If there’s one thing out-of-towners fear, it’s New York City subways. They’ll ask things like, “Are they still safe to take at 8 p.m.? Which trains go to Brooklyn? Carrie Bradshaw doesn’t take the subway!” Although it’s tempting to poke fun at their reluctance, it’s also easy to understand why they fear it so much. In pop culture, the subway has often been depicted as a lawless space. (See: 1967’s The Incident), and as a way to establish urban credibility. (Hey, Jennifer Lopez’s On The 6!) Meanwhile, news outlets jump at the chance to run a story about a sexual assault occurring on public transportation, guaranteeing the spread of countless stories that begin with, “Did you hear about the girl who got raped on the G last week?” This is obviously not a bad thing—these are the kind of stories that need to be heard—but they also fuel the out-of-towner’s largely irrational fear of the big bad city.
For the most part, riding the subway is NBD. In fact there’s a rhythm and flow to it that’s almost comforting. You will notice, however, that New Yorkers can be at their most guarded. They wear their headphones and stare straight ahead with a “don’t fuck with me” expression. There’s a hardness people adapt while riding public transit that is not evidenced elsewhere in the city. Everyone seems intent on not breaking focus; they have their eye on the destination and won’t break for anything. People seem to behave this way in case something actually does happen, something that gives validity to the subway’s bad reputation. Something like this:
I feel like everyone in New York has witnessed an interaction similar to this, or worse, been the person on the receiving end. Watching people stand idly by while this man gets attacked is certainly difficult to watch. Your first inclination as a human is to say, “Um, hello! Leave that guy alone!” But that’s not really how it works. In that moment, everyone is powerless and being violated. No one knows what the ‘Bloody Loco’ guy is capable of and it’s understandable why no one’s jumping to finding out. The goal is to get out of the situation unscathed. That’s not a heartless desensitized New Yorker thing, it’s just a survival instinct.
Fact: You may see some unnerving things on the subway. Also fact: The terrors of the NYC subways have been greatly exaggerated. When all is said and done, something like Times Square is infinitely more terrifying.