Let me start off by saying I am an avid NYC subway rider, and am very thankful to have it at my disposal.
For $2.75 per ride or $31 per week unlimited, I can go absolutely anywhere in the five boroughs, and even a bit beyond. I’ve had loads of great subway experiences — and have even made friends on the train — but for this post I’m only focusing on the negative.
Some of these stories are humorous, some are sad, and some are downright scary.
Riding the NYC subway is interesting to say the least, and this will become even clearer in the below vignettes.
Note that while not discussed in this particular blog post, I’ve also met myriad amazing New Yorkers and have inspiring stories of kind strangers riding the train, as well.
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1. The Ex-Con
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Well, one night I was waiting for the subway and it was taking forever. I stood there huffing and grunting as I do when I’m mad at my lack of control over my transportation. Suddenly, a slightly scruffy but smiling older man approached.
“Frustrating, right?” he asked.
I nodded. He must have taken my head movement as a sign of friendship, as he proceeded to pull out a Louis Vuitton wallet stuffed with foreign currencies.
“Do you think this is real?” he asked. “Either the currency or the wallet?”
My intuition is usually spot on, and while I felt this guy was, for the most part, harmless, I also felt like something was fishy. I shrugged.
He then pulled out an iPhone 6. “Okay, well do you know how to jailbreak a locked phone?”
Okay, now I needed to know. I pressed, “I don’t, but I’m curious… Where did you find all these things?”
According to the man, who we’ll call Joe*, he had “found them” in the street. Joe also noted he was fresh out of prison — I had a feeling I know for what — and living at the YMCA in Queens. He held up a broom, another treasure he’d found, and explained he was bringing it back to help clean up the place.
Finally the train arrived, and we sat together and chatted. It was an odd feeling, sort of knowing Joe was a thief but also feeling like he was a nice person. Joe kept telling me I reminded him of his niece and, ironically, gave me tips for always watching my back. He told me stories of growing up in the Bronx and of spending time living in a shipping container.
When my stop came we said goodbye, and I realized I’d completely forgotten how annoyed I was about the slow train.
2. The Clinger
Last year I went to Holi Hai in Manhattan, a Hindu festival where attendees throw colorful chalk on each other and dance to live music. It was a blast, and I left with my white shift covered in bright purples, pinks and yellows.
Now it’s hard to get people to pay attention to you in NYC. You could be doing flips off the subway ceiling and barely anyone will glance (see video below), but my brightness did get me a few train ride stares. One of which was from a very handsome guy who actually engaged me conversation, a rarity on the train. He was really, really cute, and in the end I gave him my number.
We went out once for drinks until I realized this guy was somewhat off. His last relationship had been to a woman he’d dated for three months before proposing, calling it off when he discovered she was a stripper. He spoke a lot about kids and marriage, and how he felt really behind in this arena. Afterward, he pestered me with questions about when I wanted to be married and how many little boys and girls I wanted to give to birth to.
Needless to say I was freaked out, a feeling that was heightened when he told me he thought he loved me the next day.
Let’s just say I added a new number to my Call Blocking list.
3. The Grabber
This is the scariest story of the group, and it happened about eight years ago. I was with a friend in the East Village waiting for the NYC subway around 2am to head up to her apartment in the Upper East Side. We were the only ones on the platform, until a squirrely looking guy came down.
Immediately my body felt hot, and not in a good way. As the man approached us the heat intensified until I was sweating. I could tell my friend felt nervous, too.
“Well, you girls are certainly pretty,” he said, an unsettling look in his eye. “How did you get so pretty.”
He smiled, showing brown stained teeth. It wasn’t his looks that freaked me out, though; it was his eyes and the way he made small but constant steps toward us while blocking the exit stairs.
“Yes, you are quite beautiful…” Suddenly, he lunged for us, though luckily my fight or flight response had kicked in minutes ago and I’d already jumped out of the way, grabbing my friends arm and making a Peyton Manning-like maneuver around him.
We continued channeling our inner athlete as we sprinted up the steps, the man laughing manically behind us screaming, “Get back here you whores!”
It was a seriously haunting experience, and one my friend and I still talk about to this day.
4. The Cat Hair Lady
Now we get a bit awkward. People sell all kinds of weird stuff in New York, though I’m not sure anyone can compete with the cat hair artisan. I use the term “artisan” loosely here, by the way.
One evening I was on the subway heading home when a woman pushing a cat strapped into a stroller walked on. The cat looked pissed, and rightly so, though the weirder part was that hanging from the stroller were numerous ribbons and accessories…all crafted from cat hair. While I love natural and recycled items, this was pushed things too far.
I stared at this bizarre sight, and the woman shot me an angry look as if to say “What the f*ck are you looking at?!”
Oh, just the weirdest subway scene I’ve ever encountered. And that’s saying a lot.
5. The Female Manspreader
Sometimes I like to pretend I’m tough. I’m really not, so when I made a bold move on the subway in Brooklyn I regretted it immediately. Let me start off by saying by two biggest train pet peeves are people who give their purse its own seat when others are standing, and manspreading.
Well, this girl was exercising her full right to spread, though it actually is against the law. I gestured to the angry looking girl to let me have some of the 2.8 seats she was hogging, and she just sighed and shook her head no.
Are you sh*tting me?!?
Instead of continuing to stand I wedged my butt into the .2 seat gap that remained and physically forced her legs closed…
She was not happy.
“I guess you’re not from around here, Frenchie. But in America that’s not okay.”
I took a moment to enjoy the compliment. She thought I was exotic! Then I remembered this 200-pound tough girl was actually threatening, not complimenting, me. While I had once pushed someone against a locker in high school and then went in the bathroom and cried, I’m not sure it counted as real fighting experience.
So, I sat in silence staring at my phone while this very angry girl muttered under her breath that she was going to kill me and calling me other words I would not allow to be published on my blog. While typically when someone says they’re going to kill you it’s an empty threat, in Brooklyn this is not always the case. Luckily her stop came before mine, and I was extremely relieved to see her manspreading legs exit the train.
6. The Spewer
While crazy things happen on all subway lines in all parts of NYC, I don’t think I’ve ever taken the train from Jamaica (if you come to New York through JFK Airport and opt for the subway you’ll likely leave from this Queens-based subway stop) back to my apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn without an incident.
One, in particular, is one of the more memorable incidents — and travel horror stories — that took place on the subway.
Again, it’s hard to get a New Yorker to look up from their book or smartphone when on the train; however, certain occurrences cannot be ignored. Such as when someone is projectile vomiting so hard it splatters against the opposite wall. All of the train passengers managed to jump up and relocate to the other side of the train car unsplashed; however, one unlucky girl was left behind.
I’ll never forget her face when the spewing man took a (very short) break from being ill, looked up at the girl — who was now pressing herself into the train car wall willing herself to disappear — and said loudly, “You’re hot! Do you have a boyfriend?!”
She did accept his date offer.
7. The Screamer
The most common “bizarre” situation you’ll encounter on the subway — it’s actually not that odd for NYC — is people screaming whatever comes to their mind at top volume.
This might be that the devil likes to eat rats (someone shouted this on my car this morning), or something extremely sexist or racist that you can’t believe someone would think let alone yell (like during yesterday’s commute).
One of the scariest times was when this very angry woman started screaming how she was going to BLEEPING BEAT THE BLEEP OUT OF … I couldn’t tell who, because I was trying really hard not to look at her. She continued to scream obscenities, clearly enraged at someone, so I peered up slightly and saw she was just screaming in general at the whole car. Until we made eye contact.
“WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT SKANK?!” I quickly buried my head in my book, but she continued to scream at me like I’d killed her dog. Suddenly the guy next to me — who had two tear drop tattoos under his eyes, which often symbolize attempted murder/murder — started screaming back at her on my behalf. He then looked at me and kindly noted that I shouldn’t be upset because that woman was out of her mind.
Who knew sitting next to a guy who potentially killed someone could be so comforting?
8. The Hater
Warning: this one will be pretty upsetting since it’s racist (not on my part), but it’s 100% true so I’m going to share it. One day I was on the train reading a book when I felt the man across from me staring, HARD. His gaze was so intent I felt like it was burning a hole through my skin, but I tried to ignore him as best I could.
Suddenly he shouted, “Yea, I’m looking at you, Jew girl.”
He, we’ll call him *Jerk Face, continued to heckle me, obviously trying to get a rise, but I just stared intently at my book. His voice got louder, and I was glad I’d worn foundation to mask how red my face was turning. I wanted so badly to stand up and tell Jerk Face he was a racist d-bag, but I also didn’t want to show I cared about what he said (and I also didn’t want to get stabbed).
Finally Jerk Face’s stop came; however, instead of exiting quickly he stopped near my seat, bent toward me, and screamed, “Just because you’re a Jew doesn’t mean you deserve to have life handed to you!!!”
Keep in mind, this is someone who knew NOTHING about me, had never even exchanged a word with me, and just by looking at me decided he knew my life story. At this point a stranger next to me, who I could tell felt really bad for me, gently touched my hand to let me know he was there.
Jerk Face stood there waiting for a reply. I just said simply, “I’m glad you think you know me, but I’m not even Jewish.”
“But, I am!” shouted the nice guy next to me. I could tell he was pissed at Jerk Face, and very rightfully so. It was an extremely hateful situation, and upsetting to say the least. Jerk Face exited the train without another word, and while I was saddened that people like him exist on this planet, the bright side was meeting the nice guy next to me, who stood up for a woman he’d never even met.
Do you have an NYC subway horror story?
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