Monday, July 6, 2009

The Subway

For me riding the subway is an intense experience. Somehow all my senses are heightened when I'm traveling underground. For one thing I can't get over the fact that all this is possible - being able to move about the city without concern for traffic or weather and pretty much knowing (unlike taxis) that you will get to your destination on time (weekends are admittedly an exception to this). There is something absolutely irresistible about riding the subway for ten minutes and then reemerging on the street in a completely different neighborhood, as if waking from a dream.

But then there is also the prodigiousness of the subway itself - the years it took to build, the huge sums of money that were poured into it, the millions of work-hours - most of them enormously trying - that dedicated laborers contributed to these projects. Okay, so maybe the Brooklyn Bridge was even more miraculous, but the subway is a close second. If it weren't for the fact that a whole new subway line is being built along Second Avenue right now, I would say that such a project is unattainable today (and may yet turn out to be given the fact that it was begun prior to the Great Recession).

As anyone who has take the subway knows, it amounts to an incredibly complex subterranean labyrinth that in many ways reproduces the city above. Of course, the subway city is, for the most part, dirtier, darker and a lot less interesting than the one above, but still at least as impressive and diverting as, say, Columbus, Ohio.

And the people down there! They aren't just a microcosm of New York. They are New York! Dressed in everything from well pressed business suits to literal rags, they can be seen carrying shoeboxes, groceries, dry cleaning, bedding, fold-up scooters, and even an occasional lawnmower. And their reading choices range from every imaginable foreign language newspaper to the latest comic book to the complete works of Marcel Proust. Their variety is breathtaking and their ability to travel together everyday without incident in cars that are packed so tightly people must stand indecently close to each other is, for me, nothing short of amazing.


  1. I love the subway. Each time I visit I end up pouring over the maps refreshing my knowledge of the lines and routes to all my favorite places.
    Last time I was in the city, I had a little device, like a compass that was a wonderful addition to the maps. When I came to street level I'd pull it out and the needle would tell me which was was uptown. The toughest part of a subway trip to a new part of town is figuring out which way to walk when you pop out!

  2. It is so true that reorienting oneself after an underground trip is the hardest thing about traveling by subway. Everybody should have one of those subway compasses! It is also helpful to stay alert by taking note of the signs that indicate what side of an intersection you are exiting on.