Taking the New York City transit system is an experience like no other. The MTA has provided us with a colorfully intricate NYC subway map that corresponds each subway line to its destination. Now, as a visiting tourist or foreigner, the experience can be overwhelming to say the least.
It's easy to spot the non-native New Yorker once they get caught up within the masses, staring diligently at the electronic map googly-eyed making sure that this train WILL stop at their destination. It's all part of the experience. However, for the native New Yorker, the daily commute becomes more like a spiritual journey from the starting point to the final destination.
The lull of the subway is felt within every nerve, the passing views from the subway windows move like a picturesque film, and your fellow subway cart inhabitants feel more like neighbors to you than strangers, as you get comfortable with the imaginary boundaries set by a mutual understanding.
There are many unwritten rules and guidelines when taking the notorious MTA system. It's something you learn through experience, rather than being taught by another New Yorker (because let's face it: everything's a learning experience).
After the first couple of hectic morning commutes, and hitting primetime rush hour upon leaving work, I developed my own instinctual habits in surviving the hurdles of people condensed within the underground traffic. From my own experiences transitioning from a Long Islander to a true New Yorker, here are some unspoken guidelines to surviving the MTA transit system:
When it rains, it pours
Always expect train delays on rainy days, especially if your train is coming into the city from its neighboring tri-state area. I remember panicking the first couple of times, worrying if I'll make it into work on time when the train would literally sit on the track for a decent 10 minutes before crossing over into the city.
It's inevitable for there to be delays during sh*tty weather conditions, so leave your place a little earlier and try to catch an earlier train when weather conditions are visibly bad.
Utilize the first and last subway carts
The most amateur mistake is settling for the middle carts when you get off the stairway on to the platform. Don't be lazy; take the extra steps in striding to either the first or last carts of the subway train. Trust me, during the notoriously agitating rush hour commute, the extra steps are worth it. Chances are, most people are going to settle and stick with the middle carts because it's convenient. However, those carts are guaranteed to be the most packed, and the first and last subway carts will graciously provide you more leg and elbow space.
While I respect the hustle and grind of subway performers, it's OKAY not to clear out the aisles for them on a noticeably packed train. I've come across subway performers countless times and witnessed a few different ways in which New Yorkers handled them.
Although these performances are meant to be entertaining, sometimes, when you're exhausted, the excessive commotion is the last thing you want to be a part of. The simple solution is to just put on your headphones and blast it on the highest volume, while staring blankly into nothingness.
One time I actually witnessed a man declining to make way for these subway performers. Although the performers threw more-or-less of a bitch fit, I had to applaud this man for standing his ground.
Read the signs
Although this one may be obvious, it's equally as easy to dismiss. Downtown/Uptown signs are crucial in making sure you don't end up en route to the Bronx, instead of the Financial District.
As you develop your usual routine, you're going to make the mistake of being on the wrong platform at least once. And when that does happen, the MTA workers will become your greatest guides. Just because the colorful letters indicate the line you have to take, the Uptown J train will not take you to the same Downtown J train destinations. Don't be fooled by the colors, alone.
Download the subway map app
If you're the proud owner of a smartphone, take the time to download the free subway map app. It will save you the awkward, hovering-over-a-stranger's-head maneuver. Also, the subtlety of checking the subway map on your phone will save you the obvious indication of being a tourist with your big, unfolded subway map in the year 2013.
The poles and railings belong to the city, not you
Never hog the poles or railings of a subway cart! It's common courtesy that everyone has a right to grasp the steel railings. It's also an inalienable right to be able to maintain one's balance on a moving subway cart.
Once you become accustomed to these guidelines, your commute will ultimately feel like a spiritual experience. You become comfortable with the movements of the train and don't become bothered by the slightest bump in the tracks. Your stance on a moving train cart will come naturally to you, and you'll master the staring-blankly-at-nothing look.
You'll find the views from the subway windows to be something like a nice projection from a film, as you let your blank stares wander at the picturesque movement of the train.
Top Photo Credit: Getty