Commuter Diaries: Beacon Students’ Most Memorable Subway Experiences

By Ruby Paarlberg

Photography by Boo Elliott

Every weekday, 5.7 million New Yorkers ride the subway. Are you one of them?

Most Beacon students rely on the subway, whether they take it two or twenty-five stops. Every subway ride is a unique experience and for many, there is one commute-specific moment that stands out. When I asked Beacon students to reveal their most memorable subway experiences, I was surprised by the range of stories I heard.

Matthew Breitman, a sophomore, described two equally memorable subway moments. One of them was observing “a man in wooden shoes who was eating popcorn off of the subway floor.” His other moment was seeing Maggie Gyllenhaal, a famous actress, on the 3 train. These striking moments illustrate the broad range of subway experiences one student can have.

A tenth grader, Olivia Morrow, described being on the train when “a man brought a bird onto the subway car with him.” I heard a similarly odd story from sophomore Saniah Arnold, who told me that there was “poop smeared on the seat” of her subway car. Sophomore Nina Navarro told me her subway car once looked like it was “trailed with blood.” But for those living in the city, no matter how gross the subway is, it is an essential form of transportation.

Other students reported experiences which were not too gross or out of the ordinary, but were quite scary. Sophomore Uma Rao-Labrecque reported an incident in which a drunk man was holding a knife. Although the man did not threaten to injure anyone on the train, he started swaying with the knife in his hand. Meanwhile, sophomore Kate Jeffrey described a much more violent scene on the subway; she “saw somebody deck another guy in the face.” The victim of the punch started “bleeding everywhere and [she saw that] his tooth had been knocked out.” This incident was called to the attention of local police and the train stopped “for like twenty minutes.” Another sophomore, Ella Reuther, described a time when she “was trapped in the train for forty minutes because the doors did not open at West 4th Street. People were yelling and banging on the windows.” As these students experienced, the subway is not always a safe place. New Yorkers have to constantly be alert so that if they see something, they can say something.

A couple of Beacon students have noticed odd interactions between people on their trains. Bianca told me a conversation she had with a man who told her “his whole life story, and started pointing at this guy and said that used to be me.” Annie Taylor, a tenth grader, recalled seeing a girl “that was falling asleep with an Arizona iced tea bottle open and [she] spilled it in the person next to her’s purse.” Sophomore Aayusha Duwadi described a tense interaction between two people on her train car: “There was this time when a guy was hanging off one of the poles and when he tried to spin, [he] kicked some lady in the face and she kept saying that she would sue him and as she was exiting, her coat got stuck in the doorway and she fell.”

There is no doubt that the train can be disgusting and frustrating and scary, but some of the sweetest moments can occur on the subway, too. Sophomore Madison Targum once saw “an older man with a full red pizza delivery bag hand out food to those in need.” Also, junior Sophie Steinberg reported her “hands-down best train ride.” She was riding the train on her birthday when a mariachi band sang “Happy Birthday” to her. Moments like these give New Yorkers a greater appreciation for the subway and all of its quirks.

Scary, gross, strange, or sweet as it may be, the subway remains a staple of life in New York City.