How To Conquer The NYC Commute With These 10 Common Subway Characters

by Alice Panikian

One morning while waiting for the C train, an old homeless man, who reeked of alcohol, asked me if I was a lesbian. Why did he ask me this? Well, because he was in utter disbelief that his hot breath on my neck and intrusive personal questions didn’t instantly charm me.

Another time, I saw a woman on the train crying hysterically while a Mariachi band entered and proceeded to play happily over her convulsive sobs.

Oh, and I bet you didn’t know that 11 am on the subway is also a great time and place to get high inhaling aerosol dust remover. Yep, it's true. You really can’t make this sh*t up.

Occurrences like these happen often on public transport… at least to me. Though the majority of commutes are pretty uneventful, most New Yorkers have one or two public-transportation-related horror stories.

Here are some characters and things you might encounter (and of which you should be wary) during your subway commute:

The Molester

The subway is a place that’s often crowded, particularly during rush hour — or as I like to refer to it, prime molestation hour.

Ladies (and yes, gentlemen, too), be extremely aware of your surroundings when traveling on packed subway cars. Warm weather brings out pervs like Mardi Gras brings out boobs. If you are unfortunate enough to come face to ass with a creep, report it right away!

The Pickpocket

Much like the Molester, the Pickpocket usually strikes during rush hour. He or she normally preys on innocent investment bankers and finance types who are too busy reading their Wall Street Journals to notice someone snatching away their weekly stripper allowance.

Keep your personal items in secure places at all times and try not to look too flashy.

The Empty Car

If you see a full train with one empty car, beware. Just like the saying goes, if it seems too good to be true… there’s probably a guy inside throwing poo at people (true story). Take your chances on the full car and avoid the empty one.

The Breakdancer

If what you’re into is aggressive amateur dance, you’re in luck! NYC subways are some of the city’s best untapped resources for discovering fledgling breakdancers.

Who says you need to spend money to get kicked in the face?! Give these guys some credit, though; it’s not easy doing head spins on a moving train full of people. Thank you for enriching our lives, breakdancers!

The Rodent

Rats play a very important role in the public transportation community. They eat much of the discarded waste on the tracks, which in turn, prevents fires.

Okay, fine; rats are useless and disease-ridden. They are usually confined to the tracks, but occasionally, one will find its way up onto to the platforms and yes, even on the train.

The Disgruntled Subway Worker

None of the MetroCard machines are accepting cards? Don’t have cash on you? Too bad. You won’t find anyone who cares less about how late you are for work than an MTA employee.

Don’t waste your time looking for sympathy or for any f*cks to be given — just run to the nearest ATM.

The Screaming Guy

If you are waiting for your train and there’s a guy walking up and down the platform screaming obscenities, keep your distance.

You never know when he might decide to push you onto the tracks because he’s convinced that you’re conspiring to have him assassinated.

This Guy (He’s kind of amazing.)

Pantless People

Once a winter, Improv Everywhere stages an event called the “No Pants Subway Ride.” It is exactly what it sounds like: a bunch of pantless people riding the subway and acting like nothing is out of the ordinary.

FYI, the next one will be staged sometime in January — in case you want to participate… or take a cab to work.

The Space Hog

Inevitably, when riding the subway, you will come across a person who treats it as his or her own personal lounge.

You know, the person who takes up three seats with shopping bags or better yet, the person who leans on the pole so that no one else can use it. They sanitize those, right?

The Staring Guy/Girl

Every now and then, you may encounter a person who has no social awareness; someone who enjoys just staring at you awkwardly for what seems like an eternity.

Keep your eyes down. This might seem overly cautious, but truly, nothing good has ever come from making eye contact with someone on the subway.

It either invites hostility or unwanted interaction. The best-case scenario is that the other person is just unaware of acceptable subway etiquette and/or is a tourist.

Bonuses: The Masturbator, the Jumper, the Public Urinater (all of whom are pretty self-explanatory)

While I may have painted a pretty miserable picture of what the NYC subway system is like, it’s not all bad. It’s still the fastest and usually most convenient way to get around. Additionally, the subways are rich with history, artwork and some exceptionally talented musicians and performers.

Of course, it can be hard to appreciate all of that when you’re trying to avoid the brown sludge dripping from the ceiling. Stay safe and alert, kids! And remember, if you see something, say something!

Photo credit: Morten Legarth/Tumblr