Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Study of Subway Riders' Quirks

A great article in The New York Times today studying the habits of subway riders. We all, either consciously or subconsciously, select where we stand or sit, choose who we sit next to, give up seats to others or stay seated. I've rarely stopped to think that my train habits are predictable.

"The decisions arrive with each approaching train, testing the hard-won instincts of the New York City subway rider — world-weary, antisocial and at all times strategic.

Stand, or sit in a crowded row, brushing thighs with strangers?

Surrender a seat to a shuffling elder, or pretend not to notice his buckling knees? Remain in the same seat throughout the ride, or contend for a more desired seat near a door?"

The draft study linked in the article is also interesting reading. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 4, 2013


Sorry for the extensive delay in my posts, but it's time to get back to work.

I was heading back home after a delightful dinner with friends, but once I got to the 59th Street platform and waited for about 20 minutes for the A train, as several local trains chugged by, I knew I was in for an interesting trip.

The A pulled into the station and the entire platform of passengers immediately made for the doors. I squeezed my way on, not thinking that I would get a seat, and just as I got in, a man got up from his seat and ran for the door. I was about to sit down where he had left, since nobody else sat down (first clue), and immediately smelled this ungodly body odor coming from my location. I thought it had come from the man who just ran out, as he looked kind of disheveled,so instead of sitting in the seat that he had occupied, I sat in another vacant seat next to his (second clue) next to a thin, elderly woman quietly reading. As soon as I sat down, I looked around as the train took off, and the smell didn't leave with the man out the door, and everyone was looking at me as I looked around and realized that the smell was coming from this woman next to me.

She had several shopping bags on the floor next to her from a yoga studio and Whole Foods, but on closer inspection, they were filled not with food, but empty bottles and tons of plastic bags. She spent a lot of time rummaging through her purse and taking things out and putting them in the pocket of her coat. She also took out packets of not Sweet n' Lo, but whatever similar sugar substitute comes in a white and green pack. She would rip the top off, pour the contents in her mouth, and put the empty pack in her coat pocket. She also took out plastic bags from her purse, peeled off a piece of already-chewed gum from one of them, and popped that in her mouth once the fake sugar had dissolved.

At this point I couldn't stand the smell any more, but I was so curious to watch this woman. She was reading a book called something like "How Not to Get Fat" but she was only reading the table of contents on the whole ride uptown, every now and then pausing to eat another packet of sugar (Stevia? Truvia?) and replace her gum with a fresh piece of Trident, putting the already-chewed one in another bag. Maybe that was her secret to staying thin? I watched her all the way to my station, as she gathered up her things, got off at my stop, waved to the conductor as she passed by, and headed up the stairs.

Monday, July 23, 2012

NYC Geyser at Grand Central

A heavy downpour last week caused some unusual natural water features throughout the city. This cigarette geyser in Grand Central is especially beautiful.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Proofreader Needed...

I downloaded the new Weekender iPhone app from the MTA, which is supposed to show revised weekend subway maps with modified routes based on planned service changes. I think they should have also invested in a proofreader...

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Spreading Out

We all feel the need to spread out when we can, especially living in a small apartment or toiling in a small workspace. We are consistently pushed, prodded, jostled and stepped on, but nowhere is this more prevalent then on the subway.

I'm as guilty as the next, if there's an empty seat next to me, I'll put my bag on it, but the second that I see the train is filling up, I'll put the bag on my lap or on the ground and let someone sit down. This common courtesy is not always followed by other commuters. It drives me crazy to no end to see people taking up more that one seat, and then complaining if you ask them to move their bag so you can sit down. Like these women, for example, whom I photographed last week:

They didn't just take up one extra seat with their bags, they took up an ENTIRE ROW of seats. It's fine, because I'm sure they bought fares for each one of those bags.

So coming home one evening last week, the train was quite crowded by the time I got on and there were almost no seats available except for one. This one seat wasn't quite "available", however, as it was occupied by an enormous king-sized bed in a bag. You know what I'm talking about.

An unnecessarily large densely-packed plastic suitcase miraculously stuffed with a sheet set, six decorative pillows, shams (regular and European), a quilt, a dust ruffle (a what?), a bed skirt and a coverlet (??). I asked the two ladies, and presumed owners of said bed, if they could put it on the floor so I could sit down. But instead of putting it on the floor, the two of them pulled the package onto their laps, trying to get it off the seat.

Now, try and imagine two heavyset older ladies with good-sized bellies, and breasts the size of decorative pillows trying to set a king-sized bed in a bag on their laps. It really just gave me about 4 inches of room to sit on the seat, so when I squeezed into the seat, I had this wall of plastic pressed against my arm and face. It also was a warm evening so immediately my right side of my body pressed against this package was immediately sweating. That lasted about 10 seconds before I asked them if they could set it on the ground. I got the double eye roll and they did give in.

I understand completely how people don't like to set their packages on the floor of the subway. But I also am guessing that they did not lug that bed in a bag all the way from Macy's to their spot on the train without resting that bed on the ground somewhere along the way. Thank you, ladies, for relinquishing your extra seat. I hope you slept well in your new bed.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Mess

This was the first sight in my subway station. Now I know that it's impossible to keep everything spotless, but it's a sad way to start the day.

Though not as sad as my pants after I sat down in the puddle of water on the seat after someone thought it would be a good idea to put their wet umbrella on the seat instead of the floor or in their bag. WHO DOES THAT???

Monday, April 30, 2012

Too Clean...

Today's guest post is from a loyal Cranky Commute reader who recently returned from Asia with some opinions about mass transit in China and Korea vs. NYC. Thanks for contributing, dad! Send your own opinions and experiences to thecrank [at] crankycommute [dot] com.

My wife and I just completed a two-month Pacific odyssey that included stops in Shanghai and Seoul. Both of these burgeoning cities recently built spanking new subway systems that whisk you to destinations far and wide in whisper-quiet comfort. The trains run on time, there is absolutely no graffiti, stops are clearly announced in both Chinese (or Korean) and English, while the stations are brightly lit, crime-free, and clearly signposted. Except for the rush-hour crowds (a universal phenomena) there are usually seats available for the elderly, disabled, and pregnant. This would appear to be a dream scenario for those of us who ride the NY subway system: nice new stations that are all escalator accessible, spotlessly clean trains that always arrive on time, and absolutely no fears of late evening travel.

While there are certainly many things to admire about these two transit systems, after riding them for a couple of weeks I yearned, rather surprisingly, for the gritty reality of our own imperfect MTA. I found the sparkling cleanliness of Shanghai and Seoul to be sterile, impersonal, almost bleak. There were no buskers or street musicians to entertain the crowds; no beggars yelling over the track noise “Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen…”; no interesting examples of lifestyle, dress, body art, or piercings–in short, no good people watching. In these subways similarly dressed individuals stand in clearly marked lines to board a car, sit down, pull out smartphones, and sit quietly reading email or texting until their final destination.

Although you have to put up with the litter, panhandling, and an 80-decibel noise level, the NY city subway represents all that is wonderful, interesting, and frustrating about our city—the enormous diversity of behaviors, races, ages, incomes, orientations, and nationalities. While I would probably not mind better lighting and a little more attention to schedule, I would never want to give up the real-world edginess, even grittiness, of our imperfect but lovable NY subway.