As a recent Irish emigrant, I have found New York City to be one big pot of wonderful and weird. Leaning more towards the weird and less towards the wonderful is the New York subway - something every emigrant and tourist must wrap their heads around.
Most of the time, a subway ride is uneventful. You listen to your iPod, read a book, close your eyes, or chat to your friend, and everyone happily agrees to ignore each other, until they can’t.
Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s strange, often it’s just downright tragic but one thing’s for sure – it’s rarely ever dull.
Back in Ireland, I’ve done more mileage in a month on public transport than most people do in a year.
I’ve been to Sydney, Brisbane, London, Edinburgh, all over New Zealand, and various other parts of the world, but I can safely say that, in my eyes anyway, the unavoidable New York subway wins the outstanding award for holding some of the strangest people on earth in the one place.
My top ten weird and not so wonderful experiences on the New York Subway (so far):
One of the most disturbing looking human beings I have ever seen. The ball of fur he was holding in his arms turned out to be a small dog and from the corner of my eye I watched in horror as, after the dog ate from the can, the man raised it to his own mouth and proceeded to drink the juices from it.
Add a wet cough, a hole in the side of his head that looked like it should have revealed brain tissue and an overall jaundiced scarecrow look and you get one scary looking individual.
Darth Vader with phlegm problems:
As a friend and I entered the station, we became aware of a sound I can only describe as something like Darth Vader’s breathing with added sound effects. Like a bad horror film, we ran on ahead and found a seat where we could wait for the train until we heard the heavy phlegm breather plod closer and closer. We left that seat like it was on fire and ran as far away as we could get!
On one of my first weeks in New York, while taking the 7 train into Manhattan, my friend and I looked up from our conversation to find the man opposite us had just splattered saliva in the middle of the subway floor beside our feet. In between spitting fits, he would then scribble words on the surface of the seat next to him like his life depended on it. I never did figure out what he was writing.
Rubbish Bag man:
This man nearly caused the subway attendant heart failure. He spent five minutes dragging seven black bin liners of rubbish and a child’s stroller onto the subway car while holding the door open with an 8th bag so that the subway couldn’t take off. The lower end of the carriage cleared like poisoned fish floating to the top of a pond. When we eventually got going, the stroller packed full of rubbish suddenly flew off down the aisle, crashed into somebody hiding at the top of the carriage and then bashed into me on its travels back to its owner.
I was distracted by a young man who looked like he was trying to embody Whitney, Celine and Mariah while listening to his iPod. His head was waddling and his finger was waving about like he was auditioning for “American Idol” minus the sound. After he shimmied himself off the subway, I had just about recovered when “Saturday Night Fever” girl sat beside me.
Saturday Night Fever girl:
This girl was also listening to an iPod but, instead of miming to her music, she danced a series of moves from a seated position that looked like they had been choreographed from a mash up of a John Wayne western and “Saturday Night Fever”.
After she finger scanned the subway car and punched the air a few times, she would make to get on her imaginary horse and gallop off into the sunset. What amazed me the most is how poker faced people can become in the face of such strangeness. The other commuters never batted an eyelid.
Lost Tourist - if found please return to Germany:
On a lighter note, it’s not always strange people on the subway and some are even helpful. A lot of times, I have witnessed how New York people take pity on those they find staring at the subway map with a dazed expression in their eyes. However, the one time I helped out a foreign tourist I managed to send him in the wrong direction. He could still be wandering around Queens Plaza for all I know, so I’ve decided that it’s safer for the tourists if I stay away from them.
Note to self - Don’t faint on the subway:
What I notice the most is how people, including myself, tend to ignore the other people they rub shoulders with.
A friend of mine told me that a young woman fainted and hit her head on the subway last week and, of the 50 or so people that filled the carriage, only three stopped to help her. Everyone else was in too much of a hurry to get somewhere.
“I need a dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need”:
The entertainment on the subway can be a blessing and a curse. Sometimes the last thing you want on your way home from work is somebody singing in your face and asking for money but sometimes there are people who are talented dancers and the odd musician that can brighten up your day.
Being able to stand still on a subway is a sure sign you’re no longer a tourist.
A few weeks ago, my nose was assaulted by four Irish guys doused in after-shave who were stumbling about like Bambi on tequila. They were obviously new to New York and heading in for a night out on the town but they were all legs and arms and none of them could stand in the one spot for too long with the motion of the train.