North America

Life on the 6 Train

February 17, 2016 • By

By definition, the word travel means to make a journey through a region or to be moved from place to place. It doesn’t necessarily mean abroad, while a foreign land would be an added perk. According to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the New York Subway systems carries 8.7 million people everyday.  It moves people–lots of them. It’s an astounding statistic. I am a New York City Subway rider. I am a number on the 6 Train.

Fantasy Aisle

Gates, exits, uptown, downtown, east side, west side, taking the train to work

Every morning I am in New York City, I ride the east side green line 6 Train. It’s a routine. Leave my apartment by 7:20 AM, slide my card, shimmy through the turnstile, see the train, bolt down the stairs or wait patiently along the platform edge, hop the subway, ride for 25 minutes without interruptions, arrive at 14th Street/Union Square Station, buy my Starbucks. That’s a good day.

“This is a Brooklyn Bound 6 Train, the next stop is…”

I’ve taken to nicknaming my fellow riders. There is the professional, religious zealot, the student, mom and dad, the girlfriend, the boyfriend, an exerciser, the reader, a mobile phone/tablet game addict, the worker bee, the coffee drinker, the loud talker, the deafening headset listener, a sleeper, a pusher, the local, the foreigner, the performer, and sadly the sick person and what that implies.

Rats scurry below the platform. When the train approaches, an ear piercing rrrrrrr screeching sound sometimes causes me to cover my ears. The noise dissipates and the doors open. Passengers exit and passengers enter. The wheels start to turn and inside I make believe an old-fashioned steam engine is puffing along until I hear the dreaded voice over the intercom. It’s muffled. Passengers struggle to listen but most of us ignore it. Announcements are never positive. We are thanked for our patience.

I eavesdrop on two young men about 30-years-old dressed in scruffy business suits. They work for the Governor of New York. They are in heated conversation about a rebranding effort in Buffalo. They offer me a seat but I am too absorbed in their conversation to pivot from my perch to take THEIR seat. One young gun says to the other, “It’s a process right. It takes months or even years to form a relationship with a reporter.”  They are ambitious and I like them.  They offered a woman their seat, a rare occurrence aboard a New York City Subway.

Fantasy Aisle

Stand back, get ready, the anticipation

It’s 8:50 AM on a Wednesday. I’ve missed the window of opportunity for a hassle free commute. It’s no man’s land. Time to toughen up my belt for the boxing match that will ensue in my attempt to find space for a 5’6, 130-pound (58 kilos) woman with a 20 pound (9 kilos) over the shoulder bag wearing a ankle length winter coat. The first train arrives and there is no chance for me. I can’t squeeze onto the second train either but I am assured another train is minutes behind this one. The third train arrives and I brace myself for the fight. I inhale and like an Olympian athlete thrust myself through the doors and into or maybe even onto the maddening crowd.

“Sorry, So Sorry, S–o–r–r–y, excuse me” words most spoken by New York City Subway riders.

Fantasy Aisle

Courtesy Counts. The MTA posts these signs to remind passengers they are humans and not animals a small distinction on the subway

The doors of a subway are like the jaws of a crocodile, when I step from the platform edge into the metal moving box I never know if I am going to be eaten alive or if I will escape free of injury. We are packed shoulder to shoulder nose to nose. Sweat forms on my forehead and my body screams for air. It’s not worth removing my hat or gloves because I cannot move. My fellow New Yorkers are holding me into place, which is a good thing. Signs overhead remind us that Courtesy Matters yet we are animals, hunting our prey, a handrail or a seat, pushing, shoving every morning and night.

Fantasy Aisle

Let me squeeze in please

The train slows before the next stop and then abruptly halts tossing the standing passengers into the arms of strangers. People fortunate to steal a seat would not dare look upon other passengers in fear of shame. Embarrassed today he or she got lucky as the rest of us are manhandled like a game of Tic-Tac-Toe. There is an incident ahead and so it goes we wait and people groan. It seems impossible to remain on schedule aboard the 6 Train.

Fantasy Aisle

A man at 68th Street station plays music in the morning hours

Alas, my journey ends at 14th Street to the sounds of Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond. The subway musicians at Union Square Station are my favorite performing quality music throughout the day. Sometimes their performances can ease the pain of a horrible commute. (Check out Music Under New York

Another afternoon, a 26-year-old Pakistani woman is hovered over me. I am sitting and she standing swaying as the train moves.  She holds the above handrail to steady herself. It’s possible she could fall onto my lap. We study each other and she asks what I am writing. I tell her I am working on my to do list. I lied. She volunteers that she is reading Harry Potter and a book for her driving test. She speaks three languages and divulges she really isn’t sure of her age because of the way they create documents in Pakistan but she is a New Yorker now.  She asks my name. I say, “Kelly.” She is intrigued and wants to know the meaning and I respond, “It means bold in Irish.” “Oh,” she says, “Do you speak Irish?” I giggle a bit, “A little.”  We talk for several minutes but I never ask for her name. I assume she would have provided if she wished. I hear the piped in voice, “the next stop is 68th Street Hunter College,” and I stand up, greet my friend with a goodbye and good luck and dash out the doors.

Fantasy Aisle

All aboard the 6 Train at the 68th Street /Hunter College

It’s Friday. I decide to leave the office later to avoid the 5:00 PM crowds. It’s quiet for a Friday and I secure a seat. My iPhone is dead. I read the advertisements in Spanish and English mostly about health and education.  A man in his 30s boards the train. I eye him skeptically. He is sprouting words and phrases from some sort of religious book and I decipher every other world, “Satan!” “Damned” and I can’t help myself. I look up. We lock eyes and he says, “You don’t see him but he’s here.” The doors open at the next stop and like a mirage he is gone.

I am left to listen to the sounds from above making the last leg of my journey home feel painfully long.

Please step aside and let the passengers off the train

Step all the way in please

Stand clear of the closing doors


Fantasy Aisle

Let me out of here. I want to go home