Riding The New York City Subway

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. TC mark

Ryan O'Connell

I'm a brat.


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  • j.

    what was that guy's name?


      Bloody Loco. If you can't even get that from the video, it shows why he's doing what he's doing on the subway.

    • Andy

      bloody loco…..i think

  • Comic Insult

    Let's talk about that spaghetti incident…

  • HiredGoons

    the only thing that makes me feel threatened on the subway is no good teens.

  • azi

    someone once asked me for money on the subway.

  • http://twitter.com/inaccuratemap Morgan

    I think this could have been funnier or at least a little more interesting. It was really just an overview of standard public transportation conditions anywhere. NYC's subway is awesome and hilarious and unique; Heidi Klum would say you made it sound “boring and sad”. I usually like your articles though.

  • mhm

    yeahh spice this article up a bit!
    btw, as a 'out of towner' the subways in nyc are one of my favorite places in the city.

  • alfey

    A real thug is a thug thats hush: Bernhard Goetz

  • NoahTourjee

    Once I woke up at the last stop on one of the bronx bound trains at 5 am in drag, that was scary. #Ohtobe19

  • asdfghjkl;

    I've always been curious about whether or not cruising is a thing that happens in the subways

  • champ

    GQ sweater man is sexy as hell

    • http://twitter.com/kelvin_lee Kelvin Lee

      “You one sexy mofo you know that? All stylish and shiz, makin' me look ghetto in front of my peeps. I'm going to FUCK THAT SWEATER UP.”

  • http://www.giantscissors.org ncarbell

    Um, we are not “all powerless” in those moments, nor is doing nothing a “survival instinct.” It's cowardly and generally hateful — we owe each other better, even in New York.

    • padface

      I'm sorry but you're wrong. In the Bloody Loco situation he was in all likelihood just going to rage at that guy until he had enough. Bystander intervention would have only further angered him and possibly lead to escalation. That guy needed to feel that he was right, which he got from the silence of everyone else around him.

      Sorry but people like you with your hero complexes generally do more harm than good.


        It's not about having a hero complex it's about trying to dilute the focus of someone's insane rage, which can be done by not being a passive bystander.

  • http://twitter.com/Erikhaspresence Erik Stinson
  • http://tattoosnob.com Julene

    So funny but sooooo true. I've taken to wearing my sunglasses almost constantly during the daylight hours – prevents awkward momentary eye contact, which I then have to somehow interpret into either “safe to smile” or “LOOK AT GROUND OH GOD LOOK AT GROUND!”

    I'm definitely making my friends read this before they visit me.


    I've never been on a New York subway, but I imagine I would look around and smile at everyone. What the world needs now, is love sweet love.

    • http://www.kathygambo.tumblr.com Kathleen Gambo

      Try telling that to Bloody Loco… ASAP

  • Daseinen

    I met my fiance the L train–the most beautiful, intelligent and amazing woman I have ever met (and yes, I had dated many fine NY women before meeting her). I very much enjoy talking with people who are reading interesting things or if there is something worthy of mutual notice. I do it all the time, and almost never get a bad response. My general principle is that, if I'm talking with a woman, I don't get off at the same stop as them, and I don't ask for their number (although I broke the rule once, of course). Then I just try to find out who they are. It helps that I find people genuinely interesting. And in NYC, they usually are.

    That said, I've had someone spit in my eye once and threaten to kill me, he and his boys were juiced up on the north-bound 2 train, and they shoved a woman. I told him he shouldn't shove women. He was all “Bitch pushed me first!” which seemed unlikely, but I decided not to contest the issue. Instead, I put on a sad pity face and said in baby talk, “Oh, big tough man gets pushed by a girl and he's gotta push her back.” Then he spit in my eye. The train was packed, but suddenly we had lots of space. I said nothing, and just stood staring at him, wondering where this would go next. He got scared, though, and started wiggling through the crowd, and I shouted, in victory, “You can't run away from yourself, man, you can't run away from yourself.”

    I also had my iphone stolen from my hands and when I grabbed the guy who took it he pulled out a knife and threatened to stab me. And I've seen a good number of incidents like in the video above. But usually only in Crown Heights.

    All in all, the train is super safe. But that doesn't mean nothing happens. It's a microcosm of the city, and that's precisely what makes it so amazing, and such a great place to find out about the people of the city. Tourists should not be afraid. They're more likely to get hit by a car than to get into trouble on the subway.

  • padface

    I fucking love the NYC subway! But that might be because it's air conditioned, whereas what there is here in London (the London Underground) is not. Oh my days it reaches 105/110 degrees sometimes in the Summer, ouch.

    But yeah, London's tube system has its fair share of crazies too, so I'm used to the headphones in glazed eyes approach.

  • Pfft

    hopefully that video will scare some more midwestern frat boys away from moving here.

  • uhnonnymus

    Is it the 1970s? Who except midwestern tourists still thinks the NYC subway is like something out of The Warriors?

  • Frank

    The fact remains that the subway – or the myth of the subway – is baseline for the New York experience. For good reason or not, it is what makes a New Yorker.

    For that reason, if no other, we should show reverence, not impatience, when that glazed-over, impassive, tensed-up “attitude” is presented to us. It is elemental to our understanding of being urban.

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