Kung fu breakdancers, dodging human faeces and stroking tropical spiders: just another day on the New York subway...
The New York subway system has always fascinated me. I first visited New York in 1999 when I was 14 years old. At the time, my only frame of reference for New York was films. It was my understanding going on the subway led to misfortune, whether that be a mugging, death or having a newspaper aggressively knocked out of your hand by a sad eyed poltergeist. So instead, my brother and I holed up in the hotel room eating pizza and playing Donkey Kong Country 2 on the in-room SNES. Great days.
12 years on I’ve got over my fear and ride it everyday. It’s fast, it’s cheap and it’s absolutely bloody mental. It’s New York concentrate. People that were never supposed to mix, sat on top of each other, acting as if nobody’s there. Normal rules don’t apply.
Every time I step on I’m fearful for what I may see or smell. There’s always a new video online of some mad goings on down there. The current fad seems to be people defecating on the seats, leading me to do a great deal more standing.
Visiting friends can’t get over it. I caught my Londoner mate muttering to himself “They would never let it get like this on the tube” as he stared at a massive rat gnawing away on some years old rubbish left on the tracks.
Despite all this I’m a massive fan of its 24-hour brilliance.
I’m on the E train heading back from JFK airport. I’ve just been in England for a few days to watch a wedding. Get on the train. Sit down. Put in the earphones. Stare at my knees. Standard.
A few stops on. Three young lads get on. Dressed the same, one carrying a massive stereo system. They turn it on. It drowns out my music. I’m annoyed. Then the three lads start clapping. It’s a performance. It’s starts off with a bit of dancing and then escalates into clumsy cartwheels. They take it in turns to do some special dance moves. My personal highlight is when the oldest one jumps onto the pole in the middle of the carriage and starts to spin around, this coincides with the train stopping and a man stepping on the train getting a full boot in the face. Oddly, no one flinches and the show carries on.
To be fair they are actually pretty good, aside from the random booting of strangers. The routine peaks when the oldest attaches himself to the youngest kid and they roll down the carriage together in a revolving human wheel. A ludicrous sight but the fellow subways rides lap it up. Whooping, cheering and getting out crinkled dollar bills as the lads walk round with collection buckets. I only own a UK 20 pence piece. I give a supportive smile in lieu of cash. They weren’t impressed. The lads then walk through the train to the next carriage and start all over again.
I look up and the guy is cradling a massive spider and saying “Isn’t she lovely?” over and over again. It’s huge. The sort you get on tropical islands that have been taken over by giant radioactive spiders.
Next stop, a woman I’ve seen her before gets on. She carries a big bag of sandwiches and gives them to the homeless. She always says, “You don’t have to be homeless to get these free sandwiches you just have to be hungry.” When I saw her on here a few weeks ago, I gave her some dollars in the hope she’d give me a sandwich. I was bloody hungry. She didn’t.
After the show we just had, no one is interested. She’s not dancing. She has no music. I doubt she could even do a forward roll. No whooping or cheering for the woman feeding the homeless. No one gives her any money. No one. She gets a supportive smile from me. She’s not impressed. The train arrives in the station and she moves through to the next carriage that the dancing boys have since moved on from. She’s following a tough act there.
I’m sat with my brother, who is visiting, on the C train home from playing football. After a few stops a man walks through the doors between the carts. I’m always suspicious of anyone that does this, not a week goes by where you don’t read or hear about someone dying due to walking between carts. I view such a person with a deep unease. These people are too reckless for my liking. The man sits down opposite us. I’m looking at my knees. A minute passes. Then I hear my brother interacting with the guy. Oh no.
I look up and the guy is cradling a massive spider and saying “Isn’t she lovely?” over and over again. It’s huge. The sort you get on tropical islands that have been taken over by giant radioactive spiders. The spider man offers my brother the opportunity to hold it. He politely declines. We get off the train early and walk the long way home. As I say, it’s mental down there.
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