Subway Goers, According to an Unnatural Subway Goer

I’m not a natural subway-goer. I’ve spent the majority of my life-in-transport in apparent luxury, staring out my own window in an invisible box of space, on my own padded seat, with A/C blowing and music playing and maybe even the window down if the day was nice enough. But down in the subway, it’s easy to forget these cozy memories when a woman decides to sit down next to you, but really on you because the seats aren’t wide enough for some people.

I’ve observed a few subway types, but I’m not here to say you people are too damn inconsiderate and strange! It’s just that sometimes, after a long day, I’d lose a bit of sanity if I didn’t let these thoughts free.

So here is my shortlist of people I’ve run across down in the subway caverns of New York, riding from Harlem to the West Village:

1. The relaxer (and/or sitting sleeper)

I was sitting next to this man the other day and with every slight jerk of the car, he’d collide into me like jello. It took me awhile to realize, the guy had no restraint. He had relaxed to the point of muscle release. When the train braked to make a stop, he leaned with the motions and half-way toppled over me. Had he fallen asleep? I wondered this as I gently pushed him upright again. His eyes were partially closed like a lazing cat. No one likes to be touched so much by sleeping strangers. I made a note not to sit next to the dozer who rides so easy he’d take you as his pillow.

2. The man with his bag entourage

This poor soul, for one reason or another, has to carry what appears to be twelve sacks of groceries on and off the subway at any given stop. This type of maneuvering – made twice as difficult alongside hurried New Yorkers skirting around him – requires brawn and mental stability. Without muscle, you can’t physically transport your goods from A to B and without your wits about you, well you just might never make it home, period. Please see “Traded Sanity for Trader Joe’s,” two or three posts prior for more of a vivid description of bag entourage.

3. The curiously well-dressed

These people are too well dressed; I’m talking tweed blazers, furs, designer purses and sunglasses on the face (they keep them on so mysteriously!). You have to wonder why they’re sitting between a bongo-playing Rastafarian and a kid wearing an oversized Dodgers sweatshirt down in the arm pit of the transportation world. I like to dress well, I think it’s nice to dress well. But if you’re head-to-toe in Burberry and riding the subway, you might be confused about how to spend your money (I’m just being funny here, I don’t know if I actually believe this).

4. The light-sensitive (and/or secret-people-watchers)

I just touched on this – but there is always a good few who keep their sunglasses on. The lighting isn’t the most forgiving, but if nothing else, it definitely isn’t bright. It’s actually dim enough to allow for dozing, something the relaxing/light sleeping types take full advantage of. Perhaps shades come in handy to stare at as many people as you like, because without cover in the subway, people watching is a terrible idea. You’re inviting a whole lot of strangeness in return if you go cold staring at people on the A train. Whatever the reason, sunglass-wearers stand out about as much as the curiously well-dressed. If it’s privacy you’re aiming at, I suggest hiding your face in a book.

5. The unhappy faces

These people make me uncomfortable. I don’t sit on the subway all smiles and whistling, but I think it’s equally off-putting to grimace, especially when there’s a row of grimacers sitting next to each other. It makes for one hell of a depressing sight.

6. The performers

These are my favorite subway rides because I get some entertainment while sitting with the grimacers and sleeping sitters. Banjo and saxophone players, scatters, bluesmen and rappers, Mariachi bands singers and comedians, poets and violinists. That’s something I never got driving to and from school or work in Kansas City. So I traded comfort for live music – I can deal with that.

There are so many more subway riders and I hope to chronicle a good number of them while I’m here this summer. I wonder what type I am? The summer intern: naive and alert. The student observer: curious about everyone and everything because what does she know anyway? I can think of some better ones, give me time.

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