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How to Survive the New York City Subway

New York City Student Work Insider Guides
by Lindsay Buckley Aug 5, 2014
Never make eye contact…

Do not, under most any circumstances, lock eyes with someone else on the train. If you accidentally make eye contact with a “normal” New Yorker, they will instantly shift their gaze away. But if it’s a “crazy” New Yorker, eye contact is like an invitation to their crazy. You could be attracting the attention of a Bible-verse spouter, panhandler, romancer, creepster, or just someone having a bad day who wants to take it out on you.

…unless you’re attracted to someone.

In which case you should only continue staring at them if they stare back. If you get the green light, continue making eyes for the duration of the subway ride and enjoy the innocent flirtation, then immediately post a Missed Connection on Craigslist once you’re above ground.

Beware, though: My roommate once reconnected with a boy she’d made eyes with on the L Train, only to find out after Date #2 that he had a girlfriend. So if you’re going to play this game, it’s probably best to keep your expectations low.

Don’t touch anyone. Ever.

You should be doing everything you possibly can to avoid touching other passengers. Scoot a little closer to the edge of the seat. Move your hand so it’s at least a few inches from the next one grabbing the pole. Put your bags on the floor or in front of you. Tuck your limbs in so you take up as little space as possible.

And if you DO happen to touch someone, immediately un-touch them — because no one should have to start their day with a sweaty armpit in their face and a bag digging into their back.

If you approach someone on the train, don’t be creepy or too weird.

I was rushing to Grand Central Terminal to go home on Christmas Eve one year when a guy walked all the way across the subway car and struck up a conversation with me as if we already knew each other. Only at the end of our awkward 10-minute ride to Union Square, when he finally asked for my number, did I realize he’d been hitting on me.

New Yorkers are naturally skeptical when strangers approach them so directly. So if you’re going to attempt it on the subway, be cool, and be normal about it.

Keep the tunes on low.

I once listened to half of The Chronic on my commute — and not by choice. A fellow passenger had his jams cranked up to a volume so obscene that everyone within a 10-foot radius could hear every word. I like a little Dr. Dre every now and then, but not at 8:30am on a crowded train. If you’re going to listen to music on the subway, be respectful of other riders and keep the volume down.

Close your damn legs.

Gentlemen, I’m looking at you. Is there a particular reason why you must take up 1.5 seats on the train so you can spread your knees? Because a) no one wants to see that, and b) that old lady standing nearby could really use that seat next to you, but it’s half-occupied by your spread leg. Unless you’re saving room for cats, keep your legs together.

If you’re standing, hold on tight…

Unless you have freakishly good balance and ample space to brace yourself for the inevitable jolt of the subway train, make sure you have something to grab or lean on while standing on the subway. I’ve made this mistake several times when I chose to take a surfer’s stance rather than touch a germ-ridden pole, and can attest that a surefire way to piss off your neighboring commuters is to go flying into them when the train randomly jerks or stops short. Don’t be that guy.

…but try not to touch anything with your bare hands.

The New York City subway runs 24/7. Just think about how many people have touched that same pole you’re holding onto over the course of a day. Just assume it’s covered in germs, and grab onto it with your sleeve or glove if possible. Even better, hook your arm around the pole if there’s room, or lean against a door or seat instead.

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