A New Yorker’s Guide to the Subway

Graphic by Dani Rivera

If you think you have the subway figured out by now, you probably don’t. Spoiler alert: there is more to it than the 1 train. I grew up in New York (yes, in the city itself) and have learned that no one, not even the MTA, knows how to properly navigate the subway system. For starters, the “train time” board is a guesstimate at best, especially for anything above four minutes. 10 minutes away? You will be on that sweaty subway platform for an eternity. Just the word “delay?” That train is never arriving. And any minor inconvenience, like rain, will guarantee to mess up any possible sense of organization that the system might have. If you can’t hear the announcements on the platform or the train itself, don’t worry! No one can! But if it seems abnormally loud or long it probably means that your local train will now be going express. Or that someone held the door one too many times and the conductor is letting you know that you should “stand clear of the closing doors.” Or that you are “being held at the station momentarily” (and as we’ve figured out by now, momentarily could mean quite literally anything). It’s a roll of the dice!

At this point, the rats do own the entire subway system, so if you see them, please be respectful—you are in their space after all. Finally, people watching on the subway is the cherry on top of it all. You are guaranteed to have a multitude of stories of things you saw or overheard on the subway after just a few trips. And if you see something, say something. But good luck getting anything done beyond that. The Q train (you know which one that is, right?) took 20 years to complete if that says anything about the MTA’s speediness at getting things done. Bon voyage!