A Southerner’s take on the NYC Subway

Ah the subway: Stinky but wonderful!

For all of you who are from the South, or almost anywhere else in the USA other than perhaps Washington DC, the NYC subway is a totally new experience.  It completely replaces cars.  That’s right, stop and imagine it for a moment, it completely replaces cars.  You can use it to get pretty much anywhere you want to go in the city for $2.75.  If you think about how much that would cost relative to doing it in a car, it’s a real deal.

That being said it is really hard to navigate the subway.  I mean really, really hard.  If you do not have a smartphone you would be well advised to get one, in lieu of that, you better memorize your work route and alt route.  The best app to use is google maps, so say my longtime NYC pals, and I second the assertion.  There are also different schedules for the weekdays and weekends, and the only way to know is by reading the bulletin board in a station of that train stops at.  Here is another thing, they have outages from time to time too, again only communicated through bulletins.

What you need to know

  • You have to buy a card.  You will spend $5.50 on a round trip, so an active day can easily be $11.  Just put $40 on it, it’s has the most bonus money.
  • Backpacks and bags go in your lap or between your legs.  Rollers in front of you.
  • When a train is crowded, announce you are getting off as you near your stop.  People will clear a path for you.
  • When boarding a crowded train, move towards the middle, like how you would do in a church pew.
  • Do NOT sit in the corners of a car, as that is hobo campout central.
  • If you see a nearly empty car on an otherwise crowded train think “oh, doodie” not “oh goodie”.
  • When you come out of the subway, you will probably be disoriented.  Look for two streets as this will give you your bearings.  Streets travel east / west and their numbers increase as you go north, avenues are north / south but are too far apart to see two at once.  For example if I can see 54th to my left and 55th to my right I am facing west.
  • (Summer) It’s hot down in the subway tunnels, but most of the time they have nice cool AC blowing on the trains (and busses).  Often, ladies find it overly cool, so a cardigan or light jacket is a good idea.
  • (Winter) It’s actually warm in the subway.  That being said, it’s a good idea to wear gloves for general hygiene.  I like to buy a half dozen sets of cheap cotton ones so I can throw them in with the laundry.
  • Don’t refer to the lines by their color, people will laugh at you.  Use the number or letter.

Southerner Specific Advice

  • People here are constantly surrounded by a sea of people, and cannot escape it, so many people use time on the subway to tune out.  People reading, using their phone, or with earbuds in may be irritated by attempts to socialize or interact.  If you need help, the accepted procedure is to tap them on the shoulder.  Smile and be polite and you will almost always get a good response.
  • That being said, people just standing or sitting, especially if they are making eye contact may be receptive to conversation.  Many New Yorkers think smiley southerners are charming, or at least entertaining, and enjoy talking to them.
  • Do not sit on the subway station seats.  Many homeless people spend lots of time on them, and I do not think they are ever cleaned.
  • Personal space on the subway is reduced to the absolute minimum during rush hour.  Imagine there was an air raid, and everyone was packing into a basement, that’s how tight it gets sometimes and you have to just keep reminding yourself this is normal here.
  • Gentlemen, do offer your seat to the eldery, and ladies as you see fit.  You may be surprised to know that New Yorkers still offer seats to the elderly consistently, but not young ladies.
  • Gentlemen, do not go out of your way to let ladies out of the car first.  Everyone is trying to get off so quickly, and people may get upset if they feel you are holding up traffic.
  • Above all else, DO keep your sense of southern civility and good manners.  New Yorkers are a brash bunch, but do not be intimidated out of being kind, patient, and respectful in all the ways you are used to.
  • If you somehow brought your car to the city, leave it parked.

Speaking of cars, you totally don’t need one here.  Read all about cars in NYC here.

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