption. Here’s a rundown on how to deal with some of the worst people our beloved subway system throws at us on the regular.


The Pre-standers are the very same jerks in grade school that would sprint with cheetah-like speed to be the first person in line to get out to recess. The Pre-stander’s restlessness seeks to apply this behavior to the subway, and just like in grade school, the behavior is for essentially no tangible benefit — only a perceived one in the mind of the Pre-stander. In the case of the adult Pre-stander, they desperately want to be the first person off the train.

Do you know when the appropriate time to stand up from your seat to exit a crowded subway is? When the train stops moving. This is the only acceptable answer. But the Pre-stander will have none of this: if you are standing in front of a sitting Pre-stander, they are going shove you out of their way and slash through the crowd while the train is advancing, your balance be damned.

Do not budge. Pretend like you don’t speak English. Better yet, don’t speak at all. Ignore their faces and turn up Beach House as loud as you can on your iPod. You, harbinger of justice, are the human Maginot Line in the war of common decency on public transportation. The only way you can lose this battle is if a Pre-stander is able to brush past your defenses. We are counting on you.

Should you succeed, you will create a better life for the generations of subway train riders that follow you.

Dinner Car Denizens

At best, New York City subway cars usually smell like a combination of stale urine, destitution, garbage & abandoned dreams. Adding any kind of food source to this situation is simply asinine.

Believe it or not, we don’t want to smell your Popeye’s Fried Chicken or your lo mein or your farm-raised egg and goat cheese breakfast sandwich while we’re stuck on this metal shoebox. We also don’t want to watch you eat or — worse yet — listen to you smack your lips and swallow processed slime while you consume your mobile meal.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. If a Dinner Car Denizen is nearby, begin by making retching sounds into his or her ears. If that isn’t enough, a well-timed cough in the general direction of their food might be enough to correct the behavior.

Is the cough biological warfare, or sustentation of your sanity? You decide.

The Pole Dater

In a perfect world, the subway pole is a polyamorous object — it is meant for six to eight people to hold hands with and keep from crashing into the strangers around them on a packed train.

The Pole Dater (usually a woman in heels) is determined to make this object her boyfriend. Sometimes she’ll stand with her back to the pole, taking up 50% of the usable space around it. Other times, she’ll link her arm around the pole, as if she’s going to take the pole home and force it to be in a Facebook relationship with her.

Pole Daters can be relatively harmless on an empty subway car, but if a Pole Dater is in action during peak travel times, it is up to you to swiftly free up some space. A simple vocal affirmation that slightly takes the person down a peg works wonders here: “Excuse me, other people would like to use that pole and you are using the entire surface.” Remember: if you seek to embarrass instead of insult with your approach, the Pole Dater will be more likely to back down.

Boombox Blasters

There is no other type of subway-riding asshole who embodies Sartre’s theory that “Hell is other people” more than the Boombox Blaster.

The Boombox Blaster is the primary reason why you should never leave home without a pair of noise-canceling earbuds to protect your sanity from Ne-Yo or David Guetta or LMFAO or whatever the Boombox Blaster has elected to pump out of their smartphone speaker while you’re fighting your 6:45-in-the-morning Tecate hangover. The Boombox Blaster is almost always a male, and dripping with machismo.

To fight the Boombox Blaster, survey the car for other riders who look visibly annoyed, and then make eyes with them. Shift your hopeless gaze from them to the source of your auditory discomfort. Repeat this process until you make a mental mob with three or four people, and then tell the Boombox Blaster how annoying they’re being. Your silent allies will eventually chime in, and the wisdom of crowds will prevail.

The Underground Beautician

The subway is many things. It is a self-contained neighborhood on a missile, a magical method of transportation and a fishbowl for people-watching. Unfortunately, it is also occasionally a subterranean vanity for women who are late to work.

At her least offensive, the Underground Beautician is a seat dominator who will prevent others from sitting down in order accommodate all the extra space she needs to put her makeup on. At her worst, she is an invisible phantom that you can only locate by the sound of nail clippers going to town, spreading fragments of filth and disgust all over the car.

Therein lies the conundrum: the best-case Underground Beautician is not worth picking a fight with, while the worst-case is a covert terrorist who can never be captured. Truly an unsolvable dilemma, anybody who stops an Underground Beautician from littering the ground with cuticle chunks will be forever etched into the tombs of New York City history. TC Mark

image – cliff1066


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  • Guest

    I understand how many of these things can be annoying but you live in a city with almost no privacy. People who commute multiple hours a day might get hungry and need to eat. Perhaps after walking all day people might want to lean on a pole to rest. Maybe pre-stander doesn’t want to get caught in the cattle-herd of people trying to exit the train at the same time. The subway is not your personal sanctuary. It’s a shared public space where people often have to do very private things. Should have moved to Jersey if you can’t handle it.

    • Anna

      What? I think the very point the author is making is that the subway is not a personal sanctuary – other people use it, so be considerate. It may very well be someone is tired and needs to “lean on a pole to rest,” but there are many other people in the car who are also very tired and only 2 or 3 poles to go around.

    • Nachos

      Ummm, what? Reread…

      Seriously nothing bothers me more than inconsiderate commuters. Notable exclusions:

      1) People who stand in front of the subway doors and don’t allow people to exit (either people getting on or just idiots who don’t care if you get off).

      2) People who think the subway is an appropriate place to hookup.

  • Pre-stander

    >Unfortunately, many of them are self-righteous pricks

    Some of which are also writers!

    Did you move here from North Dakota?

    • Megan

      Seconded. “Prestanding”? It’s not that big of a deal. What IS rude is when you, yourself have just stood up, and someone has seen you do it, but insists on shoving past you to get closer to the door. Not that this happens to me every freaking day on the DC metro or anything…

      Also, you left out a critical one. Maybe New Yorkers are good at this rule, but when I lived in Chicago, I got stuck every day behind someone standing on the left side of the escalator. My favorite thing about DC is how religious everyone is about this rule.

      • Ben Breier (@misterdisco)

        Megan: I used to live in DC. Pre-standing isn’t as big of a deal there because the trains aren’t as crowded and people aren’t as aggressive in shoving you out of the way & knocking you over as they are here. And most of the subway stations in NY don’t have escalators, so the left-side rule isn’t as big of an issue here.

  • gatsdee

    The subway is a public space, but whether you are from North Dakota or north of 14th street, we should as a community agree that it is unacceptable to clip your nails on the subway! Getting crusty DNA flung at you should NOT be part of any commute.

  • JAMIE (//∇//) (@jemmehlee)

    I hate them all. I need to eat but I wait til I get home and scarf down some food cause I still have no time. Time to move to the city.

  • Samuel

    I think many of you guys are taking this a little to seriously. It’s just a witty and (in my opinion) very funny account of different non-life-altering inconveniences/annoyances one might experience on the subway.

    • Samuel

      a little TOO seriously. I apologize for my typo…

  • S.Jones

    “pole daters” have never ever ever ever been a woman in my entire lifetime of experience living here in nyc. They are always massive fat men whose back rolls i jam my fingers under to grasp the pole. I make them feel awkward.

  • Katherine

    i love you for writing this. that’s it. we’re in love. i’ve been waiting for someone to write this article for FOREVER. you have incapsulated everything i feel every time i step into the perpetually overcrowded, sagging l train for my nightmarish morning commute.

  • Rob Vincent (@rob_t_firefly)

    Anyone complaining about “Pre-standers” has never been on a packed rush-hour train, where you have mere seconds between the doors’ opening and closing. Failure to get your ass out of your seat and work your way toward the exit area well before the train stops means you haven’t a chance in hell of escaping the train before the “staincleeclozeydoz” announcement and the final door slam of doom.

  • matt

    pre-stander and proud

  • Ann

    a hilarious post about dc metro pole leaners! they are the WORST.

  • Space Elephant

    That last sentence was a great finisher. Hell hath no fury like the Underground Beautician.

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