Things I Want To Say To The People On The Subway

Thank you, Music Man. Normally, I would call you a douche bag for blasting your music so incredibly loud that the entire train car can hear what you’re listening to, but today was a long day. Today was one of those days that made me question whether or not my life was passing me by. That one day I might wake up to go to work, and suddenly, ten years would’ve passed me by, and I won’t have any idea what happened to the boy that wanted to ‘change the world.’ Hearing Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at a volume that makes me question the long term endurance of your ear buds rejuvenated me for just a moment. It made me feel pride in my country, and it made me remember that no one should be able to question or condemn our choices to make us happy — even if we are disturbing other people on the subway. More often than not, I will look at you with rage, but today, I give you a fist bump.”

Where are you going with that enormous suitcase? Since your monstrosity of a suitcase has a perfectly minted white tag that says “SFO to JFK” it looks like you’re a new resident to one of the greatest cities on Earth. So, what brought you here? Has this always been part of your post-undergrad plan or did you decide one day to pack up your whole life and move out here to figure out what you want to be? Did you watch too many movies and fall madly in love with an idea of what the Big Apple could be like? If so, what movies were they and has the harsh reality smashed through that fragile image like a wrecking ball through glass? Because behind all of the bright lights, great theater, and beautiful sites [and people], New York will bleed your bank account till there’s not a drop of liquid left, and unless you have an immense amount of determination, it will take all of your hopes and dreams, kick you out when your year lease is done, and fill your spot with the next bright-eyed, eager twentysomething looking to ‘make it big.'”

You are wonderful. Judging from the sand pail, shovel, and neon green beach towel, you probably just took your boy to Coney Island. Also, since it’s now 7 p.m. and your son’s head is resting on your lap, you probably spent the entire day running around and doing whatever you could to make him happy, and the fact that you’re still doing your best to keep your eyes open so the two of you won’t miss your stop is absolutely amazing. I want to give you a hug and a medal and tell you that these are the moments you and your son will cherish forever, and that when he’s older and he argues with you and tells you, rather hastily, that he hates you, he will, in fact, always love you for taking him to the beach and building sand castles.”

What’s your story? I don’t really care about your name, age, religion, race, or anything that you might think I would care about unless it’s actually relevant to your story. I really want to know who the person is behind the Kindle-reading, iPad-checking, music-listening wall that we’ve all consciously created so that no one bothers us. No judgment! I do it too, but I’m trying something new and maybe you could give me your story and tell me what brought you to this subway stop at this very moment? Why did you pick the seat that you picked? What music are you listening to? Why do you — or rather, why does society — feel that it’s necessary to build walls to be left alone? Do you think that the world would be a better place if we looked up from what we were doing and smiled at each other, or read the signs above the seats that said ‘Priority for Handicapped’ and actually followed them? Do you think that if we just put down our eReaders, unplugged our iPods, and saw the world around us that we would see beautiful people that have amazing stories to tell but are too jaded to even give just an inch of who they are to another person in fear of being vulnerable? And do you think that if we just shared a fraction of who we are, where we’re going, or where we’ve been that maybe we can see how we all struggle, how we all have bills to pay, and how we all are, in some form or another, looking for happiness? And do you think that if we could just begin this journey with a simple ‘Hello’ that maybe the world might be a better place? Or are you just really tired and want to be left alone?” TC mark

image – Nate Robert


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  • Ahmad Radheyyan

    It’d be nice if you could really say these things. Bus people are assholes, in my experience. 

  • WildChild

    I’m really just tired and want to be left alone, and i probably have a headache.  unless ur cute and single, dont talk to me! jk…but seriously…


    I really like the last part of this. Definitely something I often contemplate, but I don’t think I would ever actually approach anyone and ask them those sorts of questions. I do think people sometimes just can’t deal with being bothered on their commute to/from wherever they’re going/coming from (hence why they hide behind an iPad or newspaper or iPod, etc.), but I do really believe if we noticed the things around us more, the people and the beauty that surround us every moment of every day, the world would be a little bit of a better place. 

  • Bellah Zulu

    I am a graduate student in Los Angeles. I am from Africa. To tell you the truth, I have lost my strength and enthusiasm. Whenever I try to be nice and say hello, most people will just look at me. I would be lucky if they smiled. This has even triggered by anxiety. Guess this is the picture am taking back home with me; a people that are so scared and suspicious of each other:(

    • Sneha

      hey dont worry. I am sure you will meet some nice people as well. Nice people attract nice people:)

    • Guest

      damn! you said it.

    • Kia Etienne

      come to TX, Bellah Zulu! We’re definitely friendlier here than in Los Angeles! :)

  • ASRAD123

    I love meeting new people, but whenever I meet someone at who is interesting or who i click with well it makes me want to stay in touch with them. However people would interpret it as being creepy. I think this explains why i dislike small talk with random strangers. 

  • Sweet00pea

    Really liked this people. Sharing humanity is what I’d like to call it.

  • Guest

    it’s highly ironic that the Hendrix’s ‘SSB’ made you feel pride in your country.

  • NativeNewYorker

    To the “Where Are You Going With That Enormous Suitcase” bit:

    New York can be a tough place to eke out an existence, but only if you approach it in the wrong way.

    New York residents (about eight and a half million of us, ballpark) manage to live in and love the city without getting chewed up. Granted, most of us don’t live in Williamsburg or the Village, but that’s part of the problem: you need to live in a place you can afford, have a concrete plan for stable employment, etc. If you’re planning on nabbing an apartment in Brooklyn Heights, you had better have a six-figure job lined up. If you’re looking to paint things while serving part-time as a starry-eyed Barista waiting for the big break on the stage, I daresay you’d have an empty bank account in any major urban area in the country!

    As for the third bit, I like your reflection. As someone’s who has taken the subway his whole life, I’ll give you a tip: watch people. Listen. No wall is impermeable, and that’s the dirty little secret of the New York subway: we’re actually all watching you, even though we carefully hide it behind books and feigned sleep. Little by little, you’ll piece together the stories of the people commuting with you. I promise.

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  • Amy Barkham

    New York City creates monsters.

  • Guest007

    “it’s highly ironic that the Hendrix’s ‘SSB’ made you feel pride in your country.” 

    Life is a constant Polaroid. Today maybe ‘SSB’ if it’s electric guitar that’s on your mind.
    Why question other’s emotion because you’re into ‘American Pie’ or ‘Surfing USA’. Perhaps you’re too young or too old to appreciate free will.
    I’ll take ‘If” or Erik Satie’s ‘Gymmnopedies’ anytime and wander back in time, every morning  at 8:00AM when the radio wakes me up at Ann Arbor a long long time ago when noone lives in fear and this country is well respected globally.

  • Leo

    Anytime I see some obvious tourists on the subway, like the token European family during the summer, I always chat them up! I reach out to people all the time and I do think it makes the world a bit of a better place. Granted the guy in the suit bent over his i-pod probably shouldn’t be bothered, but the subway is one of the many places that can remind me why I love NY. Most people seem so attached to being in their own bubble, but oftentimes all they need is the right smiling face to break the shell. I’m told it helps that I’m a pretty blonde, but hey, I’m sunshine in a bottle to the external world and I’m not going to let anyone tell me that’s a bad thing!

  • Jesper Dahl

    sand castle cuteness :)

  • Robert L.

    Last paragraph is so Singapore. Here, it’s not even normal to smile at someone unless they have a baby, child or a cute pet (and even then they occasionally give weird looks).

    • JT

      The great asian wall.

  • Sophia

    Ohhh this article sums up my outlook on the subway so well. I love meeting random people, and I always want to know what people are about, what their stories are. Great great article. I loved it.

  • natasia

    “You smell really bad and I was here first so could you please move?”

    and “You’re on my part of the seat and I don’t want to have to touch you”

    I don’t say that because I would be dead by now. 

  • Michael Lynch

    Things I Want To Say To The People On The Subway:

    ‘Take your backpack off you asshole. We need the space.’

    ‘Stop breathing on me. Thanks.’

    ‘Wait in line like the rest of us. You’re not special.’

    ‘It’s very simple: stand on the right and walk on the left.’

    ‘Keep your spit in your mouth. This is public space.’

    ‘I know you’re in a rush but that doesn’t give you the right to rudely bump into people. Slow down.’

    ‘Does anyone else feel like cattle being shepherded around this death trap?’

    ‘Hey my name is Michael. What’s your name?’

  • Guest

    I honestly don’t care if my headphones leak a bit. Just trying to get through the day, thanks and goodbye

  • douchegirl

    My best friend and I were in NY for the first time last week and we were amazed at how nice everyone was. I would ask him things like “Where do you think we should take the E?” and then the nice stranger behind him would tell us exactly how. This happened countless times and on our last day we were the people with the huge suitcases (trying to get to JFK to go back home) and a guy even carried it for me up the stairs. 

    I absolutely have the best impression of NY. 

  • Jamieson Emily

    I’ve been reading through the archives for the last week and the part about the parent and son brought tears to my eyes. When I started reading that paragraph I almost skimmed it over, assuming it would be a complaint about bad parenting/bratty kids. Thank you for acknowledging such a beautiful moment. As a mom of a five year old, it terrifies me that one day those trips to the beach (and the exhaustion that follows them) will be outgrown and forgotten.

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