Crazies on the New York Subway

Adrian ColemanAs the city blog so eloquently attests, everyone in New York has a crazy subway story. Now that I’ve rode the subway for several months, I thought I’d share my own perspectives – as well as weirdo-sightings – on life down under.

First off, let’s get it out in the open. The NYC subway is as frustrating as it is entertaining. I know I speak as a Gotham rookie, but I also speak as someone who endured the Tube in London for far more years than I care to remember. There are vital differences between NyLon’s subway systems – and I’m not just talking about the freak factor.

Let’s start with the people. The Tube is expensive to travel on – and the parts of London which it serves tend to be pricey to buy or rent in. It is also the favoured mode of transport for the young. This means that a disproportionate amount of people who ride the Underground tend to be young and middle-class. And I’ll be frank – the Tube is also less scabby.

Now let’s look at the Big Apple. The subway is much cheaper to ride and is therefore a genuine public transport system – as class-agnostic as it is scruffy round the edges. This means you get all manner of people sat or stood next to you – not just Rupert and Henrietta Rah on their way home to Fulham, darling.

This also means you get a wider range of crazies. And believe me, I’ve encountered my fair share of mentalists on the Underground in London – and they were from all walks of life. Vomit on seats, drunk Aussies screaming the place down, aggro commuters – I’ve seen the lot.

In New York, however, I feel I’ve moved on to a whole other level. So far, I’ve come across:

  • Man descending steps: “Get the f**k out of my way, everyone”‘
  • People who smell so bad you are forced to switch carriage;
  • Rapping woman parading along the carriage doing a monologue, seemingly for her own benefit, referencing assorted superheroes and with a dirty toy rabbit hanging out of her bag;
  • Man with face buried in the hugest pizza box ever, stuffing himself silly;
  • Drag queens galore;
  • Random religious preachers in Times Square underpass, distributing leaflets designed to scare anyone unfamiliar with the book of Revelation half to death;
  • Sign language conversation across the carriage between random man and enchanted child.

And I’m not the only one. Asking around, friends and colleagues have related similar tales of sheer weirdness:

  • Harlem man to my white, female, work colleague: “You have the perfect ass for a black man. Hmm, vanilla.”
  • Friend’s boyfriend sighted obese woman on subway, dressed as Superwoman, reading “How to be an Orgasm Queen”;
  • Friend seated on subway merrily driving into a fire into the tunnel, despite the overpowering burning smell.

But it’s not all bad. People on the subway will sometimes go out of their way to help other people. My favourite was the other day on the F train to Delancey Street. Random woman to boyfriend: “what was the name of the actor in blah blah?” Closely followed by man the other side of the crowded car: “It was so-and-so!”

Picture: up-and-coming British artist in New York, Adrian Coleman

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One Response to Crazies on the New York Subway

  1. linyangchen says:

    What a great place to observe, and be a part of, urban society!

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