Subway Travel And The Unusual Experience Of Encountering Hundreds Of People You Will Never Speak To


I am sitting on the New York City subway. I am on the F-Train Manhattan bound. The subway is filled with newspapers, books, and conversations in diversified languages. I hear muffled music in the background that is coming from the ear buds of headphones that are not mine. There are people who sit and stare at their iPhone or tablet in front of them. Their eyes remain locked on the screen, paying no mind to the world around them. That is what we’re all doing. We are concentration on our own world while shutting out the world around us.

The rattling of chains between the subway cars is the loudest noise of the ride. There are several cars in front of me, and there are several behind. It’s a constant reminder that we are all linked together on this train, riding the same path, and sharing this moment in time. Even if choose not to acknowledge it.  We ride the same train together, occupy the same space together, and share this moment of our life together. We rarely acknowledge this. Hell, we rarely acknowledge each other. This is just another train ride that most of us take on a daily basis.

Rolling thunder emerges from the engine. We speed up, and become one stop closer to our destination. We are one step closer from getting off the train. That is usually what is on our mind. We have no time to acknowledge the moment we are so focused on our future.

Some people are sitting forward starring straight ahead with a blank glaze that fills their eyes. Some people turn their heads slightly to the lingering nearby conversations. They are fully conscious of the conversation, yet they’ll never contribute a word. Rather, their facial expressions provide the dialogue of their contributed thoughts. Some people sleep completely undisturbed by the movement around them. Other people vibe and move to the music flowing from their headphones. Some people spend their subway ride engulfed in books or video games. Their bodies move along with the force of the train while their eyes remain glued on their material. Each of us is mastering the art of concentration in which ever way we choose.

The forced screech initiates the interruption that brings the train to a halting stop. The stop pulls our bodies along with the speed of gravity, even once the train is no longer moving. An over-exaggerated pluck sounds from the subway doors as they open to the public providing the opportunity to find our destination in the streets above ground. Or we remain. We only have these two options, there is no in between.

A robotic voice recites an automated message through the intercom of the train as it stops. We are informed where we are, and where we are going. Some people get up to exit, and some people enter on. Some people look up, and some don’t break their concentration.

New faces enter, and old faces remain. Within moments a new group of subway riders has formed and we’re off to the next destination. Those who’ve entered on find their place in the cart. The remaining riders survey those entering on. Still, no one says a word. Occasionally “excuse me”, “please”, and “sorry” emerge, but even that is a rarity. We acknowledge each other with our eyes and facial expressions, while spoken interactions remain taboo.

The subway is for riding and seeing. It is a means of transportation, and for getting us from point A to Point B. It’s intent isn’t for meeting one another. Yet, that is exactly what we do when we ride the subway. We meet the most people we will ever encounter during subway rides.

When living in New York we’re always doing a million things at once, and if we aren’t, we’re watching someone else doing a million things at once, which makes us feel equally as busy. We are often so engulfed in our own aspirations, that simple interaction is often seen as unnecessary distraction. We solely concentrate on our world and shut the world around us out.

Each train, each neighborhood, and each stop provides us with a new group of people to encounter. Yet we remain focused on ourselves. Each destination takes us to another world encapsulated in the concrete jungle, some of which we never would’ve been exposed to if it weren’t for this instance. Still, we rarely open our eyes to the moment we’re living in.

Thousands upon thousands of people will drift through our eyes, often on a daily basis. We’ll never speak to them. Only see them. We’ll never understand them farther than what there appearance provides us. This one moment that will be shared with thousands of people we’ve just met, but will never speak to.