The One with Riding the Subway

When I first moved to NYC, everything that happened on the subway was fascinating and exciting. I found an endless source of delicious “material” for my stories. What more could a writer ask for? After logging hundreds (maybe thousands) of hours commuting on the New York City subway, I’ve become desensitized to the craziness underground. I realized this not long ago when a guy sitting next to me fell asleep with his head on my shoulder and I didn’t even budge.

So with apologies to Jeff Foxworthy, you know you’ve been riding the subway too long if…

  1. If you hear the bing-bong of the train doors closing in your dreams…
  2. If you don’t even look up when the strolling mariachi band starts working the car…
  3. If you have an instinct about which end of the platform to watch for the next arriving train, even if you’ve never been to that station before…
  4. If you’ve ever watched rats scurrying along the tracks and thought that they’re looking a little lean these days…
  5. If you can spot tourists at 100 paces even if they’re not carrying maps or cameras…
    1. Advanced: If you can correctly identify a suburban commuter…
  6. If you’ve been cursed by the Chinese Curses Lady…
  7. If your train has been delayed by a sick passenger and your first thought was, “Great! Now I’m going to be late to work”…
  8. If you watched a woman getting her ear pierced and thought you could do a better job…
  9. If you’ve seen a co-worker or neighbor in the same train car and the thought of making small talk for the next thirty minutes filled you with dread…
  10. If you’ve ever seen a man pull out a packet of dental floss and start flossing his teeth…
  11. If you can remember using tokens…
  12. If you speak “conductor”…
  13. If you’ve gotten into an argument with a total stranger about how to get from Harlem to Williamsburg…
  14. If you’ve ever jumped the turnstile…
  15. If you’ve ever fallen asleep and woken up in the tunnel where the train turns around…

Do you have any subway escapades (in NYC or elsewhere)? Share in the comments! 

In honor of the adventure that is riding the subway, I’m offering my short essay collection, The Subway Chronicles: More Scenes from Life in New York, FREE for two days only (Friday and Saturday) on Kindle. These will be the last two free days before the collection is available at B&N for the Nook.

Have a great weekend everyone!



  1. Oh, the Chinese Curses Lady! She lives in NYC, too?

    I haven’t been a suburban train commuter for a few years. I drive now. But so many of these bring back memories and some are true of the drive as well, particularly passing the same cast of characters who become woven into your daily narrative.

    I’m so glad someone else has experienced the “sick passenger” phenomenon. I was just thinking about that the other day. There’s one stop on DC Metro’s Orange line that’s like a vortex of illness. It seemed like a daily event to be stuck there waiting for a sick passenger to be tended to.


    1. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen the Chinese Curses Lady for a while now. She may have relocated to the DC Metro. A word of caution…don’t talk if she’s nearby. She’ll really send a lot of curses your way!


  2. This is quite a thought provoking post Jackie. I’ve been riding the subway so long I remember when tokens cost 75¢. Apparently, when I was born a token cost 15¢. That’s a far cry from the $2.75 fare for a single ride today. Okay, I was hatched in the Eisenhower era. I imagine that a monthly MetroCard (or its equivalent) will probably cost $300 by the time I buy my rainbow. Yes, I’m familiar with the mariachi band you mentioned, but not the Chinese curses lady. She sounds like a delight. What about the a capella Gospel singing panhandlers that end every song urging riders to “smile because it won’t mess up your hair”? Do they irritate me when I’m reading. There’s also a homeless-looking guy (I say homeless-looking because cynic that I am I thinks that might be part of his act) who does standup. He has not been around for a while. Maybe he’s playing Atlantic City. As for more memorable unusual sights, I recall seeing a thumb-sucking business man trying to hide his habit behind a newspaper, an anxious Jack Russell named Dash that looked ready to bolt out the train’s window, and once, in the late 80s, the actor, Ed Harris.


    1. I can’t believe I forgot to mention the a capella group! They’re not bad as subway singers go. I also forgot to mention the subway preachers, darn it.

      The Chinese Curses Lady was an F train staple, but as Hippie mentions above, she may very well have moved on to the DC Metro.

      Nice celebrity sighting. I’ve seen Steve Buscemi on the subway a few times, but it seems everyone has seen Steve Buscemi on the subway.


      1. Very snazzy. You were in the Chambers Street station, a station I frequent all week. You have to tell me how you did that. Did you shoot it with your iPhone? I have one now (quite a story there about how that happened), but maybe we should continue tech talk away from your comments section.


      2. I did! I used the Vine App (free). It takes 6 second clips and then loops the footage continuously. You can embed them into your WP post with the link that you get when you publish it. I don’t know if I’d use it all the time but it’s fun and not hard to learn, even for a techno-loser like myself.


  3. Love the Vine video, Jackie! You’re so cutting edge. Do you have to pay extra to upload videos on WordPress? I’ve just gotten into doing videos on Vine and Instagram and may soon be addicted.

    Ear piercing on the subway? I would have to be sick. Total wimp when it comes to needles.


    1. Aren’t these Vine videos fun? No extra fee to upload to WP. All you need to do is email yourself the link and then paste into the text editor. WP will convert the link and embed the video. Easy as pie.

      Sometimes you just need to get your ear pierced and it simply cannot wait until you get off the subway. 🙂


  4. I can so relate to number 9. When I commuted in Boston I was at first thrilled to be riding public transportation. That thrill wore off soon and then when people I knew wanted to chit chat I hated it. Sometimes I would get off at a stop saying I had an errand to run and would hop on the next train. It’s horrible I know, but after a long day, who wants to talk.


      1. Just last week I was riding home and spotted a woman from my office. My first thought was “oh no.” But I think we were both exhausted from our respective days and sat next to each other in complete silence. It was perfect. 🙂


  5. Coming over from TBM’s blog!!! What a great concept for a book–it is downloaded (thanks for the freebie!) and ready to go and I passed the link along to my son who is moving to NYC this week! I am looking forward to “meeting” some of these characters when we visit! Glad to “meet” you!


    1. Welcome Beth Ann! Thank you for downloading my book. I hope you enjoy it! Please let me know which short you like best.
      Good luck to your son on his big move. Here’s a subway tip for him: don’t make eye contact with other commuters. Takes a while to get used to that. 🙂


      1. Just finished !!! Have to say I loved it –all of it. The humor and great writing style kept me engaged, that is for sure! I think I would have to say the favorite short was A Penny Will Do. I can so see myself in that one—wanting to take a stand and be fair and helpful but missing opportunities because I am too slow to recognize a true person in need. There was emotion in that one (not that there wasn’t in the other selections but you know what I mean) and It touched something in me.
        I also learned a couple valuable lessons I never would have known: Avoid eye contact and whatever you do—DO NOT TALK if the Cursing Chinese Lady! Thanks for the laughs!!!


      2. Oh, I’m so glad that you liked the book! Thank you for your kind words. I’m happy that A Penny Will Do resonated with you. It’s certainly an experience that gets repeated over and over the more often you ride the subway.

        Yes, definitely tell your son to avoid eye contact! I hope he has a few good subway stories of his own to share soon. 🙂


  6. So happy to find this “oldie” but goodie! I love your subway stories! I think it’s worth noting that this happens to me on a smaller scale at the grocery store:>>> “If you’ve seen a co-worker or neighbor in the same train car and the thought of making small talk for the next thirty minutes filled you with dread…” So I can well imagine being stuck in a subway car instead!


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