Notes From New York City Life On The Subway Trains

The first portion of one of the worlds most extensive subway systems opened in 1904. Since then, New Yorkers have had a love/hate relationship with it.
The New York City subway has been in operation for more than a century                 Jorge Salcedo/Shutterstock
The New York City subway has been in operation for more than a century Jorge Salcedo/Shutterstock

The best encounters with life in New York City are not only on its lively streets dotted with captivating skyscrapers but also under those very same streets - thanks to the underground subway trains, where New York and New Yorkers unknowingly stage themselves, with many moods and hues. For me, it&rsquos much like a free theatre, presenting everything live and in the moment. 

The moment I begin to head down to a station, the announcements greet me first, followed by the rush on platforms. If you are on the 42nd Street, the Penn, or the Grand Central Terminal &ndash the core junction stations - the rush takes a different level. But what fascinates me about the rush is the diversity highlighted through the many faces I see &ndashall carrying a sense of the NYC hurry on them.

If I ever get confused about my train&rsquos number or alphabet and approach one of them, they reply with the same line &lsquoSorry, no English.&rsquo Most want me to converse in Spanish. This exhibition of diversity continues as I enter my train, usually packed to the brim. Besides the faces, the air remains peppered with an array of languages, rolled out not only by tourists on board but also locals. Among them, I never feel like an outsider &ndash the so-called 'tourist'.

Equally diverse is the fashion which changes at almost every station. During weekends, especially late nights, when people are returning from clubs and bars, the party edition show never ends. Women shine the most, some men too, dressed up like fashion week models. There's lots of singing and dancing. Around nine in the morning, it&rsquos the office wear theme - people with laptops opened and working. Some remain busy with work calls, sipping Starbucks. Others bring their breakfast, usually from cafes on the stations or streets above. A croissant or a bagel filled with egg and cheese seems to be a favourite.

But I love it best when entertainers &ndashyoung and old - step inside - singers, dancers and even comedians. I love it the way they introduce themselves. &ldquoI am from Brooklyn and I have been dancing since I was seven,&rdquo announced one of them recently who, like most dancers, made use of the pole in the coach to show off steps. Another day, I  met an elderly comedian who mimicked how first time tourists in New York react to skyscrapers. At the end, they come to collect donations.

There are also many homeless who board these trains and ask for money. Sometimes, you meet them again and again, always with the same question, &lsquoYou got a spare dollar&rsquo They too open up, unfolding their plight. Some carry a large cardboard with their current situation outlined on it.

During the rides, my eyes also catch intriguing graffiti on the station walls &ndashall providing food for thought. Being a bibliophile, I never miss the many bookworms on board, and the books their hands hold, who miss the many pages of real life unfolding around. Self&ndashhelp books seem to be trending, I see.

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