Staying on Track
For many the New York subway system is the lifeblood of the city as it takes people to and from their destination. Yet, for those who are not familiar with the system it can be as confusing as trying to figure out Einstein’s Theory of Relativity without the E or the C2.
Having been two New York twice before, and having ridden public transportation in my native Los Angeles, I was not completely unfamiliar with how a public transportation system worked. Still there is nothing like a New York City subway. I realize that by referring to it as the subway I am marking myself as an Out of Towner because I learned from someone that the subway is referred to as the train. When I think of trains, I think of Amtrak, not a metal tube speeding through the underbelly of a city.
The system was a little daunting to learn because knowing where each stop is is only half the battle.
In Los Angeles, all the rail lines are named after a color, the red line, the purple line, and so on and so forth. Here in New York the system works a little differently. Instead of the Los Angeles rainbow New York has the alphabet soup. The lines are named after letters and numbers, and to make matters worse depending on the destination a color. The 4, 5, and 6 trains are green. The N, Q, R and W trains are yellow, the A, C, and E trains are blue while the F, J, and V trains are brown. At first that made my head spin but then I realized that the train numbers and whether or not they are express or local are what matter. Local trains like the 6. the N, the Q, the R, and the W trains will stop at every station. Express trains like the 4, and the 5 trains will not stop at every station. The stations while conveniently located near most places in the city can be confusing particularly since they are more like freeways for people especially during rush hour when people are disembarking from the trains en masse. After having gotten off at the wrong station and not to mention the wrong train at least four or five times during my first week in New York I realized after being helped by some other riders that the stations are marked with signs telling people where they need to go to transfer trains or exit on the right street.
The existence of signs was not as surprising as the willingness that some New Yorkers have towards helping others find their way on the subway system. I guess when you are standing on the platform looking around and walking in circles trying to make sense of the signs with a rather wide eyed look does indicate to people that you are not from around here.
I had heard many times never look a New Yorker in the eye especially while on the subway. After being helped various times on the subway and successfully managing to navigate to my way on the train my starry-eyed wonderment and confusion now somewhat dissipated I began to notice that while I was spending my time trying to not look at the other passengers I noticed out of the corner of my eye that is exactly what is what the other riders were doing. If they were not reading, a newspaper, a book, texting on their phone, or listening to their Ipod they were staring at the floor, at the walls, or at their feet with this rather blank look on their face like statues that only seemed to move when the train hit a bump or came to a stop. When that happened, people would do whatever they could to not fall on the person next to them because they were tightly packed in the cars like sardines. Looking at the other passengers I felt that there was this huge divide because we as humans place so much intimate value on the simple looking people in the eyes that sometimes when I am on my way to work I feel a slight sense of disassociation. They say its easy to get lost in the city. Now I see why no one can see you if they are not looking then when the train stopped and the doors opened it was like peeling back the lid of a can and letting some of the pressure out. The passengers would literally tumble out of the car and move like a giant wave in the same direction: the exit.